Martha Benton, a public housing tenant, and Dr. Warre Hayman of Johns Hopkins University have a tragic fact in common: Each had a son who was murdered in Baltimore last year.
Mrs. Benton and Dr. Hayman were among those who spoke to a crowd of 300 at a "Stop the Killing Rally" yesterday at Dunbar Community High School.
"Why did they kill my children?" sobbed Mrs. Benton, whose son Kelvin, 24, was stabbed to death last August, and whose 15-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver in 1980. "I'm tired of the killing, tired of crime, tired of the drunk drivers!"
Dr. Hayman's son, Warren Jr., 28, was shot to death and robbed last May.
"Every time I hear the statistic that 305 persons were killed in Baltimore city last year I know that Warren Jr. is part of that number. . . . These things last for a lifetime," he said.
Another mother, Progelee Pearson, two of whose sons were shot to death, said parents can break the cycle of violence by loving their children.
"Teach them to love themselves, and then they can't hurt anyone else," she said.
Of course, neither murder nor rallies against it are anything new in Baltimore.
Former Representative Parren J. Mitchell, who received an award at the rally from Associated Black Charities, held a "Stop the Killing" rally in 1973, after the city record of 330 murders was set the previous year.
Yet speakers, including Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, held out hope that Baltimoreans could make a difference.
Mr. Schmoke, who has pledged to limit the number of city murders this year, urged residents to "take back your streets and neighborhoods" by joining block watches and patrols, and by turning in guns to police.
"Nationally, we're losing more people on the streets of our cities than on the battlefields of war," he said.
Mr. Schmoke conceded in an interview that the city's murder rate could become an issue in his re-election campaign this year, although he described it as part of a "national problem. Anybody who raises it will have to present an effective solution," he said.
Forty persons have been murdered in Baltimore so far this year,according to the city homicide squad.
Maj. Alvin Winkler, commander of the city's Eastern police district, which reported 43 murders last year, worries that city children have lost their sensitivity to violence. He recalled seeing youngsters at the scene of a bloody fatal shooting last summer, enjoying a sno-ball or a soda while the body was still in the street.
"When kids as young as five or six years old are eating a popsicle like nothing is going on, there's some serious problems with that," he said."When you're loved, things bother you when people get hurt. . . . There are some good kids in this community. All they need is us."
Harriet Gaither, who helped bring 13 children to the rally yesterday from West Baltimore, is one of those trying to be there for city kids.
Ms. Gaither, a 27-year-old claims adjuster, is co-founder of Youth United for Success, a group of volunteers that works with children two evenings a week at the Parkview Recreation Center near Druid Hill Park and takes them on weekend outings.
"I love it because the kids are very responsive," she said. "But it has to begin at home with the family. There has got to be a strong family base for these kids to learn what's right and wrong."
Appropriately perhaps, some of the music at the rally was provided by the March Singers, a "community outreach" program of the March funeral home.
What you can do
Maj. Alvin Winkler, commander of Baltimore's Eastern Police District, urges residents to call 911 anonymously to report violent incidents and to dial 685-4867 to tell police who carries guns in their neighborhoods.