By the time city officials gathered last Sunday for the annual ceremony commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery, Baltimore had already witnessed its seventh homicide of the new year. The carnage prompted Mayor Schmoke to drop his prepared remarks and ask rhetorically, "Why are we killing ourselves like this?"
The vast majority of homicide victims in Baltimore are young and poor and black. A widely publicized study last year reported that homicide is the leading cause of death among young black men, who die overwhelmingly at the hands of other young black men.
But while it was entirely appropriate to address the problem of black-on-black violence on the day commemorating blacks' emancipation from slavery, it also was somewhat misleading. "Can you imagine the hurt and anguish our ancestors feel looking down on us in 1992?" Baltimore Rep. Kweisi Mfume asked the assembled crowd. Well, yes we can -- but no more so than we can imagine that of the ancestors of children living in, say, Medellin, Colombia, or any other other impoverished Third World city where similar conditions exist. It is not race or previous condition of servitude but the pervasive poverty and hopelessness under which people live that drive them to commit desperate acts.