Picturing murder in the hundreds

Group hopes a plaza strewn with `victims' will stir action

October 26, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

There will be more than 240 of them, live people lying on the ground in War Memorial Plaza this coming Sunday, each bearing a number.

They will wear identical white T-shirts with a black ribbon that says in yellow print, "No More Murders."

One person, one homicide. Each number a physical representation of a life lost in Baltimore this year, a man or woman fallen victim to the violence that has left the city on pace to reach nearly 300 homicides for the first time this decade.

"The average citizen can't put their arms around a 241 number, it's very hard to visualize," said Kimberly Haven, executive director of Justice Maryland, the group organizing the event.

"This is a way for people to see it, to feel it, to experience it, and then rise up to the challenge and work to solve the problem," she added.

For a city accustomed to having among the highest murder rates in the country, Baltimore has long had a reputation of apathy, residents numb to the violence that plays out on their streets every day.

The palpable outrage to surges in violence seen in cities such as Newark, N.J., and Boston has been harder to find here.

In Boston when 16 people were killed in the first few months of the year -- a rate far lower than Baltimore's -- residents were outraged and the government responded with millions of dollars for crime-fighting programs.

In Newark this year, the community galvanized around stemming crime after three teenagers were killed execution-style on a playground.

And just this past weekend, thousands of men joined a mobilization effort in Philadelphia to try to fight the city's sudden spike in homicides.

As Baltimore faces an especially violent year -- homicides and nonfatal shootings are up -- various groups are striving to take action, to do something, anything, to help solve the problem.

In September, a group of women and sisters of homicide victims, called "Sisters Saving the City," gathered on corners to pray to end violence. The goal of putting 10,000 people on Baltimore's streets fell short. Instead, hundreds filled 20 corners.

Mayor Sheila Dixon said she supports efforts to raise awareness about the city's homicide rate and to engage residents to find solutions. But Dixon said she believes the city will finish the year with fewer than 300 homicides and a recent slowdown in killings suggests that might be the case.

The number of homicides to date is now about 10 percent higher than last year. While still an increase, the pace has slowed significantly from mid-July, when the number of murders was nearly 22 percent over the same period in 2006.

"We're trying every mechanism possible and hopefully their demonstration along with what we're trying to do, we can continue to reduce the number of murders," Dixon said. "Communities are getting more engaged than they have been. We're sending a message that we're not going to accept this."

For Justice Maryland, a statewide criminal justice advocacy organization, the dramatization on Sunday will be its first step.

The two-hour event, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., will involve elected officials, faith leaders, business and community leaders and family members of victims. A news conference to announce details is set for today.

The group has reached out to local colleges, and is recruiting many students to hold up numbers and stage the demonstration.

The Baltimore City Youth Commission is involved in the planning. "We're trying to bring people from every single part of the city you can think of together," said Charles LaMont, 20, who is an adviser to the commission. "Spiritual, business, educational, youth."

LaMont recalled a recent instance in which he was getting a ride home and two blocks from his house, a young man walked in front of the car and pulled up his shirt, as if he was about to pull out a gun.

When he reported the incident to the police, several of LaMont's family members urged him not to report their address out of fear. "We just have to have the courage to take the initiative on this kind of thing," said LaMont.

Carl O. Snowden, a civil rights activist, is also among the community members who has helped plan the event.

"I've been meeting people all over Baltimore City who have expressed a huge concern about the carnage taking place across the city, the wanton, senseless murders that have occurred," said Snowden.

"People are willing to come together to say enough is enough," he added. "Organizing is going on and it's across racial lines. A cross-section of the city is coming together in the spirit of unity to try to prevent this ongoing killing."

The goal of the demonstration, Snowden said, is to attract attention not just within Baltimore, but across the state. Snowden lives in Anne Arundel County but works in Baltimore at the Maryland attorney general's office.

"I think we've got to come to realize that no matter where you live we are all affected by this," said Snowden. "All of us travel to the city."

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