Not even the soft breezes stop the gunfire
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.