City violence that victimizes children frustrates authorities

Police step up patrols

mayor calls for greater citizen involvement

July 24, 2002|By M. Dion Thompson, Del Quentin Wilber and Josh Mitchell | M. Dion Thompson, Del Quentin Wilber and Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

Who can say why it started, this wave of shootings and homicides that has swept across the city, claiming children and innocent bystanders, leaving a gravely wounded police officer fighting for his life on a sidewalk in Pimlico.

In the past week Tevin Montrel Davis, 10, was shot in the neck as he sat on the porch with his father; five people - including three young children - were shot in one barrage; and, not more than 24 hours ago, Dwight Gilmore, 13, was killed by gunfire as he stood with some friends.

"It is just a bad time," said Naomi Morris, Gilmore's grandmother. "The time is bad for children. There is not enough structured activities for them to get involved in. There is too much grown-up stuff going on for them."

Over the past 25 days, 24 people have been killed in the city - three of them juveniles.

It has left the mayor and police commissioner struggling again for solutions. The level of crime has taken such an ugly turn that Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris fears the city is on the "verge of a crisis."

Yesterday, Norris said police will step up patrols, shift more troops to fight crime and increase the number of plainclothes officers who target specific problem areas.

Norris said residents will notice a change.

"It will be much and beyond what is already out there," the commissioner said.

The tactic is in line with how police have been battling crime since Norris joined the force in early 2000. City police report firearms seizures are up 27 percent this year, arrests are up 17 percent and violent crime is down 6 percent.

Yet, what bedevils and confounds the administration, the police and the city is that even as Baltimore has won national recognition for the precipitous drop in its crime rate and in the number of homicides, the level of violence continues to devastate certain neighborhoods.

Mayor Martin O'Malley agreed that more needs to be done on all fronts, but he said he was particularly troubled by the lack of outrage from the city's other leaders. His criticism was wide-ranging, leveled at politicians and some in the criminal justice system. He said he recently told business leaders that they, too, must get involved to save the city.

"Either the drug dealers are going to continue to use our kids for target practice and recruit them, or we're gong to take charge and start treating them as our own," he said. "I should not be the only person outraged when a 10-year-old's face is shattered and the opinion leaders in the city brush it off like a squirrel has been run over. That is not acceptable."

The Tevin Davis case only highlights the problems the city faces, he said. Tevin was hit by a stray bullet that police say was fired by 19-year-old Perry Spain - a friend who occasionally bought the boy sodas and candy bars - during a West Baltimore gunfight over a craps debt.

"That poor boy. Where to begin? That whole tragic story is a real case study in the culture of failure. It should not have taken the police three days to find the man who shot that little boy," O'Malley said. "Once we did catch him, he should never have been returned to that block."

Spain was released from jail after posting $35,000 bail last week. He lives in Tevin's neighborhood.

Few people are more familiar with the ebb and flow of outrage over the city's violence than the Rev. Willie Ray. For years he has taken his "Stop the Violence" campaign to the street corners, held candlelight vigils and implored communities to rise beyond the concern of the moment.

Last night, he led a rally in the 1500 block of Baker St., near where three girls, ages 7, 8 and 12, were hit this weekend by stray bullets fired by a gunman chasing another man. The girls suffered minor wounds.

Like the mayor, Ray also is distressed by the apathy he sees. Unlike the mayor, Ray, who is black, says the city's African-American leaders have not been vocal enough.

"There's a lack of black leadership crying out about what has been happening in their communities. We have been in denial," he said. "The youth today is in need of leadership and namely black leadership. They don't need a gangster mentality leadership. They need moral, political and educated leaders to be accessible to them in their neighborhoods."

Alfred Blumstein, a renowned criminologist at Carnegie-Mellon University, noted that the lack of organization among the city's drug gangs contributes to the violence.

"When they are organized, as organized crime was in its heyday, then there is a collective interest in minimizing violence," he said. "When it's disorganized, as much drug traffic is, then you don't have that sort of social restraint. And if they have disputes, they resolve them by resorting to violence."

Blumstein says the level of violence can be attacked through aggressive sentencing of armed criminals and by cracking down on the illegal firearms trade. The entire criminal justice system, from police to parole and probation, would have to be involved in a coordinated, concerted effort, he contends.

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