Baltimore's grim ceremony honoring the fallen in the gang wars

As we’ve already discussed, the city of Baltimore, Maryland broke a longstanding record last year, recording more homicides than had been seen in decades. Numerous initiatives at the state and local level have left the government looking powerless to stop the gang warfare and slaughter. But there are a couple of people who may eventually prove able to do more than all of their elected officials combined. One of those is Daphne Alston, the co-founder of Mothers of Murdered Sons. She took to the streets once again this year to perform a solemn, tragic ritual, joining other mothers in reading the full list of names of all those who were killed in 2017. And she’s attracting all the right sort of attention for her efforts.

Daphne Alston co-founded Mothers of Murdered Sons after the killing of her son, Tariq, in Harford County 10 years ago.

“It’s not a numbers game. It’s not a game we’re playing, a video. This is real human life here,” Alston told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. “People are still not getting it, and I don’t want these kids to die in vain.”

For the third year, Alston led a reading of the names of the 343 people who were murdered in Baltimore in 2017, which set a per-capita record for the city.

She started with Shaemon Pearlie, the 20-year-old who was the first recorded homicide last year.

“I don’t know why this year is the hardest,” Alston said after pausing inside the chapel at March Funeral Home on East North Avenue. “Our children can’t rest in peace until we bring some kind of end to this war.”

These ladies are using the exact correct language. They are losing their children to a war, not some tenuous public debate on social justice or politics. Nor is this a question of the efficiency or integrity of municipal law enforcement. They are living in a battleground where gangs settle their differences with illegal guns, frequently involving children as young as eleven or twelve. And until the government stops fretting over whether any tougher policies will hurt anyone’s feelings or be viewed as racially insensitive and begins treating this like a war, any path to victory will be made all that much harder.

But the first step had to come from the community. It had to come from the families, the churches, the schools and all of the people who are out on the front lines each and every day, even when there are no local television cameras around or politicians looking for a photo op. And these mothers, along with the spiritual leaders in the local churches, are the ideal agents of change to get people involved. They need to take back the streets and let the entire city know that they will not stand for this bloodshed anymore. Make the ground less fertile for the growth of gang violence and the gangs will recede.

Are they already having an effect? It’s a bit too soon to say. The early hours of the new year weren’t all that encouraging since Charm City racked up two murders in the first eighteen hours after they rang in 2018. The first one happened in broad daylight and involved yet another African-American pedestrian who was shot in the neck right out on the street by an unknown assailant. In that sense, the message doesn’t seem to be getting through to the gangs. But the city and the state will be unable to help the citizens of Baltimore unless they are first willing to help themselves. With a little prayer and a lot of luck, perhaps Daphne Alston and her neighbors are taking the first steps along that path.

Jazz Shaw Jun 22, 2021 6:01 PM ET