In a 48-hour stretch last weekend, gunshots echoed in three Baltimore neighborhoods, illustrating a surge in violence that threatens to reverse years of crime reduction credited with fueling the city’s development boom, says the Baltimore Sun. Halfway through 2007, Baltimore has recorded 155 homicides, a 15 percent increase over the first six months of 2006. That puts the city on pace for the first time this decade to exceed 300 killings in a year – the macabre benchmark associated with a city besieged by crime in the 1990s. Nonfatal shootings are up even more, rising 32 percent, to 352 so far this year.
For a city preparing to elect new leaders Sept. 11, the violence dominates political debate. Critics of Mayor Sheila Dixon try to pin blame on her shift from zero-tolerance arrest policies to targeted enforcement against the most violent offenders. Dixon and other observers counter that the homicide increase has no single cause. Some criminologists fear that the current pace foretells a trend driven by gang violence, easy access to guns, a thriving drug market, a large ex-offender population, violent wayward youth, and an economic downturn. Making Baltimore’s violence all the more stubborn are pockets of extreme poverty filled with residents who often don’t trust the criminal justice system and are fearful of being seen as informants in neighborhoods where witness intimidation is common. “Children are dying. People are getting shot. People shouldn’t be accepting this. They should be outraged,” said retired state Sen. Ralph Hughes, a criminal justice professor at Coppin State University.