As of December 16, 2013, the number of homicides in Baltimore reached 224. That’s the highest total in several years.
If you believe Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, the increase is easy to explain. According to Martin O’Shameless himself, all Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has to do is adopt the “crime-fighting” strategy O’Malley used when he was mayor of this town.
You might recall what that “crime-fighting” strategy involved: cops locking up everything and everything that showed traces of protoplasm and human DNA, even for the pettiest of crimes. The theory was that with such mass arrests, cops might indeed nab a murderer or two.
The number of homicides did indeed go down during the O’Malley regime, but they continued to drop under former Mayor Sheila Dixon and Rawlings-Blake, who abandoned O’Malley’s “let’s lock everybody— including parking attendants— up” policy.
O’Malley was elected mayor just as homicides— and crime in general— showed a downward trend. It’s not that his policy was effective; O’Malley just got darned lucky.
So what IS driving Baltimore’s homicide numbers upward? Several years ago, when I still worked at The Baltimore Sun, I took a bus trip with a group of local black men to Philadelphia.
At the time, Philly was averaging a homicide A DAY. You read that right: those inclined to murder in the City of Brotherly Love were so off the hook that they were dispatching their victims’ daily.
The idea of the trip was that perhaps concerned black men from Baltimore and Philly could put their heads together and perhaps come up with a strategy for lowering black-on-black homicides in each city.
The mayor and police chief of Philadelphia addressed the Baltimore group. Each described the typical homicide victim AND homicide perpetrator in their city: young, black males with third or fourth grade reading levels with criminal records from fatherless homes.
That same profile could apply to black-on-black homicide in Oakland, California; Detroit; Newark, New
Jersey— well, fill in the name of any large American city here. And it sure as heck applies to Baltimore.
There are far too many young black men here who read at the third or fourth grade level, have criminal records and come from fatherless homes. I left that meeting in Philly feeling a bit disheartened.
Those young black men that fit the homicide victim/perpetrator profile just were not going to go away. Inevitably, they would take up the criminal life and homicides in Baltimore would start rising again.
The only way to keep a young, black boy who comes from a fatherless home from slipping into the criminal lifestyle is to reach that boy early. And I’m talking really young here, around the age of seven or eight years old.
Once these young black men in their teens are in the criminal justice system, they are already committed to the path their lives will take: the one that will lead, almost inevitably, to them being either a victim of homicide, or the one that commits homicide.
Here in Baltimore, that homicide victim/perpetrator profile is only one part of the problem.
Just as important is the penchant of Baltimore juries to acquit defendants of murder charges even when evidence clearly shows the defendant was guilty.
When I was a columnist at The Baltimore Sun, no fewer than two circuit court judges contacted me about this problem. They said they had presided over cases where the evidence of guilt was overwhelming, and yet the jury chose to acquit rather than convict.
So a murderer— probably with a lengthy criminal record— was cut loose and turned back out on the streets, probably to commit more murders.
I wonder what the homicide victim/perpetrator profile for Baltimore in 2013 will look like? I’m betting that victims and perpetrators— in many cases— will have criminal records that could stretch from here to Philadelphia.