By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,
Baltimore residents and leaders have grown concerned about the rate at which youth are dying due to street and gun violence.
Since the beginning of 2023, several youth have been gunned down during or right after school hours.
On Jan. 4, Deonta Dorsey was shot and killed at the Edmondson Village Shopping Center during the school day.
The AFRO was present at Dorsey’s wake, where more than a dozen youth cried over his casket. As painful as the scene was, it wasn’t the first or the last time children gathered in 2023 around the body of a deceased friend.
Dorsey’s demise was followed by the murder of 15 year-old Lamar M. Leslie on Jan. 21, the death of 15 year-old Laron Henderson on Jan. 25, and the brutal killing of 12-year-old Jaylen Richards on April 15.
The shootings have not stopped on both sides of the Baltimore City line.
“Juvenile crimes are very disturbing,” said Baltimore City Councilman Robert Stokes Sr., (D-District 12). “You have more juveniles with guns now than we have ever had.”
As legislators seek answers for solutions to the growing crisis, they pondered whether parents should be held legally liable for juvenile crimes.
“I do not believe that parents or adults should be held criminally liable for crimes committed by their children unless they participate in the crime,” said Sen. Jill P. Carter (D-Md.- 41) via email. “We need to address the issues that cause children to commit crimes. Giving a parent a criminal record for the crime committed by his or her child will only make the conditions of the child’s living situation worse.”
With her Juvenile Justice Reform bill, Carter recently led a significant change in how juvenile crime is handled in Maryland. A central component of the legislation restricts children under 13 from being charged in court unless they are at least 10 and have committed a violent crime as defined by Maryland’s Criminal Law Article.
The bill became law on June 1, 2022.
On Saturday August 6, 2022, 14-year-old Nykayla Strawder was fatally shot outside her home. The hand behind the gun belonged to a mere 9-year-old child.
Though there is dispute over intent, family members of the slain teenager say the child holding the firearm absolutely meant to pull the trigger and did so in a fit of anger, maliciously firing a weapon after a dispute with Nykayla’s little brother.
Still, Carter has not backed down from the legislation she helped pass.
“I still stand by my Juvenile Justice Reform bill,” said Carter. “It is important that programs be created to help develop Baltimore City youth to be successful and productive citizens. Locking them up and throwing away the key is not the solution. Treating youth like hardened adult criminals is not the answer. It has not worked in the past and will not work now.”
Baltimore City Councilman Mark Conway (D-District 4) told the AFRO he is willing to entertain legislation that holds parents liable for youth violence.
“I think we need to see legislation that would leave parents liable for juvenile crimes,” said Conway. “Parents need to be held responsible for their children. I’m sure there are a lot of nuances there that could get pretty complicated legally, but we should be thinking about it. It’s a worthwhile conversation to have.”
Stokes also said he’d support holding parents accountable for juvenile crimes, but emphasized that it’s not just a parental issue.
“We need to address juvenile crime in the city, but it can’t just be one agency,” said Stokes.“I think everybody should be held accountable. I think there should be some accountability with the parents.”
“I think it’s a good start, but we need to get more parents involved. That’s the most important part,” Stokes said in response to questions about what Baltimore City Mayor Brandon M. Scott has done so far. “We need to help bring the parents in who are not regularly home with their children. Those children don’t really have anybody to guide them, showing them the right way to go.”
Since becoming Mayor in 2020, Scott has launched a Group Violence Reduction Strategy, reinforced curfews for minors and increased trauma-informed and community-based resources for youth.
Ryan Coleman, president of the Randallstown NAACP, says Baltimore County has also seen a rise in concern regarding youth crimes.
“The Randallstown NAACP did a survey back in 2022 looking at different areas of the criminal justice system to see where improvement was needed and subsequently make it safer for the residents of not only Baltimore County, but Maryland,” said Coleman.
Baltimore County police data shows 12 percent of car thefts found in Baltimore County from May 2022 to May 2023 were juveniles. Roughly 18 percent of all recorded crimes in Baltimore County from May 2022 to May 2023 were committed by juveniles.
“We started looking at the Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) and at every turn, we were seeing that although the juveniles were being sent to DJS to be reprimanded or get additional resources, they never received adequate services and were pretty much just turned back over to their parents. A juvenile would be released and steal a car the next morning.”
Coleman said there’s been a trend of children doing what they want causing residents to have problems getting to work and driving up their insurance.
Coleman confirmed that the organization is scheduled to meet with Secretary Vincent Schiraldi of DJS in July to discuss further steps.
“There seems to be a huge hole in the juvenile system,” said Coleman. “I think we have to get to these youth when they’re doing small things before they get to the real violence so we can try to steer them in the right direction.”
Looking forward, Coleman said the Randallstown NAACP is working on legislation to hold parents accountable for juvenile crimes in next year’s general assembly.
“For the upcoming general assembly, we will have some initiatives around parents’ responsibility,” said Coleman. “If people are required to go through parenting classes due to their child’s crimes and the parent chooses not to, they should get a fine. We are trying to figure out some different ways to give the children and the parents the resources they need and hold those parents and children accountable that refuse to change.”
Tashi McQueen is a Report For America Corps Member.