By Ralph E. Moore Jr.
It was shocking to read about it! A recent report from a panel of city officials under the direction of the Baltimore City Health Department reported that “the leading cause of ‘unexpected or unusual’ death among children in Baltimore is homicide,” There is a study done every five years of how children in Baltimore die. The latest period of the study ended in 2020 and revealed there were 208 deaths of children under 18 years of age. Most of them were Black or non-white. How each child died, when and how old each was at the time of death has been studied and documented by the official panel.
According to the Child Fatality Review Report, 69 children were murdered in the five years of study; citywide there were over 300 homicides a year in that same period for a total of 1,500 deaths of Baltimore citizens of all ages. Children are not supposed to die. It seems unnatural for parents to bury children. Sons and daughters should lay mothers and fathers to rest. But in addition to the 69 killed, there were 60 sleep-related deaths, 40 accidents including drownings, automobile crashes, gun discharges and 20 natural deaths from surprise (that is, undiagnosed) diseases such as asthma. The cause of death was undetermined in 12 cases and seven children, very sadly, committed suicide—deaths by their own hand, “deaths at an early age” to use a phrase coined by educator Jonathan Kozol.
This is all in the context of serious childhood poverty in Baltimore. In general, as of 2017, over one fifth of the citizens of Baltimore City live below the poverty line (22.4%) while 26.5% of Black residents are officially poor, only 12.7% of White Baltimoreans are.
Roughly one out of every three children in Baltimore is destitute or poverty stricken: Census data tells us children under six have a poverty rate of 33.1%, 6 to 11 years old are 34.7% poor, adolescents 12-17 years of age are 30.8 % impoverished. Just a few years ago, when I would speak to groups around the area about race and poverty in Baltimore, I would ask the audience why there are so many poor children in Baltimore? There would be puzzled silence from the group assembled. And so, I would tell them, “There are so many poor children in Baltimore because their parents and guardians are poor!”
We cannot separate the experiences of our children from the adults they live with every day. Too many of our children are dying by murder, we should be way beyond outraged, way into an immediate action plan, an immediate reshaping of priorities in Baltimore. We have to wonder how the stress of poverty contributes to the deaths of especially Black children in Baltimore City. Great attention should be given as to how we as a city can get increased income and wealth to residents in the heart of the city. Curbing violence is very important. But bear in mind, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” It adversely affects the lives of our children and perhaps their lifespans.
Every child in our city should have an afterschool program to go to during out of school hours. Every child should be enrolled in a summer camp or be employed in a summer job once she or he turns 14. Every child should have access to a city swimming pool free of charge: summer temperatures are increasingly unbearable due to climate change. Someone should be hired in each area to walk kids to the nearest school, church basement or community center to eat when schools are not in session. Curfews for children should be enforced in a friendly manner not in a bullying way. Every few blocks or so art supplies and board games should be dispensed so that children can gather on front steps and porches of adults with the time and inclination to let them be in their care for 2-3 hours a day.
A city commission should be set up immediately by the Mayor and/or the City Council to evaluate what can be done to protect more of Baltimore’s children; the Health Department panel is good, but this work must be done by everyday, neighbor persons with an even greater sense of urgency. I am sure there are ideas out there. We’ve got to harness them and put as many of them as possible into action as soon as possible. We’ve got to save the children. We’ve got to save the future.
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