Baltimore, Other Cities See Violent Holiday Weekend

Greg Toppo and Aamer Madhani, Detroit Free Press, May 27, 2015

Violence surged in major U.S. cities over Memorial Day weekend, bringing new highs for homicides in Chicago and Baltimore after years of declining crime.

Nine murders and nearly 30 shootings over the weekend brought Baltimore’s monthly homicide toll to its highest point in more than 15 years, taxing a city and police department already pushed to its limits after rioting last month.

Baltimore logged a record 35 homicides as of Tuesday, the most in a single month since 1999. This year, the city has had 108 homicides.

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The Memorial Day weekend was also a bloody one in Chicago, where at least 12 people were killed and 44 were wounded in gun violence from Friday night to Tuesday morning. The rash of violence continues a trend of killings and shootings that began this year after the city recorded the fewest homicides in decades last year.

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Even before this weekend’s incidents, murders were up 17% and non-fatal shootings had jumped 24% from the same time last year, according to Chicago Police Department statistics. The city has recorded 133 homicides this year as of May 17 compared with 114 at the same time last year. There have been 693 shootings this year compared with 560 at the same time last year.

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After seeing crime drop sharply in the first half of 2014, St. Louis saw a steep rise in violence in several neighborhoods as protests grew, following the shooting death of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson by police officer Darren Wilson. By year’s end, St. Louis logged 157 homicides, the city’s highest yearly toll since 2008.

The problem has persisted this year as well: Homicides went up 6% for the first quarter of 2015 compared with the same period last year.

Police Chief Sam Dotson said he noted a decrease in police-initiated interactions with residents in the midst of the worst protests in the St. Louis area in the weeks after Brown’s killing in August. Police also were less active in November after the St. Louis County prosecutor announced Wilson wouldn’t face criminal charges.

In Baltimore, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts wrote a letter to community leaders Monday, acknowledging the disintegrating relationship between police and the community. He said the police would move “aggressively” to address the violence.

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Batts told the Sun last week that police have struggled to stop burgeoning violence since the death of Freddie Gray, 25, on April 19 set off days of protests in West Baltimore and prompted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to put the city under a five-day curfew. Gray died a week after police arrested him from injuries he received while in police custody. Last week, a grand jury indicted six police officers in Gray’s death.

An investigation by WBAL-TV found a 32% drop in arrests since the curfew. Police arrested 355 people after the curfew, compared with 522 arrests from March 2-8. The station’s inquiry also found that homicide rates are up nearly 40% compared with last year.

In the 1990s, Baltimore routinely saw more than 300 homicides a year. The death toll dropped to 253 in 2002, under then-Mayor Martin O’Malley, who instituted a “zero tolerance” approach to crime.

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