A Baltimore grand jury charged with examining youth gun violence is sponsoring an essay contest for all city public school students, in an effort to raise awareness of the problem.
The contest was one of several recommendations made by the grand jury after a circuit judge directed the panel to develop a plan for law enforcement officials and residents to curb gun violence. The jury announced its "Save Our City" contest last week.
Grand juries in Baltimore are given assignments beyond hearing evidence in criminal cases, and past panels have examined topics ranging from vocational training for prisoners to mental illness among inmates. But officials believe this is the first time a city grand jury has sponsored an essay contest for youths.
Patrice L. Boyd, a member of the jury who developed the contest idea, hopes the essays will "create awareness in the school system," as well as give the jury members a perspective on the views of the children.
"I'm thinking I'm going to get personal experiences," said Boyd, who will be judging the contest. "Maybe a classmate has been injured or killed by a gun."
The grand jury, which met from September until last month, is asking students to answer, "What is the best way to get rid of guns in Baltimore City?"
Children from elementary, middle and high schools are being asked to enter. A $75 savings bond will be given to one winner from each school level at an award ceremony next month.
In September, Judge Wanda K. Heard asked the 23 grand jurors to analyze initiatives to curb violence.
Heard said she chose youth gun violence as a topic because she worried about her teen-age daughter.
"I'm a judge but I am also a mom, and I am concerned," Heard said at the time.
In addition to the contest, the jury suggested that the school system and Police Department create an educational film for students to show the impact of handgun violence.
The panel also proposed extending school hours and increasing family functions as resolutions to the gun violence problem.
Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris and members of the grand jury will present the savings bonds to winners March 14 in a ceremony at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse.
Boyd hopes the contest will set a precedent for future grand jurors. "It's the first time a grand jury didn't just walk away after serving a session," Boyd said.