Where's the plan?

August 06, 2007

Baltimore's homicide numbers are surging, and the common question is what to do about the killings. The almost daily murders prompted the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to publicize the daily death toll to galvanize the community.

Posting the number for neighborhood consumption may have some effect, but no public display can substitute for a comprehensive plan that looks beyond law enforcement to repair broken and underserved communities, where criminal enterprises and gangs flourish and law-abiding citizens are unable to take back the streets.

One prominent model for a community outreach approach is Boston, where local political and law enforcement officials extended recreation and jobs programs, particularly during restless summer months, and church leaders and community residents banded together to try to curb violence - especially perpetrated by and directed at juveniles. Similarly, 3,000 people in New Orleans marched on City Hall in January to protest the killings of two innocent bystanders in a wave of violence. Although the city had suffered a high number of homicides before Hurricane Katrina, the protest march signaled that residents were fed up.

That's the kind of emotion the local NAACP wants to stir up with its proposal to display Baltimore's current homicide numbers in homes and businesses, similar to what the national organization did to call attention to lynchings nearly seven decades ago. The displays would be part of a larger initiative to channel what the group calls "outrage at the homicides" into more constructive efforts to confront the myriad forces driving up the numbers this year, and to combat a sense of apathy in many communities that anything can be done about them.

There are no easy or single answers, but beyond changes in the criminal justice system, a big part of the solution must include more jobs; more mentoring, after-school and recreational programs; more services for parents, including mental health counseling and substance abuse programs; more early-childhood development programs; and more effective schools.

Does Baltimore have the community and political will to fight for such changes? That's the question on which the city's future success may hinge.

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