Murder's toll

September 13, 2002

`THE CITY had gone several days without a homicide ..."

In that chilling phrase from Thursday's Sun, Baltimore's murder problem came into focus once again. Even one day without a murder seems a blessing here.

Of course, the respite didn't last.

Three more had been murdered Tuesday night: One man shot in the face; another shot in the back of the head with a shotgun; a 15-year-old killed in a shooting that left a 13-year-old wounded.

Mayor Martin O'Malley admirably takes responsibility for failing to keep the toll under 175, which had been his goal for this year. That figure was reached Tuesday. "It just reflects the fact that there's much more work that we need to do," he said.

Indeed -- but not just by the mayor. There is virtual silence among other city officials on this subject. No council member, no state senator, no member of the House of Delegates, and few ministers dare to speak forcefully against the carnage that robs Baltimore of human potential and quality of life.

The nature of these killings and so many others -- wanton, brutal, conscience-free--suggests clearly that too many people see murder as a rational and defensible action. Turning that thinking around has to be a part of the counterattack; Baltimoreans must be made to feel that murders are not part of some immutable pattern.

Ministers and political leaders should be pounding that message home, and the people who make this city their home should heed it. Because policing alone can't stop the kind of murdering that took three lives on Tuesday night and that took so many others in the weeks and months before.

What, after all, does it say about a community, that a death toll of 175 would have been considered a victory? Whatever the answer, it's a "victory" the people of Baltimore won't be claiming.

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