You may recall that earlier this year, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was named President of the US Conference of Mayors for her outstanding work in serving the people of her city and demonstrating innovation in turning things around. As part of that process, she decided to summarily fire Police Commissioner Anthony Batts back in the beginning of July. To say the least, I expressed some reservations about the move, particularly considering that most of the questionable tactics employed by the cops during the Freddy Gray riots were handed down from City Hall. But who am I to second guess the Best Mayor in America? Maybe she’s on to something.
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 expert analysts weighing in on this subject on the city’s behalf are citing all manner of factors including distrust of the police, high unemployment, lack of opportunity and the rest of the usual political talking points. The cops, on the other hand, point out politically unfortunate factors such as turf wars between drug dealers and new, rising black markets fueled by a boatload of prescription pills looted from the pharmacy during the riots.
Perched on a friend’s stoop, Sherry Moore, 55, said she knew “mostly all” of the young men killed recently in West Baltimore, including an 18-year-old fatally shot a half-block away. Moore said many more pills are on the street since the riot, making people wilder than usual.
“The ones doing the violence, the shootings, they’re eating Percocet like candy and they’re not thinking about consequences. They have no discipline, they have no respect — they think this is a game. How many can I put down on the East side? How many can I put down on the West side?”
How’s that community outreach thing going? From the sound of it, not all that great. CNN has done an interesting series of incognito interviews with members of the Baltimore Police force who didn’t wish to be identified but said that things are just a mess. (Some of the video can be viewed here.) The cops are increasingly afraid to do their jobs. They are facing an emboldened criminal class at the same time as they wonder if their leadership will have their backs if they take an aggressive stance against gang violence. I have to sympathize with them on that point. How quickly would you be running down an ally after an armed suspect if you knew that, in the event you had to shoot it out, the aftermath would be moderated on live television by Al Sharpton?
Whatever Rawlings-Blake is doing in Baltimore isn’t working. Perhaps rather than blaming the cops on the beat or dreaming up new social interaction schemes, the city might look at asking her to step down and turn the job over to somebody capable of restoring some semblance of law and order in the streets.