Baltimore Killings Soar to a Level Unseen in 43 Years

Juliet Linderman, Yahoo! News, July 31, 2015

Baltimore reached a grim milestone on Friday, three months after riots erupted in response to the death of Freddie Gray in police custody: With 45 homicides in July, the city has seen more bloodshed in a single month than it has in 43 years.

Police reported three deaths–two men shot Thursday and one on Friday. The men died at local hospitals.

With their deaths, this year’s homicides reached 189, far outpacing the 119 killings by July’s end in 2014. Nonfatal shootings have soared to 366, compared to 200 by the same date last year. July’s total was the worst since the city recorded 45 killings in August 1972, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The seemingly Sisyphean task of containing the city’s violence prompted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to fire her police commissioner, Anthony Batts, on July 8.

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But the killings have not abated under Interim Commissioner Kevin Davis since then.

Baltimore is not unique in its suffering; crimes are spiking in big cities around the country.

But while the city’s police are closing cases–Davis announced arrests in three recent murders several days ago–the violence is outpacing their efforts. Davis said Tuesday the “clearance rate” is at 36.6 percent, far lower than the department’s mid-40s average.

Crime experts and residents of Baltimore’s most dangerous neighborhoods cite a confluence of factors: mistrust of the police; generalized anger and hopelessness over a lack of opportunities for young black men; and competition among dealers of illegal drugs, bolstered by the looting of prescription pills from pharmacies during the riot.

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Shawn Ellerman, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Baltimore division of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said May’s homicide spike was probably related to the stolen prescription drugs, a supply that is likely exhausted by now. But the drug trade is inherently violent, and turf wars tend to prompt retaliatory killings.

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Strained relationships between police and the public also play a role, according to Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

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“We have a national issue where the police feel they are the Public Enemy No. 1,” he said, making some officers stand down and criminals become more brazen.

“There’s a rhythm to the streets,” he added. “And when people get away with gun violence, it has a long-term emboldening effect. And the good people in the neighborhood think, ‘Who has the upper hand?'”

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