Not even the soft breezes stop the gun­fire

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Dan Ro­dricks dro­dricks@balt­sun.com

Ori­oles pitcher Wade Mi­ley got the team off to a rocky start in Sun­day’s game with the Yan­kees, but even with the crummy first in­ning and the even­tual loss at Cam­den Yards, it was hard to imagine a sweeter late-sum­mer day in the city of Bal­ti­more: Plenty of sun, tem­per­a­tures in the 70s, a mild breeze from the north, a good day for base­ball or a stroll through Druid Hill Park or a nap in the ham­mock.

In the evening, the air tem­per­a­ture dropped, and for the first time in weeks, Bal­ti­more­ans could have slept with the win­dows open.

It’s hard to imagine that on a day like that any­one could pick up a gun and shoot an­other hu­man be­ing. You’d think the Ori­oles be­ing in a play­off chase might present a dis­trac­tion. Or maybe the natural splen­dor would wash away the ug­li­ness, bit­ter­ness and stu­pid­ity that hu­mans cre­ate, har­bor and un­leash. You’d think that even in the most dis­tressed neigh­bor­hoods, cool tem­per­a­tures and soft breezes would bring the peo­ple who live there a break from gun­fire.

But not even the care­free feel of a hol­i­day could keep Bal­ti­more from ex­pe­ri­enc­ing more of the vi­o­lence that fu­els civic de­spon­dency. The po­lice say 22 peo­ple were shot over the La­bor Day week­end, from Fri­day af­ter­noon through Mon­day night, with the worst of it start­ing Sun­day night. Three peo­ple were killed. Two of the wounded were chil­dren, a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old.

There no longer seems to be shock about mul­ti­ple shoot­ings across the city, par­tic­u­larly on hol­i­day week­ends. Hol­i­day week­ends are won­der­ful be­cause they bring peo­ple to­gether — and they are hor­ri­ble for the same rea­son.

Po­lice tell The Bal­ti­more Sun’s dogged crime re­porter, Justin Fen­ton, that one of the shoot­ings was caused by un­hap­pi­ness over the re­sult of a dice game. An­other might have been re­lated to gang ac­tiv­ity. If you told me one of the shoot­ings re­sulted from an ar­gu­ment over the last slice of pizza, I would not be sur­prised. There seems no end to the sup­ply of guns in the city, no mat­ter how many of them the over­worked po­lice con­fis­cate.

There al­ways seems to be a firearm avail­able when some­one wants to set­tle a score.

An­other Sun re­porter, Mered­ith Cohn, re­ports that Bal­ti­more has some of the worst hu­man health in the coun­try, and among the dreary data about asthma and obe­sity, there was this: About 30 per­cent of city kids have ex­pe­ri­enced at least two trau­mas dur­ing child­hood, and it’s not hard to imagine shoot­ings be­ing among those ex­pe­ri­ences. I once vis­ited the home of an 8-year-old boy who had been ar­rested with co­caine in his pos­ses­sion; the boy had wit­nessed his fa­ther’s murder and had sought male guid­ance among the drug deal­ers who sold heroin to his mother.

That was years ago. The boy grew into a happy young man with a col­lege diploma, a good job and a house in North­east Bal­ti­more, hav­ing been raised by foster par­ents many miles from the west-side neigh­bor­hood where he had lived with his mother and sib­lings. Though ter­ri­ble cir­cum­stances had forced the boy into foster care, grow­ing up in a kin­der place, away from poverty and dys­func­tion, among mid­dle-class peo­ple, made all the difference.

The best ev­i­dence shows that ex­actly this kind of mo­bil­ity — the chance to rent in bet­ter com­mu­ni­ties — would make all the difference to many fam­i­lies con­cen­trated in Bal­ti­more’s poor­est neigh­bor­hoods for gen­er­a­tions. And yet, ef­forts to move those fam­i­lies to places of richer op­por­tu­nity are met with re­sis­tance and even hos­til­ity. And we shake our heads that things never seem to change.

I di­gress into pol­icy about how to solve the prob­lems at the root of all this vi­o­lence: the lack of op­por­tu­nity for young men who get caught up in gangs and drug deal­ing, end up car­ry­ing guns and us­ing them to re­solve their is­sues. I realize we’ve been over this many times, with an un­end­ing parade of po­lice com­mis­sion­ers, politi­cians, crim­i­nol­o­gists and so­ci­ol­o­gists de­scrib­ing new strate­gies for re­duc­ing the vi­o­lence that keeps Bal­ti­more from full as­cen­dance.

And yet, here we are, many strate­gies later, and 22 shot over a hol­i­day week­end, and a long string of homi­cides go­ing back months and years. It re­mains very chal­leng­ing to be a ci­ti­zen of Bal­ti­more with­out tum­bling into de­spon­dency or walk­ing away in anger.

Most of us wake up here, what­ever the weather, and go about our day, try­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate what’s good about life in this pe­cu­liar city, the whole time with that sick­en­ing gun­fire in the back­ground. Among the good are the hos­pi­tals, filled with amaz­ing peo­ple. Com­ing from the Ori­oles game, I pass the Univer­sity of Mary­land Hos­pi­tal and the Shock Trauma Cen­ter, where ev­ery day doc­tors and nurses hero­ically fight off death. I’m al­ways struck by that con­found­ing no­tion — how some peo­ple can so cal­lously, even ca­su­ally, waste lives while oth­ers try so des­per­ately to save them.

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