By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, [email protected]
On Dec. 15, Baltimore appeared to register the 300th homicide of 2018, a 64-year old man later identified as Mousa Mohammad Jabar. The victim was the owner of the Stop 1 convenience store on Garrison Blvd. in Northwest Baltimore, which had been the scene of horrible violence in the past. Jabar was the father of five.
With about two weeks left in the year, the homicide of Jabar would have pushed the city to the horrific 300 murder milestone for the fourth year in a row.
However, at the end of the year the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) typically declassifies some homicides and that seems to be what happened this week (the homicide total stands at 298 as I write this column).
So, for now, we have a reprieve from the 300 murder mark. But, tragically it seems clear that reprieve won’t last.
On Dec. 18, BPD reported five shootings within 90 minutes (from 1:00 p.m. to 2:26 p.m.) during that afternoon. Incredibly, nobody died. But, the criminal milieu seems determined to reach and eclipse 300 murders in 2018. Yet, despite the violence Mayor Catherine Pugh presses on touting the initiatives that she says have yielded moderate decreases in crime over the course of 2018.
On Dec. 17, the day before those five shootings in 90 minutes, Pugh addressed a gathering of members of the Safe Streets violence prevention and interruption program, which works to reduce shootings and murder in the city’s most perilous neighborhoods.
“Safe Streets helps us to mitigate some of the violence, as you all know the confrontations,” Pugh said at the Curran Room at City Hall. “While we are trending downward in every single category in crime, I can tell you that we have not done enough. But, I can tell you that part of the reason that we are down is you all on the streets every day.”
As she talked to the Safe Streets leaders, Pugh brought up a conversation she had with Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, the author, professor and public intellectual regarding the pandemic violence in our city where the victims and perpetrators almost always look the same.
“I want to have a conversation around Black men killing Black men. Because there are too many illegal guns on the streets of our city, and you all know you see it. Too many Black men killing Black men,” Pugh said.
“Too many murders in our street, too many folks devaluing life, no conversation around what’s wrong, what’s right or why we’re here.”
During her monologue, the mayor sprinkled in a few of the myriad other ills confronting our city she is charged with crafting solutions for. She specifically discussed the nexus between unemployment and violence before delving back into the murder and mayhem that paralyzes so many of us.
“But, you all mitigate the arguments that take place on the street, the confrontations that take place on the street, that could erupt into something more violent. And what I say to folks is that what we are experiencing on the streets of our city you know, it’s about territorializing different parts of the city,” she said. “`If I’m going to sell drugs over here then you can’t come over here. If you come over here I’ll shoot you here and the next thing you know my sister, my daughter, my father, my mother, somebody gets caught in the crossfire.’ One life lost in the city is one life too many.”
As the city hovers near the 300 murder mark at the end of 2018 Pugh’s message seems clear; effective governance is crucial, but the choices we all make as residents of this city are infinitely more important.
“And so that’s why your work is so important, because we’ve got to teach folks that life is valuable. These folks don’t get up off the ground to live another day, or to have conversations with their daughter, their mother, their father, their sister, their cousin, they don’t get to do that,” Pugh said.
“And so that conversation around Black men killing Black men and now we’ve got women in the streets as well, that conversation needs to be had and it needs to be had in a very meaningful way.”
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.