Though Chicago gets all the media attention, Baltimore’s murder problem is actually much worse than the Windy City’s. In 2012 Baltimore recorded 219 homicides, sixth in the nation in murders per 100,000 residents. (Chicago was ranked No. 16; Flint, Mich., was first.) According to the Baltimore Sun, 156 homicides have been reported in Baltimore so far this year, putting the city on track to meet or exceed last year’s numbers. Baltimore has seen higher murder levels, to be sure, but 219 homicides in a city of 621,000 is still a very, very high number. Who are the people being shot? And what happens to the friends and families the victims leave behind?
In a must-read Baltimore Sun feature last weekend, Sun crime reporters Justin George and Justin Fenton produced seven snapshots of neighborhoods, families, and individuals that had been changed by this summer’s violence. They write about how gunfire “has turned husbands into single parents, transformed rookie cops into veterans, left missing verses in half-finished rap songs, forced politicians to personally confront the city’s crime problems, and sent longtime residents to new places and new lives.”
The stories are brief. A single mother packs up her family and flees the city after her child’s father is shot and killed in apparent retaliation for talking to police. A young Western District police officer spends a night trying to keep order in the city’s most violent neighborhoods. The saddest story, perhaps, involves a man named William Irvin whose wife was killed this June in an apparent random shooting. Now, he is struggling to raise and relate to his 17-year-old son as he deals with the gaping hole in his own life:
“I have to raise him by myself,” said Irvin, 48, a contractor. “Might sound corny, might sound however people might think, but she was the best mother to him.”
She could relate better to the boy, and was able to discuss Lil’ Wayne and Rick Ross songs. But they worked together to raise him and keep the house.
“I cooked, she cleaned,” Irvin said.
Now, “dust accumulates every day,” he said as he continued to pace, checking the front-door lock, glancing out the screen door, pulling a dead leaf from a plant on the coffee table.
In their 1997 book The Corner, which was subsequently dramatized as an HBO miniseries, David Simon and Edward Burns spent a year reporting on life, death, drugs, and futility on the streets of Baltimore. That amazing book, as well as Simon’s series The Wire, demonstrated that you can’t understand a city’s crime problems unless you understand those who are affected by it. This Sun feature takes the same approach, with similarly gripping, heart-rending results. The story is highly recommended.