The more things change . . .
November 14, 2015 8:24 PM   Subscribe

After more than a decade of decline, Baltimore's homicide rate spikes up. Tonight it just broke the 300 mark.

The first time around, Baltimore's reputation for violent crime and homicide was built from the late 1970s onward. It got bad enough to inspire David Simon to pen Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets in 1991, which led to the award-winning "Homicide: Life on the Street." At its worst, the number of homicides annually was well into the 300s, averaging just over one a day.

But after peaking in 1999, it began to fall, and by the mid-2000s, it was clearly not a fluke. By 2011, the number even dipped below 200, to 197.

Until lately. By 2014, there was an uptick again, and after Baltimore's hellish April, the early '90s have returned with a sharp spike in homicides. And tonight, Baltimore broke 300 once again. Local columnist, erstwhile radio host, and Baltimore lover Dan Rodricks vents his frustrations.
posted by CommonSense (17 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I live in the middle of the city, North and Calvert. Not sure what you mean "hellish April"? I'd be curious what the other Baltimore mefites, such as Advil, capnsue, sonoscope, etc..have to say. Not trying to call anyone out, but Baltimore is...Baltimore.
posted by josher71 at 9:10 PM on November 14, 2015


I assume "hellish April" refers to Freddy Gray.
I imagine some factors following that may be relevant, such as the supposed flood of prescription drugs hitting the streets after being looted from pharmacies around town and the terrible statements from the police union. But my understanding is that violent crime is up in many places, not just Baltimore...?
Also, hello, neighbor. I am two blocks away at North and Barclay.
posted by zoinks at 10:11 PM on November 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not just Baltimore.
This is not meant to minimize what is happening here, just to say that there is a larger trend happening.
posted by zoinks at 10:17 PM on November 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Another Baltimore City resident chiming in. We do see this in other cities, and I have to think one of the trends driving the violence is the economy, and how few people have benefited from the recovery. It seems to me that the more economically marginalized you are, the less you have to lose and the more important honor becomes. Loss of honor, being dishonored, can become an existential crisis provoking a proportional response (in other words, a response that threatens the self of the one who has threatened your sense of self).
posted by postel's law at 11:47 PM on November 14, 2015 [4 favorites]


It says much about me, or maybe the state of the country, that I thought this was going to be a post about the Baltimore police killing their 300th unarmed civilian of the year.
posted by maxwelton at 2:07 AM on November 15, 2015


It says much about me, or maybe the state of the country, that I thought this was going to be a post about the Baltimore police killing their 300th unarmed civilian of the year.

It's in the area of 700 to 800 killings by police nationally in the US. The killing of three hundred civilians a year in one city would put it close to the number in Rio de Janeiro -- a level of police violence a couple of orders of magnitude higher than in US cities.

This is not meant to minimize what is happening here, just to say that there is a larger trend happening.

It is definitely a national trend, but I would expect it to show up most vividly in places like Baltimore that have dysfunctional and ineffective policing already.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:56 AM on November 15, 2015


This is not meant to minimize what is happening here, just to say that there is a larger trend happening.

Yeah, and the director of the FBI keeps saying he thinks viral videos are to blame. I was at one of the speeches where he said this and was just utterly aghast.
posted by listen, lady at 5:21 AM on November 15, 2015


Yeah, and the director of the FBI keeps saying he thinks viral videos are to blame. I was at one of the speeches where he said this and was just utterly aghast.

I can only speculate that he has latched on to the notion of the observer effect in physics: the understanding that measuring something changes it. I have read the linked article three times and I still find his logic elusive. Police being aware that they are under greater scrutiny are now less inclined to do good police work?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:48 AM on November 15, 2015 [1 favorite]


I drive to DC from Connecticut from time to time to see my daughter in D.C. After watching, belatedly, The Wife, I pick up speed driving through Baltimore. That series was not good PR for the city, but was in spot on nonetheless? Baltimorians, what think?
posted by Postroad at 5:53 AM on November 15, 2015


I guess we can't blame bloodstream lead levels this time. It's almost like social problems are complex and have multiple contributing factors.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:37 AM on November 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


BTW, I'd watch the shit out of a gritty cable series called "The Wife". Just think of the cast.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:38 AM on November 15, 2015 [3 favorites]


After watching, belatedly, The Wi(f)re, I pick up speed driving through Baltimore. That series was not good PR for the city, but was in spot on nonetheless? Baltimorians, what think?

As someone who grew up in Baltimore, in one of the neighborhoods featured in The Wire, the really frustrating thing about that show is this. Simon et al made a pretty comprehensive critique of American society: politics, economy, culture, etc., set that critique in Baltimore and everyone thinks oh shit, Baltimore is something special.

It's not really about Baltimore; it's about the whole country. You're going to have to drive even faster if you want to feel safe...
posted by ennui.bz at 6:53 AM on November 15, 2015 [8 favorites]


It's in the area of 700 to 800 killings by police nationally in the US. The killing of three hundred civilians a year in one city would put it close to the number in Rio de Janeiro -- a level of police violence a couple of orders of magnitude higher than in US cities.

The Wikipedia article about India entitled encounter killings by police lists one individual officer who has killed more than a hundred people. (Presumably not all in one year, though.) Every time I follow a link to a newspaper article about that guy it actually attributes more killings to him than the Wikipedia article does.
posted by XMLicious at 7:14 AM on November 15, 2015


I drive to DC from Connecticut from time to time to see my daughter in D.C. After watching, belatedly, The Wife, I pick up speed driving through Baltimore.

Stop speeding in my goddamn city.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:51 AM on November 15, 2015 [10 favorites]


Yeah, I'm not so sold on this framing. I think the Baltimore Sun article on this is quite a bit better at contextualizing things than WaPo in this case.

There's been a lot of speculation on the various factors of this going around since june, when people first started noticing the spike, and it isn't clear that any one of those factors is a single cause. As far as I can tell, the prescription drug thing was complete bs. It is definitely true that arrests dropped (like halved) following the protests, ultimately resulting in the police commissioner getting replaced, but as the Sun article puts it, 'Questions have also been raised about whether a slowdown by police contributed to the spike, because arrests plummeted in the weeks after the six officers were charged in the Gray case. But police are quick to note that gun seizures have increased.'

The current police spin: '"There is no randomness associated with these murders," Davis said of the majority of this year's killings. "They're gang-related, they're retaliatory in nature, and they center around drug disputes. And unfortunately, where there are drugs, there's money; and where there is money, there are guns."'

However, one component of this has to be a reduced trust (from already low levels) between the community and the police -- especially among the many disenfranchized communities of Baltimore. (Other related stuff is the ongoing scandal in the baltimore public housing division, complete with alleged sex for repairs extortion, pretty obvious firing of whistleblowers, and apparent doubling down of the people in charge of that division.) Baltimore is definitely in a mess, and the homicide rate is probably a symptom as much as anything. It, like much of the rest of the country, probably is hellish for poor and non-white people, including in April -- but April was just a time where you could see that bubbling to the surface.

I drive to DC from Connecticut from time to time to see my daughter in D.C. After watching, belatedly, The Wife, I pick up speed driving through Baltimore. That series was not good PR for the city, but was in spot on nonetheless? Baltimorians, what think?

I can't tell if this is even satire, but no, you are not going to get carjacked on 95. I'd suggest that from a place of privilege (which I'm in too) "how could this directly impact me?" is not the right way to think about the problems of a city like Baltimore. I've been living in Baltimore City for 6 years now and I can tell you they don't impact me directly, even a little bit. But that is irrelevant to the actual problems, which are substantially and desperately in need of solutions.
posted by advil at 8:12 AM on November 15, 2015 [7 favorites]


I am actually pretty sympathetic to the notion that it's outside local law enforcement / public policy control. The increase in murders isn't taxpayers getting shot in the head for their wallets or car keys, it's gang-bangers doing gang-banger business which is going to have ebbs and flows organically. It's not going to be affected by a few more cops on the streets or making those cops less fearful of police brutality claims.

We know what it takes to reduce gang violence.

First, you can legalize or decriminalize some vice that they presently monopolize. People forget, but gangsters died by the hundreds in fights for control over the numbers rackets in big cities, and that violence went to ZERO when the lottery came in. A Baltimore where heroin and cocaine were legal is a Baltimore where gangs would have a lot less to do (and fight over). More people scoring smack more easily may or may not be a worthwhile exchange for fewer dead gangsters, but it is certainly a real exchange.

Second, you can change the risk-reward for gangsters dramatically for the worse. When being a mafioso in the eyes of the government meant a small chance of a short sentence, there were a lot of mafiosi doing mafia things (including killing each other). When RICO and mandatory minimums came in, all of a sudden being a mafioso meant that the government could send you to jail for 10-20 years pretty much at a whim. Before too long the mafia became a thing for guys who were basically too stupid to think of something else to do. Once again, it's an exchange that isn't morally obvious -- save the life of one 19 year old gang-banger in exchange for ten 19-year-old gang-bangers going away for a decade when at least some of them would have gone straight and ended up socially useful -- but it's also a very real exchange that we're making in the other direction.
posted by MattD at 9:08 AM on November 15, 2015 [4 favorites]


All I know about Baltimore is that one series on the Food Network years ago about that hipster cake guy. Well, and a bit of the news, recently.

And, I guess, some mid-century American writing, though that's more of a fuzzy guess as I'm no English major.

It's a city I've always wanted to visit. But I have a weakness for historically interesting mid-sized cities that have traditionally punched over their weight. (Being from Winnipeg, and all.)
posted by clvrmnky at 12:08 PM on November 15, 2015


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