Residents from Ednor Gardens to Park Heights stood as a united front against violence on the Aug. 6 for National Night Out (NNO), a citizen initiative to take back the streets.
Hundreds of Baltimoreans across the city gathered at more than 70 locations alongside the Baltimore police department, state and local officials and community leaders for a night of food, fun, games and resources in hope to curb a recent wave of violent crime.
Residents chowed down on Caribbean food from food trucks such as Black-owned Savannah’s Great Kitchen, manned by 14-year police veteran Sgt. James Glanville. Local Baltimore talent performed on stages across the city. Lil Key, 13, performed a slew of conscious, fun raps alongside a dance crew at Mondawmin Mall and Lake Montebello. Kids enjoyed football games and vendors provided residents with information about health insurance, mortgage workshops and community events.
Joyce Williams, a seven-year resident of Park Heights, said she heard about the National Night Out event at Mondawmin Mall on Facebook. She said she came for the free school supplies, which were exhausted in less than an hour.
Williams said she wants to see police officers work harder on curbing crime the in Baltimore.
“I think crime could be better in the city,” said Williams. “I haven’t personally seen any crazy issues.”
Councilman Brandon M. Scott, vice chair of the council’s public safety committee, said it is important that the city of Baltimore be a part of National Night Out because of the continuing history of violence here.
“It’s important for the city of Baltimore and residents across the community to come together and stand against crime,” said Scott. “It’s important for Baltimore because of the recent amount of crime in the city.”
A surge in violent crime in Baltimore, beginning at the start of summer triggered alarms among local residents. During the first five days of summer 27 people were shot, nine of them fatally. Police, local officials and community leaders scrabbled as local residents demanded answers.
Scott said initiatives such as National Night Out, the recent 300-Man March which spanned 10 miles of North Ave., and Councilman Nick Mosby’s weekly “Enough is Enough” peace rallies in the 7th district are helping to mend and grow community-police relationships in the city and curb crime.
Baltimore police department records show that as of Aug. 6 141 homicides have occurred in the city, 14 more than at this time in 2012.
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who visited multiple NNO locations, said despite the recent uptick in crime, Baltimore is moving towards a down swing in violent crime.
“We have to galvanize the community and police department to combat crime in the city,” said Brown. “We also need to bring resources to the residents of the city.”
In an effort to curb the increase in violence after a recent spike early in the summer, Kowalczyk said the police department is focusing their efforts on high crime areas around the city.
“Right now we’re deploying in hotspot areas and working on targeted enforcement,” said Kowalczyk. “Police are continuing to be engaged in hot spot areas.”
While Kowalcyzk said he could not go into detail about which areas in the city were hot spots, in a recent interview former police spokesperson Anthony Gugliemi said parts of the eastern and western districts have historically been trouble areas in the city.
Lt. Col. Melvin Russell, head of the police department’s community partnership division, said presence by law enforcement in an area is number one way to help curb crime in the city.
“Our crew is always working on how to stop violence,” said Russell. “Presence produces reduction… We are using faith walks and events like NNO to get the community to come together with us.”
But not every Baltimore resident believes the answer to curbing crime lies solely in presence and community partnerships.
Erika Montgomery, 39, who lives in East Rosemont, said the city’s upswing in crime is because of the lack of resources for youth in the city.
“There isn’t a lot for young kids to do,” said Montgomery. “There’s no recs and not a lot of pools. There’s nothing for these kids to do in the summer, but get into trouble.”
Montgomery said while her neighborhood is relatively quiet, she worries about her 19-year-old son. She said she tries to keep him active in sports and other activities to keep him from a more destructive lifestyle.
Mary Wallace, 85, attended National Night Out at Lake Montebello near her Ednor Gardens home where she has lived since 1976. She said Baltimore’s high crime numbers are a direct function of the city’s broken criminal justice system.
Wallace said perpetrators are not given harsh enough sentences. She said she supports the take-back-the-streets initiative.
“It gives kids and young people something to do besides roaming the streets,” said Wallace. “It’s the one time they really have something to do in the city.”
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