In recent years, Baltimore has seen a surge in crime, especially violent crime. The surge seems to have begun with the death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent riots that arose from the ‘protests’, and only appears to have picked up steam in the time since, but it already has many long-time residents saying that they are afraid to go out of doors.
According to Pamela Coleman, owner of X-Cetra Salon in Northeast Baltimore, “I’m not going to say we’ve hit bottom, but we’re not far from the bottom.” She goes on to say “I think it’s the worst I’ve ever seen, and I have been living in Baltimore my entire life.”
To pretend that crime was not a chronic companion to life in Baltimore would be naïve, but many residents feel that the new string of shootings, killings, and other crime (including violent crimes) has a different feel to it than the crimes of past years. Even Mayor Catherine Pugh, who took office at the end of 2016 after unseating former Mayor Sheila Dixon, has admitted that the crime is out of control.
Baltimore is three years into a historic spike in killing, a spike so large that it is even having an impact on national statistics, which have seen an increase in violent crimes and murders for the first time in years. It’s not just citizens that have reason to fear for their life, either.
On Wednesday, November 20th, police Detective Sean Suiter was slain. He becomes the 309th homicide in Baltimore for 2017. He died while working to investigation one of the 318 killings that occurred in 2016. The shooter has not been caught, and has yet to be identified, even though police quickly descended on the area and canvassed the neighborhood looking for suspects or evidence that might tie someone to the shooting. Neighbors have been uncooperative in helping police identify the shooter.
The day before, another shooting, in broad daylight and in front of numerous cameras, occurred. Alexander Wroblewski, 41, was shot as he stopped in at a Royal Farms on Key Highway, simply looking to satiate his hunger and thirst with milk and cookies. He was killed near the Anthem House luxury apartments, and three suspects are now in custody for the slaying.
Sharon Johnson, the owner of the Cheese Galore and More stall at the Cross Street Market, says that the climate of fear isn’t just about crime, but rather the accumulation of crimes. She says “Every now and then, there’s a flurry of crime, and you’re kind of alert”, continuing “Then it subsides and you take it easy again. Now it doesn’t seem like it’s letting up.”
Johnson voices fear over the attacks in the area. Not only the murder of Wroblewski; during Halloween night, there were multiple attacks on the street attributed to groups of teens. All the violence has been impacting her business, too. She says it seems like these days, people come into the city for an Orioles or Ravens game, and then they quickly leave the city, spending no money at local businesses.
Johnson suggests that the city hasn’t recovered from the riots of April 2015, and is fearful that they won’t. She may have a point.
The April 2015 riots were of such ferocity that the police needed to be reinforced by the National Guard, who thankfully managed to put an end to the rioting. In the course of the riots, at least 20 police officers were injured, 250 people were arrested, a state of emergency was declared, thousands of soldiers from the Maryland National Guard were deployed, and damage was widespread. In addition, 285 to 350 businesses were damaged, and 27 drugstores were looted. Further, there were 150 vehicle fires and 60 structure fires.
The riots were sparked by the arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray and grew out of protests by community members and ‘Black Lives Matter’ and related organizations. The protests began on the day that Freddie Gray died (the 18th of April), but the rioting didn’t begin in earnest until the 25th of April.
There is a question as to how the riots, generally viewed as anti-police rather than simply anti-police brutality, impacted the higher-crime neighborhoods of Baltimore and their police presence. There has been a 50% decline in arrests since the Freddie Gray rioting, and an officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated “Before it was over-policing. Now there’s no police” in the more crime-ridden parts of town.
Members of the Baltimore Police Department have voiced their concerns that they thought they’d be arrested for doing their job properly, as well as a general feeling that the politicians in the city didn’t support the police. This, combined with the massive thefts of opioids from those 27 drugstores, may be a large part of the increase in crime in Baltimore.
Whatever the cause, there is no denying that Baltimore is having issues with crime, and these issues are liable to make life in the city worse for those who live there. Compounding the problem, this crime wave may scare businesses away from the city, making economic conditions worse.