In my previous blog posts, I discussed the plight of Baltimore’s educational system, as well as the drug epidemic that has earned Baltimore the title of “heroin capital of the United States.” While discussing the issues of urban America, it is important to recognize that each problem is intertwined, impacting all aspects of the city. For example, turning to drug dealing as a means of making money frequently culminates in school dropout, further aggravating the problem low educational attainment and reduced rates of achievement. In addition, drug addiction can lead many individuals to life of crime as they desperately seek money to support their habit. I would like to use this next post to explore the recent spike in violent crime in Baltimore, examining both drug-related and non-drug related offenses.
On august 7, 2015, The Baltimore Brew released a chilling article about the crime rates in Baltimore. Unfortunately, the city so dear to me has recently surpassed Detroit in the number of homicides, thus being deemed the second deadliest city in the United States, behind St. Louis. From January 2015 to July 2015, 189 killings were reported in Baltimore. That is 64% more homicides than in 2014. Statistics show that there are around 30 killings per every 100,000 citizens. Citizens and city officials struggled to understand this rapid uptick in violent crime.
According to the Baltimore Brew, there are several factors that may be relevant in understanding the unexpected rise of homicides. Police Commissioner, Kevin Davis, places the blame on easy access to guns and accompanying gang-related violence. As an attempt to understand and discuss the rise in violence, the Major Cities Chief Police Association hosted a meeting in Washington D.C. During this meeting, D.C. Police Chief, Cathy L. Lanier, explained that the homicides taking place in dangerous cities, such as Baltimore, are no longer between a lone gunman and his victim, but rather gunplay between multiple individuals armed with highly lethal weapons. Baltimore Police have made 22% more gun arrests in an attempt to curb the violence. However, this may have had the opposite effect with regard to attitudes about the police.
In the city of Baltimore, many neighborhoods with a low socioeconomic status have developed a deep contempt and mistrust for the police. An example of this animosity for police was apparent in the chaos that erupted following Freddie Gray’s death while in custody of the Baltimore City Police.. Freddie Gray was an African American man arrested by the Baltimore City Police who died while being transported in a police van on April, 2015. At some point in police custody, Gray suffered an injury to the spinal cord, which ultimately lead to his death. The six officers involved in his death are charged with manslaughter, false arrest, as well as reckless endangerment. Following Gray’s death, on April 25, 2015, a peaceful protest took a deadly turn resulting fires, looting, and several arrests in the City of Baltimore. Some individuals believe that the rise in homicides in Baltimore may be due to what is known as the “Ferguson Effect.” This theory links protests of police violence towards African Americans to a spike in crime rates. Others speculate that police may be “standing down” or less aggressive for fear they will be criticized for the manner in which they do their job.
However, Stephanie Rawling-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, argues that the rise of homicides in Baltimore does not have anything to do with Freddie Gray or less aggressive policing. Rather, she claims that increase in crimes has to do with drugs, escalating gang violence, and easy access to guns. She also goes on to state that the rise in homicides is a national issue, not just a Baltimore issue, that needs to be addressed by the government.
In attempt to solve the problem at a local level, FBI agents have been assigned to work with local Baltimore detectives to try and investigate unsolved homicides. In addition, the police department is going through several reformations and adjustments, including the retirement of several high-ranking officers.
Statistics shows that the vast number of homicides that take place in Baltimore have to do with gang-violence, drugs, and easy access to guns. While the rate of homicides has risen sharply this year, there is no clear strategy to reduce these numbers. Perhaps the United States should consider the revision of its gun policies with the aim of reducing access, especially for highly lethal automatic weapons. Concurrently, cities such as Baltimore, must address the vexing problem of drug addiction, limited access to drug treatment, drug trade, and the resultant gang violence driving crime statistics.