For Baltimore, a long way out of this mess

A look at what a few days of violence reveals about the city's many challenges

During this long period of insane violence in Baltimore, which has begun to feel like an epoch, you can have your pick of stories wretched and stories depraved: Young men and old men, fathers and sons, murdered over debts and drugs, minor insults and stupid disputes.

Shot during robberies. Shot during arguments. Shot for no reason at all.

Hundreds of lives have been lost to the violence contagion since the surge started in late winter of 2015. And just when you think you have heard it all, and much of it the same — when you have heard numerous public information officers calmly relate dozens of these stories — something slips out. Something registers. Something makes you gravely concerned, if you were not already, that many more will die before we get out of this mess.

On Friday, there were several shootings, and one of the victims fell in the 4100 block of Chesterfield Ave., near Sinclair Lane, shortly before 1 a.m. The victim was a 16-year-old boy. Police understand that many victims — if not most victims — knew the guys who shot them. Sensing that the 16-year-old might not survive, detectives asked him to identify the one who had left him mortally wounded.

The boy refused.

And a little while later, that boy died in a hospital.

I do not know what he was thinking as he lay dying. Maybe he had been too frightened to speak. Maybe he thought he was going to survive.

That was not the first time I had heard such a story from police. Others gravely wounded have refused to talk to detectives.

Imagine the resolve it takes, in your last hour of life, to refuse the police, to fight off the revenge impulse that rages strong in many young men in our city, feeding the violence.

Stop snitchin’ — even if it’s the last thing you do.

While detectives are closing more cases, making more arrests in homicides, that stop-snitchin’ virus remains in Baltimore, especially among gang members. Combine that with a historic lack of trust between the police and citizens who live closest to the worst levels of crime, and you can see how the climb out of this mess could be long.

Baltimore has addressed the cop-citizen trust issue only since Freddie Gray. It is directly related to the violence. When the people who are paid to enforce the law are feared as the enemy by significant numbers of citizens, especially those most directly affected by crime, what happens? Not much. They don’t cooperate with police. They do not report perpetrators of violence. In some cases, maybe they take matters into their own hands — with a gun, or by enlisting someone with a gun. That’s how the contagion spreads.

For Baltimore to be a more peaceful city, in a sustained way, the police have to be part of the solution. And if the communities most beset by violence do not trust the cops, then the violence is not going to end.

That’s why Police Commissioner Kevin Davis talks about building trust so much. That’s why on Friday he made a point of praising citizens who had come forward with information in a couple of killings.

Davis wore a suit to the afternoon news conference, and his staff’s review of last week’s violence was remarkable because, in a matter of minutes, it revealed the scope of Baltimore’s problems — the 16-year-old who refused to cooperate with police; the discount store manager shot to death — “execution style,” according to Davis — for no reason; the auto shop owner shot to death in an apparent dispute; and the two young guys found on Lafayette Avenue, bleeding from gunshot wounds, both with guns in their hands.

“There’s a ridiculous amount of firearms in our city,” Davis said.

And he wanted everyone to know about 25-year-old Ryan Hazel, arrested in connection with a car crash Thursday night that left a 66-year-old woman dead. From Hazel’s vehicle police recovered not only drugs and a semiautomatic handgun, Davis said, but a 50-round drum magazine that attached to it.

That such a weapon, capable of firing 50 rounds of ammunition in seconds, is manufactured and sold for non-military use is insane. (I found one, made for a Glock 9 mm handgun, on sale online for $39.99; the customer reviews were all stellar.)

But Davis reserved most of his frustration for Hazel and the fact that he was not in jail. The commissioner said Hazel was a gang member who had been sentenced in March 2015 to three years in prison for a handgun violation. But two and a half years of the sentence had been suspended. Davis said Hazel had been arrested three other times since that conviction, one of those times with another handgun.

And yet, he was on the street Thursday night.

A 50-round drum is insane. How some judges handle felons with guns in this violent city is just crazy.

drodricks@baltsun.com

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Article For Baltimore, a long way out of this mess compiled by www.baltimoresun.com