A spate of killings has reignited longstanding frustration and conflict amid another year of rampant gun violence in Baltimore, according to the Associated Press. The city’s homicide count surpassed 300 for the eighth year running as violence remains stubbornly high despite repeated promises from city officials and new anti-violence initiatives. Community members presented a variety of ideas about how to address the intractable problem. Some say citizens should help promote cultural change, while others criticize elected leaders for repeatedly failing to quell the violence, which remains heavily concentrated in neighborhoods most affected by poverty, racism, and prolonged disinvestment. “The city has allowed this to happen for so long, but it’s the city’s responsibility to keep our citizens safe,” said Imhotep Fatiu of the Pan-Afrikan Liberation Movement, which focuses on strengthening Baltimore’s Black community. “We need to put pressure on the government.” Fatiu questioned how city officials would react if the violence was occurring in whiter, more affluent communities, pointing out the vacant row houses and overgrown lots. Others called on their peers to assume a more active role in anti-violence efforts. In northwest Baltimore, Park Heights once boasted a thriving economy and picturesque tree-lined streets surrounding the historic Pimlico Race Course. However, white flight and other factors led to increased rates of poverty, violence, and economic decline.
Although Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott released a five-year plan to reduce gun violence by 15 percent annually after he took office in December 2020, Baltimore recorded 322 homicides in 2022, and detectives solved fewer than 40 percent of homicide cases. “I’ll be the first person to admit, we are not where we need to be,” Scott said. “It is clear that we are moving forward, but this work has just begun.” Baltimore gun violence has remained elevated since the 2015 deadly arrest of Freddie Gray led to unrest and police corruption scandals that fractured public trust. The police department is operating under a federal consent decree imposed in 2017 after investigators found a pattern of unconstitutional policing practices. Scott and Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the plan on addressing the root causes of violence is through community-based programs that provide services like conflict mediation, life coaching, and employment opportunities. In the police department’s Western Distric, officials highlighted a 38 percent reduction in shootings and homicides, where a pilot program of their Group Violence Reduction Strategy was launched this year. The strategy relies on a collaboration between Baltimore police and community groups to target potential shooters and victims, offering them services and support. The initial results look promising, and officials hope to expand the strategy citywide by mid-2024. Officials also announced a reorganization of their Safe Streets program. The changes, after three Safe Streets workers were killed in 18 months, seek to establish more oversight and standardized training for “violence interrupters,” conflict mediators with credibility in their communities.