There was some terrible news out of Baltimore this weekend involving a community leader who was one of the driving forces behind a program called Safe Streets. Safe Streets is a group that constantly seeks to engage gang members from the civilian side of things, mediate disputes and deescalate tensions in an effort to reduce gang violence and murders. While the murder rate in Charm City remains unacceptably high (to put it mildly), it probably would have been a lot higher were it not for the work of Dante Barksdale. He was considered one of the stars of the program and he worked with the gangs on a daily basis to improve life in the city. But on Sunday, the work he dedicated himself to apparently cost him his own life. Barksdale was found shot in the head near a public housing complex on Baltimore’s south side. (Baltimore Sun)

Dante Barksdale, the well-known face of Baltimore’s violence-prevention and crime-fighting program Safe Streets who helped lead the crime-fighting initiative for more than a decade, was shot to death Sunday, city officials confirmed.

Barksdale, fondly known as “Tater,” was shot in the head, said Stefanie Mavronis, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott.

Southeast District officers found Barksdale suffering from the head wound near the 200 block of Douglass Court, the site of the Douglass Homes public housing complex, shortly after 11:17 a.m. He was transported to Johns Hopkins Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Police initially reported an incorrect location of the incident.

Barksdale was in a unique position to do the work he was attempting. He had grown up on the “wrong side of town” and fallen in with the gangs himself. He wound up serving time in prison, where he really turned his life around. Upon his release, he went back to his old haunts, not to join the gangs, but to work to minimize the damage. An execution-style killing was apparently the thanks he finally received for his efforts.

If the name Barksdale sounds familiar to you, you were probably a fan of the HBO series “The Wire.” Dante wasn’t just any random gang member. He was the nephew of “Bodie” Barksdale, upon whom the character Avon Barksdale (the main protagonist in much of the early run of the series) was based and whose exploits informed many of the plot lines. Covering the gang violence situation in Charm City, I’ve frequently noted that The Wire was far more of a documentary than a drama. The Barksdales are one of the primary reasons why.

It’s sad to hear of Barksdale’s passing. He set a good example for the young people in the most dangerous neighborhoods of Baltimore. And while it was never going to be enough, he actually made a difference. The work of Safe Streets continues, along with other groups such as the Baltimore Ceasefire 365 initiative. But they will never fully put an end to the gang culture in that city on their own. What’s required is an entire cultural shift away from the patterns of violence and crime that have become generational fixtures in too many of Baltimore’s neighborhoods. Too many young people emerge into a world where they see no hope of a brighter future as lawful, productive citizens and the gangs probably look like their only option.

Rooting out those problems requires the city to first address the longstanding corruption in the city government and even in their police force. Then perhaps they can turn their attention to truly beating back the power of the gangs. Simultaneously, perhaps those who pick up the torch from Dante Barksdale can continue to try to tackle the problem from the inside. Baltimore looks for all the world like a lost cause at present, but maybe there is still hope somewhere down the line.