Turn­ing pain into pur­pose in Bal­ti­more

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - E.R. Shipp E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize win­ner for com­men­tary, is the jour­nal­ist in res­i­dence at Mor­gan State Univer­sity’s School of Global Jour­nal­ism and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Her col­umn runs every other Wed­nes­day. Email: er.shipp@aol.com.

For many of us, tun­ing out the con­se­quences of seem­ingly out-of-con­trol vi­o­lence is as sim­ple as turn­ing off the news. For a grow­ing num­ber of us, how­ever, that is not an option.

Just con­sider for a mo­ment all the peo­ple who were touched by what hap­pened ear­lier this month. Re­mem­ber this head­line: “La­bor Day week­end sees 22 shot in Bal­ti­more from Fri­day af­ter­noon to Monday”? What about the days since, when there have been more shoot­ings and close to two dozen deaths?

Take Dwight R. B. Cook, who di­rects op­er­a­tions at the Mur­phy Fine Arts Cen­ter at Mor­gan State Univer­sity. When he heard about Dameon Rone, 41, be­ing stabbed to death Sept. 9 at 1800 E. 29th Street, his first thought was: “That’s the same block my son got killed.” Close. His son, D’Rod­er­ick Cook, 28, was shot to death three years ago on Easter Sun­day morn­ing at 1608 E. 29th Street.

The mad­ness has come to St. Peter Claver Church, a cen­ter of spir­i­tual and com­mu­nal life in West Bal­ti­more. At a monthly com­mu­nity meet­ing last week, Ray Kelly, a church mem­ber and leader in the com­mu­nity ad­vo­cacy group No Bound­aries Coali­tion, an­nounced: “Sadly we had a shoot­ing on the church grounds at 3:30 in the morn­ing yes­ter­day. A 16-year-old kid got shot in the hand in front of the grotto.” Hours later, and pos­si­bly re­lated, an­other young man was killed “just be­hind the church on Presst­man and Carey,” he told the few dozen peo­ple gath­ered to craft a com­mu­nity re­sponse to the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s re­port on the Bal­ti­more City Po­lice Depart­ment.

Mr. Kelly looks back on 2014, when there were “only” 21 homi­cides in the Western po­lice district as “very good.” That’s be­cause in 2015, there were 66. As of Sun­day evening, there have been 38, putting the district on track for a to­tal of 53 this year.

The city­wide num­bers — more than 1,000 homi­cides since Jan­uary 2013 — do not be­gin to reg­is­ter the par­a­lyz­ing pain and suf­fo­cat­ing sor­row of those left be­hind from vi­o­lence. As my friend Vin­cent Dion Stringer wrote in a poem that be­came the lyrics for an or­ches­tral work called “A Mother’s Lament”: “So many names un­known / So many sons lost / So many hearts bro­ken / So many lights dimmed.” Some have turned pain into pur­pose. This marks the 165th week that Tawanda Jones has led West Wed­nes­day demon­stra­tions since her brother, Tyrone West, died in po­lice cus­tody after a strug­gle dur­ing a ques­tion­able ar­rest in North­east Bal­ti­more in 2013. She is still de­mand­ing an­swers and an over­haul of the Po­lice Depart­ment.

Kathryn Cooper Nicholas formed Sis­ters Sav­ing the City after her son An­dre was killed by a men­tally dis­turbed ac­quain­tance in 2014; she con­cen­trates much of her ef­forts on work­ing with young peo­ple in Park Heights. At An­dre’s fu­neral, a young man came up to her to ex­press his sense of pro­found loss, telling her how much of an im­pact he son had made. “If I didn’t have An­dre to talk to, I would have shot a lot of peo­ple by now,” she re­calls him say­ing. NowMs. Nicholas reg­u­larly talks to him, as well as to other young men she says worry about when it will be their time to die.

Alice Oaks lost both of her sons six years apart, and be­cause of an im­pen­e­tra­ble don’t-snitch cul­ture, their deaths re­main un­solved. She joined Sur­vivors Against Vi­o­lence Ev­ery­where (SAVE) “to help a child, any child” and to en­sure that she does not lose her seven grand­chil­dren to the streets.

The women re­main hope­ful as they go to one com­mu­nity fo­rum or pub­lic hear­ing after an­other. But Ms. Oaks, who only turns on the news when she fig­ures it’s time for the weather, knows that most of us will be mo­men­tar­ily in­ter­ested in their sto­ries and then will go on with our lives.

Daphne Al­ston, who started Moth­ers of Mur­dered Sons (MOMS) after her son Tarik was shot to death in Har­ford County in 2008, wants to see less wring­ing of hands and more di­rect ac­tion. Teens and young adults, she notes, are hardly likely to show up for our com­mu­nity fo­rums.

“You have to go to where they are,” she says. “They’re in the streets. Some­times you might have to change [meet­ing times] from 2 o’clock in the af­ter­noon and go out there at 10 min­utes to 10 at night.”

For sure, that takes more courage than watch­ing the news at 10 or 11 for the lat­est death toll.

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