The testimony of a murder victim’s mother moved the Baltimore City Council and police. Will her words spur leaders to action?

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The work of the Baltimore City Council, particularly its public safety discussions, can be clinical —conversations about numbers and statistics, benchmarks measured in arrests, in shootings, in deaths.

That’s what made the testimony of Krystal Gonzalez stand out. The mother of 18-year-old Aaliyah Gonzalez, who was slain in a mass shooting this summer, spoke hours into a hearing. Thirty people were shot, including her daughter and a young man fatally.


Gonzalez’s words Wednesday brought the proceeding to its knees.

“Sometimes I reach out my hand out to imagine I’m holding her hand while I’m walking,” said Gonzalez, tears streaming down her face. “This is my life and people, people did not care enough to check on them, to check on her. That’s not right.”


Councilman Mark Conway, chairman of the council’s public safety and government operations committee, postponed the rest of the hearing amid a wave of emotions from those in the room.

One day later, Gonzalez’s powerful testimony continued to resonate with Baltimore lawmakers and residents.

Gonzalez spoke viscerally for about 12 minutes, touching on her disbelief at her daughter’s death, her stinging criticisms of police inaction and the official account of what the department knew about the event and when, what kind of a person her daughter was and the struggles of her other three children with the loss of their sister.

Mayor Brandon Scott addressed her remarks in a statement, calling it “powerful testimony.”

“It is important for those who don’t often have to face the anguish that so many Baltimore families have experienced to understand why we continue to do this work,” he said. “From violence intervention and providing wraparound support services to pursuing accountability for those who decided to pull the trigger, it all matters to ensure these families and our entire city can address this trauma and move forward together.”

The shooting already has been scrutinized by the council and the public. Wednesday’s hearing was the council’s second on the shooting, and earlier this month Scott’s administration released a 173-page after-action report detailing the events leading up to what was likely the largest shooting in Baltimore history and the response of multiple city agencies, including police.

The report found “officer indifference” played a role in police failing to properly flag the growing gathering to commanders or take steps to disperse the crowd before it grew violent.

Baltimore Police wrote in their assessment that shift sergeants and lieutenants gave “very little consideration” to possible public safety concerns inherent in a crowd of up to 900 people, and failed to share the information quickly. Commanders additionally failed to provide officers with direction on how to intervene in the large crowd or how to immediately request additional resources, which the department insists were available.


Conway, who offered Gonzalez the chance to testify after she said she wanted to attend Wednesday’s hearing, said he hopes her words “renew a sense of urgency” surrounding reforms as a result of the mass shooting.

Gonzalez and Aaliyah’s brother could not be reached for comment Thursday.

“I don’t know if some people thought after the report we would stop talking about this,” Conway said. “Much like Freddie Gray, we should be thinking about how we operate in our communities and build relationship with communities. When officers don’t see the humanity in the communities they’re working with and for, that distance can be deadly.”

Conway said he was impressed so far by the work police have done with the after-action report in a short amount of time.

Others, like Councilwoman Odette Ramos, said she’s frustrated that so much is still unknown, shrouded in the secrecy of an internal affairs investigation against individual officers. Police officials said repeatedly Wednesday that they could not answer certain questions due to ongoing Public Integrity Bureau investigations.

“We don’t know if we’ll actually see any changes in the police department, and we don’t know if the people who did this will be held accountable,” Ramos said Thursday. “Ultimately, making the arrests and getting the guns is the top priority, but we can’t have officers who are ‘indifferent.’”


Still, Ramos said she was hopeful that Gonzalez’s testimony would help officials to put the shooting and other city violence into perspective.

“We hear those stories, certainly in our own neighborhoods, but when they are gracious enough to be so vulnerable in front of so many people, that impact resonates even more,” she said.

In Baltimore, trauma like that experienced by Gonzalez is a constant among families in areas hit hardest by gun violence. Some of those on the ground, working closest with victims, were skeptical that Gonzalez’s testimony would lead to change.

Tiba G. Aldridge, a minister at the Victory House Worship Center in Baltimore, said Gonzalez’s words didn’t shock him.

“Nothing she said yesterday was a surprise to me. Maybe it was a surprise to them,” he said of the council. “It’s not, as they say, hitting home for them. It’s not hitting home because it’s not hitting them personally, but it’s affecting us collectively because we’re all in the city of Baltimore.”

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Aldridge, who also runs a mortuary transportation company, has spoken with Brooklyn shooting victims and their families in the two months after the shooting, among them an 18-year-old victim who needed a walker to attend her friend Aaliyah’s funeral service, he said.


He suggested ending the hearing early was a “publicity stunt,” but said he hopes politicians listen to the families of young people hit hardest by gun violence.

“These people are not complaining, they’re stating facts,” he said. “These are their everyday lives.”

David Jaros, a law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said Gonzalez’s powerful testimony illustrates how certain moments can spur political leaders to act to fix ongoing problems, overcoming the ways in which people have become “anesthetized to trauma” involving poverty or violence.

“At the same time, deeply traumatic incidents can at times trigger knee-jerk responses that aren’t necessarily built on evidence, that can be worrisome as a way to create public policy,” he said, citing the backlash to recent state juvenile justice reforms as an example. “My fear is that lawmakers will fall on old reactions which have failed in the past and made things worse, again by simply ratcheting up criminal penalties and reducing protections in a way that I don’t think ultimately makes the public safer.”

Councilman Zeke Cohen said Baltimore has been able to pass meaningful legislation in the past in the aftermath of traumatic incidents. He pointed to his own Healing City Act, prompted by a school shooting in West Baltimore.

“This tragedy must lead to immediate action,” Cohen said. “The horrific events that happened in Brooklyn and the powerful testimony of Ms. Gonzalez must prompt a similarly forceful response from local government.”