Bal­ti­more res­i­dents re­act to vi­o­lence

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE -

Even in a city where crime seems like a chronic rather than an episodic dis­ease, the re­cent string of killings, shoot­ings and rob­beries has felt qual­i­ta­tively dif­fer­ent.

BAL­TI­MORE (TNS) — Sit­ting in the hair sa­lon she has owned for 27 years, Pamela Cole­man was say­ing she hasn’t been a vic­tim of crime her­self. Then she quickly knocked on the near­est piece of wood — to avoid jinx­ing not only her­self but also her city.

“I’m not go­ing to say we’ve hit bot­tom,” said Cole­man, the 52-year-old owner of XCe­tra Sa­lon in the Hamil­ton neigh­bor­hood of North­east Bal­ti­more. “But we’re not far from the bot­tom.

“I think it’s the worst I’ve ever seen, and I have been liv­ing in Bal­ti­more my en­tire life. I don’t re­ally feel safe any­where any­more.”

Even in a city where crime seems like a chronic rather than an episodic dis­ease, the re­cent string of killings, shoot­ings and rob­beries has felt qual­i­ta­tively dif­fer­ent. Mayor Cather­ine Pugh says the vi­o­lence is out of con­trol. Three years into a his­toric spike in killing, it’s not clear that any­one has any idea how to cur­tail it. In con­ver­sa­tions pri­vate and pub­lic, in neigh­bor­hood gath­er­ing spa­ces and on so­cial me­dia, fear is ris­ing.

On Wed­nes­day, Bal­ti­more showed it still had the ca­pac­ity to shock, in the fatal shoot­ing of po­lice De­tec­tive Sean Suiter. The 18-year vet­eran, who joined the homi­cide unit in 2015, as the vi­o­lence be­gan ris­ing, was in­ves­ti­gat­ing one of last year’s 318 killings. He be­came this year’s 309th. The shooter re­mained at large, even as po­lice de­scended on the Har­lem Park neigh­bor­hood, shut down streets and banged on doors in search of the sus­pect or ev­i­dence that would lead to him.

The day­light shoot­ing of Suiter came hard on the heels of an­other brazen at­tack. Just the day be­fore, a Lo­cust Point man was killed in a rob­bery as he left a Royal Farms on Key High­way. He had stopped at the con­ve­nience store af­ter work to pick up a snack of cook­ies and milk. Three sus­pects are in cus­tody.

That Alexan­der Wrob­lewski, 41, was killed within view of the se­cu­rity cam­eras that guard the nearby and justopened An­them House lux­ury apart­ments seemed em­blem­atic of where Bal­ti­more finds him­self at the mo­ment: striv­ing for a bet­ter ver­sion of it­self, and yet seem­ingly trapped in a dan­ger­ous, im­pov­er­ished past.

Bal­ti­more, and the im­age it has sought to present to the world — and to Ama­zon, which is look­ing for a place to build its sec­ond head­quar­ters — has taken a de­cided hit, as even those most de­voted to pol­ish­ing that im­age con­ceded.

“We have ex­pe­ri­enced a very dis­heart­en­ing week and a rash of in­ci­dents of vi­o­lent crime and homi­cides,” said Don Fry, pres­i­dent and CEO of the pro-busi­ness Greater Bal­ti­more Com­mit­tee. “One of the things that this clearly does is it over­whelms the good news and pos­i­tive things that are oc­cur­ring in the city ever y day.”

Marc Weller, lead de­vel­oper of Port Cov­ing­ton, where Un­der Ar­mour is build­ing its head­quar­ters and hopes to wel­come Ama­zon’s, as well, said busi­nesses will con­tinue to flock to the city.

“Un­for­tu­nately, and many times trag­i­cally, crime is up in many ci­ties, and Bal­ti­more is no ex­cep­tion,” Weller said.

He was quick to add that the city’s po­lit­i­cal, po­lice, busi­ness and com­mu­nity lead­ers “are all work­ing hard to­gether to find so­lu­tions to re­duce crime now, but also cre­ate jobs and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties so we can change th­ese trends for the long-term.”

But in neigh­bor­hoods beyond Port Cov­ing­ton — home also to The Bal­ti­more

Sun‘s print­ing plant — the wait for those fixes has felt end­less.

Owen Keith sur­veyed the crum­bling and va­cant row­houses, the empty lots and wind-whirled de­bris out­side Har­lem Park El­e­men­tary School.

“This is what you get,” said Keith, 49.

By “this,” he meant the an­gry crime, the di­lap­i­dated hous­ing, the ram­pant drug deal­ing and all the other ur­ban woes that he blames on gen­eral ne­glect — espe­cially to the needs of young peo­ple in Bal­ti­more.

“They don’t have enough for th­ese kids to do,” he said. “And you look around and see all the va­cants. They could get the kids to help build the com­mu­nity up.”

In­stead, Keith said, he sees kids on the streets, not in school or work­ing, and headed, per­haps, to­ward the path he took. He used and dealt drugs and served prison time, he said. Now he’s clean, he said, and in a pro­gram to be­come a peer coun­selor for ad­dicts. Keith had stopped by the school to pick up his girl­friend’s grand­son. As kids freshly sprung from school jumped onto play­ground equip­ment or streamed to­ward home, their shouts and laugh­ter mixed with the thrum of a he­li­copter cir­cling over­head. Blocks nearby re­mained cor­doned off as po­lice con­tin­ued to in­ves­ti­gate Suiter’s killing. Keith fid­dled with his phone, go­ing through pic­tures, one af­ter the other, of a step­son and oth­ers he’s lost to homi­cide over the years. And those are only the ones he per­son­ally knows.

“I don’t think a day goes by now that some­thing doesn’t hap­pen,” Keith said. “Ev­ery­where you walk now, you won­der, what’s go­ing to hap­pen? Are you go­ing to be a vic­tim of crime, or are you go­ing to be hurt by mis­take be­cause of some­thing that’s go­ing on in a neigh­bor­hood?”

It’s not just the crime, Sharon John­son said. It’s the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of crimes.

The Fed­eral Hill woman owns the Cheese Ga­lore and More stall in the Cross Street Mar­ket.

“Ev­ery now and then, there’s a flurry of crime, and you’re kind of alert,” she said. “Then it sub­sides and you take it easy again.

“Now, it doesn’t seem like it’s let­ting up.”

She wor­ries for both her­self and her busi­ness of more than six years. She and her friends at the mar­ket walk each other to park­ing spa­ces at close of day. She some­times taps 9-1-1 on her phone when she’s walk­ing at night. If some­thing hap­pens, she can quickly hit “call.” But then she heard that walk­ing with your phone out can at­tract rob­bers.

John­son is alarmed by the most re­cent crimes in the area — in ad­di­tion to Wrob­lewski’s killing, there were mul­ti­ple street at­tacks on Hal­loween night at­trib­uted to groups of teenagers. But she would date the be­gin­ning of the cur­rent trou­bles even fur­ther back. She thinks the city still hasn’t re­cov­ered from the ri­ots of April 2015.

“Busi­ness has been aw­ful since then,” she said as she trimmed herbs for a cheese tray. She works across from one of sev­eral empty stalls in the mar­ket. She said fewer vis­i­tors to the Ori­oles or Ravens sta­di­ums are stop­ping by.

“Peo­ple are go­ing to the game,” she said, “and then just leav­ing and go­ing home.”

Er­ricka Bridgeford, the founder of Bal­ti­more Cease­fire 365, un­der­stands the sense of de­spair wash­ing through parts of the city. But the West Bal­ti­more woman said the fo­cus seems off.

For one thing, she said, it shouldn’t take more vic­tims for Bal­ti­more­ans to find the sit­u­a­tion un­ac­cept­able.

“One per­son be­ing killed, things are out of con­trol,” she said.

For an­other, peo­ple need to build on the pos­i­tives, how­ever small.

With Bal­ti­more Cease­fire 365, Bridgeford has or­ga­nized two week­ends this year built around a sim­ple mes­sage: “No­body kill any­body.”

Af­ter the sec­ond week­end, she noted, “Bal­ti­more went for six whole days with­out any­one be­ing killed.”

It might seem a small, even piti­ful vic­tory, and one per­haps no other city would brag about. But Bridgeford ar­gues that vi­o­lence in Bal­ti­more didn’t “pop up overnight” nor should it be ex­pected to van­ish in such swift fash­ion.

“I truly un­der­stand why peo­ple feel hope­less­ness. I carry their hope­less­ness. I got their back,” she said. She has lost her brother, a step­son and oth­ers to homi­cide.

“I’ve buried peo­ple since I’ve been 12,” she said. “Ev­ery­one has a time when they’ve been bro­ken, when they’re a pile of ashes.

“We need to look at how things got this way. The only way it won’t change is if we don’t keep push­ing. Our com­mit­ment has to be stronger than our hope­less­ness.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.