More than 300 Baltimore homicides in 2018 and no solutions in sight - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

More than 300 Baltimore homicides in 2018 and no solutions in sight

A mural of Freddie Gray is seen along Mount Street near Gilmor Homes in Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood on Monday, December 10, 2018, in Baltimore, MD. (Courtesy Photo by Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

BALTIMORE – A syndicated cartoon arrives at my email address picturing Santa Claus and one of his reindeer. The reindeer’s resting on cinder blocks where his legs ought to be. His legs have been shot off. So the wounded reindeer’s berating Santa.

“Stop in Baltimore,” you said. “We’ll be fine,” you said.

Wonderful. My home town’s become a national punch line, a comic reference point, a shorthand symbol for murder and mayhem.

And why not?

We’re down to a little over 600,000 people here, but we continue killing each other more than 300 times a year. The figure would be higher, except that the local hospitals have had so much practice salvaging the wounded that they hold the killing figures down.

What’s also down, though, is the capture and conviction of those doing the killing. The Washington Post recently reported there were 1,002 homicides in Baltimore between 2015 and the start of 2018 – and no one’s been arrested in exactly 750 of those cases.

The Post recently assigned three reporters to do a long analysis of this city’s self-destruction. Their story ran the length of a novelette. Included with the usual body counts were reasons for the violence – and reasons for the drop in arrest rates, which have fallen from 41 percent to 27 percent.

Much of the problem goes back to the Freddie Gray disturbances of 2015. You don’t have to live here to remember those awful days, since they were televised, wall to wall, on every cable news outlet.

Gray, a 25-year old black man, was arrested in impoverished West Baltimore and placed in the back of a police van with his hands and legs shackled. He suffered a severe neck injury and died in a hospital bed about a week later. Days of street violence ensued.

The ensuing drop in arrests is a major fallout from the Gray troubles. The city’s streets were still smoldering when State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced criminal charges against six officers involved in the Gray case. None were convicted – but the psychological effects on the department were dramatic.

We’ve had three years here of a cop slowdown – patrol officers reluctant to leave their vehicles. Thus, fewer people are stopped for questioning in the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

Baltimore is one of 30 cities that have seen an increase in homicides in recent years, but here we’ve had the largest raw increase of any city other than Chicago, which has four times the population.

But there are other figures that stay steady – and steadily troubling. As this city reached the final weekend of 2018, and the homicide total slipped past 300, the racial disparity remained remarkable: according to Baltimore police figures, which are posted on-line, there were 10 white homicide victims in all of 2018, 5 Hispanic victims – and 238 African-American victims. (Also, 51 victims of “unknown” race.)

Such a disparity has existed for years here, and in other cities, and for all the usual reasons. Poverty is still heaviest in African-American neighborhoods, and joblessness and desperation leading to crime, much of it drug-related, much of it containing the seeds of violence, and much stretching across generations.

Last May, the nation was reminded of economic disparities built around race when the Urban League issued a report, The State of Black America, declaring African-American income about 60 percent of white Americans – and that gap, in turn, leading to less quality education (private schools, college) and quality health care.

Also last spring, the Associated Black Charities of Maryland issued a study showing the median income of black working people is just over $38,000 a year – and it’s just under $77,000 for whites.

So the new year opens with this city hoping somehow for a drop in street violence. But it’s a demoralized police department dealing with it, and top brass moving through revolving doors – three police commissioners in the past year alone, and questions still unanswered about a new boss. None of this leads to optimism about homicides.

At last report, none of Santa’s reindeer were shot over Christmas. But, in too many neighborhoods, reindeer are the only ones feeling safe.

About the author

Michael Olesker

Michael Olesker, columnist for the News American, Baltimore Sun, and Baltimore Examiner has spent a quarter of a century writing about the city he loves.He is the author of five previous books, including Michael Olesker's Baltimore: If You Live Here, You're Home, Journeys to the Heart of Baltimore, and The Colts' Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s, all published by Johns Hopkins. Contact the author.

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