Gun­fire re­sounds in city, and po­lice hear a si­lence

Of­fi­cials lament wit­nesses’ re­luc­tance to come for­ward

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Rec­tor

The video shows two chil­dren out­side an East Bal­ti­more apart­ment build­ing last Satur­day night, one in a baby rocker. At least five adults stand nearby, a dice game un­der­way.

The bul­lets came a mo­ment later, po­lice say, miss­ing their tar­get and in­stead wound­ing a 4-year-old girl, a 6-year-old boy and a 60-year-old woman.

The com­mu­nity ex­pressed ou­trage. But for days, no one came for­ward with in­for­ma­tion.

“The op­po­site of love is not hate, it’s in­dif­fer­ence,” said Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis. “We’re see­ing a lot of in­dif­fer­ence that frus­trates us and frus­trates the com­mu­nity.”

In ad­dress­ing the in­tense pace of vi­o­lence in Bal­ti­more in re­cent days, po­lice com­man­ders and city of­fi­cials have lamented the near-con­stant sound of gun­fire — but also the re­sound­ing si­lence from wit­nesses and oth­ers they be­lieve have in­for­ma­tion. It has left de­tec­tives with few leads and “trig­ger pullers” free to shoot again, po­lice say.

The shoot­ing of the chil­dren at the La­trobe Homes apart­ment build­ing was one of four triple shoot­ings dur­ing the La­bor Day week­end, when a to­tal of 22 peo­ple were shot over three days. Af­ter a record-break­ing year of vi­o­lence in 2015, when there were 344

“We have to put fear aside and do what’s right for our chil­dren.” City Coun­cil­man Bran­don Scott

homi­cides, this year is track­ing not far be­hind: Homi­cides are down slightly, but non­fa­tal shoot­ings and over­all vi­o­lent crime are up.

The Po­lice De­part­ment’s homi­cide clear­ance rate for the year is hov­er­ing just above 30 per­cent, less than half the na­tional av­er­age and about 20 per­cent­age points be­low re­cent av­er­ages for cities of Bal­ti­more’s size.

The pace of homi­cides this year has quick­ened in re­cent days, with 214 killings logged as of Fri­day. At the cur­rent rate, the city will sur­pass 300 homi­cides again this year, for only the sec­ond time since 1999.

To pre­vent that, po­lice and city of­fi­cials say, good cit­i­zens need to stand up and share the in­for­ma­tion they have. They can re­main anony­mous.

“We have to put fear aside and do what’s right for our chil­dren, and that is to stand up and say, ‘We can’t al­low peo­ple to shoot our chil­dren,’ ” said City Coun­cil­man Bran­don Scott, vice chair of the pub­lic safety com­mit­tee.

“Where are the peo­ple?” asked Chief Melvin Rus­sell, who heads the po­lice com­mu­nity col­lab­o­ra­tion di­vi­sion. “Where are the peo­ple com­ing for­ward say­ing, ‘Hey, I need to say some­thing about this. That [sus­pect] was so-and-so’?”

Davis said the ben­e­fits of pro­vid­ing po­lice with in­for­ma­tion are clear. He pointed to two ar­rests in an­other triple shoot­ing last week­end — in which wit- nesses came for­ward.

The lack of co­op­er­a­tion from wit­nesses is not new.

Bal­ti­more is the home of the “Stop Snitch­ing” cul­ture, a place State’s At­tor­ney Mar­i­lyn J. Mosby has called the “home of wit­ness in­tim­i­da­tion.”

Given such in­tim­i­da­tion, which has turned deadly in the past, some ques­tion whether the re­spon­si­bil­ity for solv­ing crime should be placed on res­i­dents.

An­tho­nyBarks­dale, a for­mer act­ing po­lice com­mis­sioner in Bal­ti­more, said po­lice should be de­vel­op­ing in­for­mants and ques­tion­ing those ar­rested for lesser crimes to draw out in­for­ma­tion, not con­stantly ask­ing law-abid­ing cit­i­zens to put them­selves at risk of re­tal­i­a­tion by talk­ing to po­lice.

“The most trou­bling part to me is that, as their strat­egy and tac­tics fail, they’re putting more and more on the shoul­ders of cit­i­zens. I don’t want to keep telling the peo­ple they need to come for­ward and sham­ing them. My God, it’s the job of po­lice to deal with crim­i­nals,” Barks­dale said. “There are peo­ple on those streets right now who only the cops should be deal­ing with. Only the cops.”

Beyond the fear, of­fi­cials have ac­knowl­edged the dis­trust many com­mu­nity mem­bers have for the po­lice, a long-stand­ing re­al­ity ex­posed by last year’s un­rest and de­scribed in a re­cent U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice re­port that found po­lice have rou­tinely vi­o­lated res­i­dents’ rights. But po­lice are ask­ing res­i­dents to join them in their ef­forts to im­prove and heal the city, not fur­ther dis­tance them­selves — es­pe­cially when it comes to chil­dren get­ting shot.

“Re­gard­less of what your re­la­tion­ship is with the po­lice, what you be­lieve com­mu­nity-po­lice re­la­tions are, let’s all call a truce for to­day to iden­tify a trig­ger puller on a 4and a 6-year-old,” po­lice spokesman T.J. Smith said of the La­trobe Homes shoot­ing. “Let’s put dif­fer­ences aside, what­ever they may be, for the sake of com­mu­nity, be­cause that per­son who de­cides to fire back and forth when the kids are clearly there does not care.”

Rus­sell said there used to be a code, where even crim­i­nals in the city would say, “We don’t shoot chil­dren, we don’t shoot in ar­eas where chil­dren are, we don’t shoot where our el­ders are.” If you broke the code, the en­tire com­mu­nity used to hold you ac­count­able, he said.

Now, with that gone, he said, his unit is work­ing to en­gage youths and re­li­gious lead­ers and to re­store re­la­tion­ships — both with po­lice and among com­mu­nity mem­bers.

Po­lice have also turned to tech­nol­ogy to try to fill the in­tel­li­gence void, earn­ing a grow­ing rep­u­ta­tion for seek­ing out high­tech so­lu­tions to crime fight­ing. Ex­am­ples in­clude the aerial sur­veil­lance trial pro­gram the de­part­ment op­er­ated in se­cret un­til re­cently and the “stingray” cell tower tech­nol­ogy it has used to track sus­pects’ move­ments by their cell­phones.

But tech­nol­ogy can’t do ev­ery­thing, po­lice say.

“We’ve said all along that we need to take ad­van­tage of tech­nol­ogy, and we are cer­tainly tak­ing ad­van­tage of tech­nol­ogy,” Davis said. “But peo­ple have to step for­ward and tell us what they know, and we need to get there quickly.”

Po­lice have even en­cour­aged vic­tims of vi­o­lence to speak out by post­ing the de­tails of their or­deals on so­cial me­dia to drum up in­for­ma­tion.

Mitchell Guthrie, a 41-year-old na­tive of Scot­land who moved to Butch­ers Hill in July, was walk­ing along North Ch­ester Street to a nearby gas sta­tion about 10 p.m. Sept. 2 when two ju­ve­niles ap­proached him; one pulled a gun and de­manded money, he said.

Guthrie thought the gun looked fake. “To me, he was just a kid. He didn’t have a real gun. I told him to get lost,” he said.

Then the other youth came from be­hind and stabbed him twice in the ab­domen be­fore the pair fled, he said. As he stum­bled to­ward home to call po­lice, cir­cles of blood started to ap­pear on his shirt.

Within min­utes, five of­fi­cers were in his house, ask­ing him to de­scribe his at­tack­ers, Guthrie said. “Al­most as I spoke the words, they were com­mu­ni­cat­ing that over the ra­dio to try to get a han­dle on who might be out on the streets to im­me­di­ately look for these guys.”

Guthrie was treated at Johns Hop­kins Hos­pi­tal. When he was dis­charged days later, two de­tec­tives came back to his house.

They said they were go­ing to look for closed-cir­cuit TV­footage and keep work­ing the case, Guthrie said. But they also had a re­quest.

“They did men­tion to me that I could re­ally help them by putting this out there on so­cial me­dia,” he said. “They said that would help the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

“We’re see­ing a lot of in­dif­fer­ence that frus­trates us,” said city Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Kevin Davis of res­i­dents’ un­will­ing­ness to speak out af­ter wit­ness­ing crimes.

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