Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner… (Sun photo by Julie Scharper )
The question has been debated in Baltimore for decades: How can the city cut its murder rate, which is among the highest in the nation?
For the 50 young people and their advocates who spent Saturday at Liberty Rec and Tech Center in West Baltimore, part of the solution is to create more jobs.
"We should not have to worry about walking home. We should not have to worry about our younger siblings being home alone," said Tyrone Holmes, 17, a City College senior and a student leader with the nonprofit youth advocacy group The Intersection.
The Intersection hosted a rally and career skills workshop to kick off a campaign to create 235 jobs for young people — one for each person who was murdered in Baltimore last year.
"Today we are here to reclaim our city," said Dawnya Johnson, 16, a Seton Keough High School junior and a student leader with The Intersection. "We are young people determined to make our city better."
After several years of declines, the city's homicide rate increased over the past two years, and the trend appears to be continuing. This year got off to a troubling start with 27 homicides in January — the most killed in that month since 2007 — but the violence slowed in February, with 10 homicides recorded.
The Intersection's program grew out of a "listening campaign" conducted by members of the group. They spoke with more than 400 people who had been affected by violence. People repeatedly said they thought more job opportunities for young people could help break the cycle of violence.
"More police alone cannot solve our problems," said Zeke Berzoff-Cohen, executive director of The Intersection.
"Our young people want to do right. [They] want opportunities. They want jobs," said City Councilman Nick Mosby, who attended the event with his wife, Marilyn Mosby, a candidate for city state's attorney, and their two young daughters.
After the rally, organizers with the Urban Alliance, a nonprofit that helps young people in Washington, Chicago and Baltimore find jobs and internships, led a career skills workshop.
Two Student Government Association members from Forest Park High School, juniors Lionell Yewitt and Dajah Custis, said they attended the event both to support the campaign and to learn more about getting a job.
Yewitt, 18, said he is interested in photography and journalism. Custis, 16, said she would like to work with children. Both said they've found it hard to find jobs.
Later in the afternoon, a group of political leaders and police officials presented another strategy for reducing violence: improving communication between police and residents.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts announced that they would hold a series of nine meetings around the city to enable residents to speak directly with them and with police district leaders.
"Citizens want and deserve better," said Rawlings-Blake. "We want to build a robust dialogue in every community about our city."
Batts attributed the February decrease in the homicide rate to policing changes, including an increased focus on intelligence and speeding up decision-making.
"We are a city that is becoming safer," he said, but much remains to be done.
"It's unacceptable that people feel unsafe or that there is a perception of fear in the city."