Together we can solve Baltimore’s crime problem

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How much fear exists in a teenager who loads a firearm and shoots a bullet into the head of another young man on a city street? Think of the years and experiences that build a teenage killer in such a short time.

Imagine it.

Does your child have that fear?  Will your son sire a child as his only symbol for a life he believes will be brief or spent in jail?  Does your daughter see her zenith in life the birth of a child with one of these young men rather than graduating high school?  Imagine.

Baltimore homicides have declined from 353 in 1993 to 196 in 2011, a low not seen here since the late 1970s.  Though the numbers remain stubbornly high in a city that has lost population since then, much of the credit for the decline goes to the hard work of police and prosecutors in a city that still carries grave mistrust of legal authority.

Since outgoing Police Commissioner Fred Bealefield took the job in 2007, he has managed to bring down the number of shootings, murders and gun crime in general while bringing down the arrest rate, too.  Yet, even with the prosecution of police in the Majestic Towing scandal, the perceptions of police ineptitude and corruption persists even when the commissioner made public that exposing corruption was one of his department’s priorities.

I am no defender of police, but I wish to make a point.   I know the average cop often has a problem differentiating between a good guy and a thug.  I have had to remind several uniformed officers of the Northern that on my block we are not armed, that we too are on the front line and that we pay their salaries.  And yet I empathize with any cop or citizen who understands how public perception plays into how effective policing is.

“Cop was a block away when my son was shot but where was he?  Cops don’t care.” We often hear this complaint about city police.  Still, this was from my neighbor Dex Moss, who  did some time in Jessup for drug-related offenses.  His son, Jerry Isaac, was 22 in February when he was murdered trying to break up a fight between feuding teenage gangs east of Greenmount Avenue.  As it stands, homicide detectives have witnesses too fearful to go on record and no one has been charged in Jerry’s murder.

Jerry Isaac was killed in Baltimore at age 22.

For his grieving, I said little to Dex concerning his obvious contradiction.   I held my tongue even harder when I thought of all the heroin and coke he had sold through the years to people who became parents of young men, any one of whom may have been his son’s killer.

We have an undeclared civil war going on in Baltimore.  Like many cities, the war is not about colors black, white or blue.  That most of Baltimore’s players and casualties are black is incidental to the greater evil confronting us.

Talking about “slavery days” or a “plantation mentality” is like debating street corner “Israelites” with their simple understanding of the Bible and its wisdom.  These guys are not The Burning Spear.  To go there is to miss the facts of the present, not all of which are tied to the past because every child born is a chance at renewal for this city.

Ultimately, the war is about red, the color of blood and how to stop it flowing on the streets of Baltimore.

Folks blame the “war on drugs” as the cause of our incarceration rate in the U.S. exploding 274 percent in three decades.  Still, they ignore addictions’ devastating effect on families.  Others say it is “black robes, white justice” and use statistics and theories of minority incarceration as simple proof of a conspiracy.  As well, they disregard the model of black Americans’ base survival and how to replicate it.

We’re at so absurd a point that writers such as Peter Moskos, an ex Baltimore City cop, are suggesting we use flogging to mete out punishment rather than our failed method of incarceration.  Now that criminal justice costs are often the second most expensive budget line for most states, leaders are wondering what to do and where they went wrong.

“Trickle down economics” brought us a national economy that has hemorrhaged jobs for three decades and the incarceration rate skyrocketed.  In that time, hedge fund managers such as presidential nominee Mitt Romney tossed around American companies the way we once tossed baseball cards.  Even David Stockman admits the earnings trickled up and stayed there.  The blue collar, union jobs that once made Baltimore powerful have gone around the globe and will not return in the same form.

In Baltimore, this is what we know:

  • Maryland has largely given up on this city and its political power is passing to the suburban counties who now have more money, safer streets and better schools.
  • The GOP, if Romney wins in November, will continue to take the U.S. toward a 17th century Cromwellian theocracy.
  • In Baltimore we have a crime problem that we haven’t publicly dealt with.

We’d like to think its different for other folks, but  right and wrong is neither arbitrary nor relative for any society.  Still, depending on ones class or color, we in Baltimore seem to make exceptions for right and wrong.  Exceptions we would not allow our children, we allow in other peoples children.

Then we sit in wonder when that child does not meet national standards in reading even though we didn’t give them the choice we gave our own.  Then we look for someone to blame and we may even be right in some of our blame.  So what?  The kid still can’t read and now he’s an adult looking for a job.  In the end, we know where he’ll find employment.  He’ll be slingin’ bags on the corner, trying not to get pinched by the Po-Po we called to get another dealer off our block.

Cops are human and hence, fallible.  They’ve had to modernize their tactics and thinking.  Still, we see them only in moral absolutes in situations we’ve helped create that are neither moral nor absolute.  They are often just plain horrible.  This writer wonders whether any other agency official in this city could endure the public scrutiny the everyday cop endures?  And, I wonder whether readers have asked  cops they meet how their day is going?  Have you wished them “good day” as we do in Baltimore?  Have we decided to believe in ourselves and one another rather than blame each other?  Or, are we still willing to remain “One Brother Short”?

In Baltimore, we’d better recognize that it’s not a white thing, a black thing or a blue thing.  Y’all, it’s a “we” thing and we’d better get clear on this.

That’s what “Yes We Can” is all about.  My fellow liberals, who too often attach themselves to the latest minority impact study, forget that white folks are catching up to black folks.  These days there is precious little difference between Essex or Landsdowne and East Baltimore, but we expect more from white kids and have little sympathy for them.

Jerry was my neighbor and my friend.  He had become a Muslim and carried his Koran with him though his ability to read it was rough at times.  We often read together and compared notes on faith.  He was learning and that good book was his shield against the streets.  Here was a guy who’d left his father’s ways and gone to a place where he felt peace and strength, not anger.  He’d become a man.