"Safe streets worker" (replacing police) gunned down in Baltimore

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

During the course of the madness that promoted “defunding” or abolishing the police, there was an emphasis placed on replacing police in some circumstances with “community safety” workers who would supposedly act as unarmed “violence interrupters” and reduce the number of lethal use of force incidents by police officers. In Baltimore, Maryland’s violent gang territories, an existing organization known as the “Safe Streets Program” gained a lot of attention and municipal support in this effort. The goal of the program is to deploy former gang members (or “former”) into areas controlled by the gangs to negotiate nonviolent resolutions to conflicts. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with other proposed “violence interruption” programs in major cities, sending someone with a clipboard out to resolve a beef between gang members isn’t always effective. That was sadly this case this week when one of Baltimore’s Safe Streets workers was shot to death along with several other people on the East side of Charm City. (Baltimore Sun)

A quadruple shooting in East Baltimore on Wednesday night left three people dead, including a Safe Streets worker, and one person injured, police said. Three others were injured in separate shootings in West and South Baltimore.

At about 7:25 p.m., Eastern District patrol officers responded to a ShotSpotter alert in the 2400 block of E. Monument St. Once there, officers located four men suffering from apparent gunshot wounds.

A 28-year-old man was pronounced dead on the scene. Medics transported three other victims to area hospitals, where a 24-year-old man and another man were also pronounced dead.

Just to be clear, I am not an opponent of the Safe Streets Program and this murder was particularly appalling, even in a city where murders are literally a daily occurrence. Tragically, the murder rate in Baltimore is still higher than what you see in Kabul, Afghanistan during any given week. If they can find people who are able and willing to go out there and talk some of the gang bangers back off the edge instead of settling their beef with illegal firearms, God bless them. They need to be willing to try anything at this point.

And it’s not as if the program has been wholly ineffective. In the specific neighborhoods that Safe Streets focuses on, there have been some measurable (if not drastic) reductions in shootings and homicides at times. Last summer, the Cherry Hill neighborhood was able to celebrate a solid year without a single gun death on the streets, though that winning streak sadly ended a short time later.

But this killing also underscores the fact that violent crime, particularly when we’re talking about gang violence, sometimes requires a legal, violent response. The Baltimore Police have been cut down in numbers and in a type of retreat ever since the Freddie Gray riots. The city’s government has spent more time trying to prosecute its own cops than the gangs that have largely retaken control of the streets in many parts of Baltimore. When law enforcement is viewed as being weakened or ineffectual, the gangs move in to fill the power vacuum.

Further, while I applaud the efforts of the Safe Streets Program, it also serves as an unpleasant reminder of the bizarre nature of the crime problem in Baltimore and how the city government chooses to address it. We’re at the point where a municipally-endorsed program is actually negotiating with the gangs in an effort to convince them to stop killing people right and left. This is an absolutely dystopian situation. Lawful citizens expect the government to keep them safe and law enforcement is supposed to not only deter, but investigate violent crime and bring suspects in for prosecution. When did we reach the point where the government has to send out negotiators to try to convince them to behave like decent human beings rather than murderous animals?

The new Mayor and the new City Council President have now been in office for more than a year. (Though the City Council President is probably a bit distracted at the moment by the legal problems he and his wife are caught up in.) Both of them, like most of their predecessors over the past couple of decades, ran for office on a promise to get the gang violence under control and reduce the rate of bloodshed. The people of the city need to hold them accountable and demand their right to step out of their homes without the constant threat of being immediately gunned down. And if these people can’t get the job done, replace them with someone who can.