In what might be the most ironic good news seen in ages, could anti-gun rights activist Michael Bloomberg fix Baltimore’s crime problem?
Any hope of avoiding one of the grimmest headlines seen in Baltimore this year evaporated last Thursday. During the morning rush hour, on one East Baltimore street, a 21-year-old man was gunned down only yards from a small park where children regularly play. He was Charm City’s 319th homicide victim of the year, breaking the already sensational record they set in 2016.
Aleasha Bowie was recuperating at home from a surgical procedure Thursday morning when she heard a bang, and then a bang, bang, bang.
She screamed for her brother, who was just about to leave for work, then rushed to the front of the house to peer out the window, she said. On the corner outside, she saw a young man — a guy she’d watched grow up in the neighborhood — slumped on the street.
The 21-year-old man, who was not identified by police, was the 319th homicide victim in the city in 2017, tipping the annual count beyond the 318 killings that occurred in Baltimore in all of 2016.
Keep in mind that the record was broken before the end of November, leaving a full month for Baltimore to break their all-time record of 344 murders set in 2015. The pace hasn’t slowed since then, with more bodies falling over the weekend, including four shootings early Sunday morning resulting in one death and three serious injuries.
This has turned into an endless nightmare for the city’s new mayor, Catherine Pugh, who announced early on that one of her main points of focus would be to curb the violence.
In her first year as mayor, the 67-year-old former state senator has taken steps to reduce unemployment, shored up funding for schools and torn down public monuments to the Confederacy.
But whatever progress she might be making on those fronts has been overwhelmed by the rising concern among city residents, community activists and business leaders that Baltimore’s crime rate remains persistently and staggeringly high — and nothing officials have done to address it seems to be having any effect.
So how does New York City billionaire and famous anti-gun rights advocate Michael Bloomberg fit into this scenario? No, he isn’t suddenly encouraging law-abiding residents to arm themselves and protect their homes and families. But he is dumping millions of dollars into the coffers of the Baltimore Police Department. The money is being earmarked for the purchase of more surveillance cameras, gun-shot detection software and license plate readers.
While they could still use more officers on the beat, this is great news for Baltimore. The cops can’t catch the killers if they have no idea who or where they are. But all of these measures will prove controversial with the same civic leaders and City Council members who always chime in on such efforts. Surveillance cameras are installed in the neighborhoods with the worst crime rates. In Baltimore’s case, that means primarily minority neighborhoods so the the ACLU and everyone else will shortly be protesting these activities as racial discrimination.
The same goes for the gun-shot detection software. In some ways, the license plate readers are even more difficult to deploy, going beyond basic cries of racism, because privacy advocates claim that the government shouldn’t be recording license plates without a direct warrant to look for specific cars. Unfortunately, Baltimore’s cops know the same thing as police forces in every other city: you fight crime where the crime is. Hopefully the staggering number of murders this year will tamp down some of the normal resistance.
I rarely find myself seeing eye to eye with Michael Bloomberg, but even I find myself saying God Bless this man for his contribution. He’s putting his money where his mouth is and actually trying to do something to help law enforcement deal with an unimaginably bad problem. Now if he could only convince the City Council to stop opposing stiffer sentencing guidelines for gun violence offenders and allow both the cops and the courts to do their jobs.