Baltimore must not relinquish its streets
Last week, the FBI reported that murders were up by 10 percent in 2015 over the year before, and that violent crime rose by 4 percent. In Baltimore, the number of homicides has risen to 235 already this year, compared with 197 in all of 2011. In Chicago, well over 3,000 people have been shot in 2016, and the number of homicides has risen above 500 — more than any year there since the early 2000s. Other cities — including Detroit, New Orleans and St. Louis — are also suffering and, as the violence rises, an increasing number of shootings and murders are going unsolved.
The time has come for the police departments of major cities to pool their resources in order to deal with the rising wave of violent crime now sweeping through many urban centers. Top law enforcement officials should gather in Baltimore to discuss what works and what doesn’t. The major elements of the problem are: Gangs who rule the streets and stage turf battles to hold their ground;
A subculture of mindless violence that leads to often deadly confrontations over even the most minor of issues;
A lack of trust and interaction between police and the public they are sworn to serve and protect;
And an unwillingness within the gen- eral population to contact the proper authorities because of a pervasive fear of retribution.
The U.S. Department of Justice and Baltimore police agreed to negotiate courtenforceable reforms after a report sharply criticized officers for using excessive force and routinely discriminating against blacks. Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division, said during a news conference in the company of the incumbent mayor and police commissioner, “These violations have deeply eroded the relationship between the police and community it serves.”
But while there is no doubt that police procedures and tactics should be refined and enforced, it isn’t the police who are engaged in the shooting and the killing. In Chicago, it has been determined that almost all the victims and perpetrators were and are young black males, and the data show that the same pattern exists here in Baltimore and in other cities where the deadly violence has spiked.
I was reminded recently by a former colleague, the wife of a retired Baltimore police officer, that the Black Lives Matter movement was actually born not in Ferguson, Mo., two years ago, but here in Baltimore back in 1985. It was then that Rep. Parren Mitchell of Baltimore observed, “Us killing us equals genocide.” A few years later, then-Mayor Kurt Schmoke appealed to Baltimoreans to work with police and take back the streets. But the carnage goes on, as the perpetrators do their worst and then are allowed to “hide in plain sight” by a populace too frightened, too beaten down, too timid to give anything more than lip service to their desire to be free of the danger that stalks them day and night.
It is imperative that the public at large get past its perception that police are an “occupying army.” They are the sworn guardians of the streets; their job is to preserve and protect. And while it may be well-intended, the relentless clamor for more oversight of the Baltimore Police Department by committees and civilian review boards will solve nothing unless and until the people rise up and say, “These are our streets, these are our homes and we won’t stand for this any longer!” And we must allow police to do their jobs, even as we insist that they obey the law.
In Chicago, the president of the police union recently lamented, “Wehave lost the streets.”
He was wrong. You can’t lose anything unless you give up. And that must not happen in Baltimore.
Congressman Mitchell was almost right when he proclaimed that “us killing us equals genocide.” It is, in fact, fratricide which is, arguably, even worse.