After a relatively quiet two weeks in which only 10 Baltimoreans had been murdered, five more homicides happened overnight Monday, including a double-murder in which four people were shot.
The violence prompted a raft of rumors that Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis would be fired on Tuesday; the commish called a hasty press conference after noon to decry the violence.
Davis announced that for at least the next several days, police officers and detectives would be taking mandatory 12-hour shifts. He also complained that violent criminals do not fear police or prosecutors.
"Quite frankly they don't even fear a damn guilty verdict," Davis said, "because the guilty verdicts, in this city, are suspended, all or most of the time, 60 percent of the time." T.J. Smith, the department spokesman, said the commissioner was speaking of gun offenders, whose cases he said the department had been tracking since the beginning of 2016. He promised to make the data available to journalists but did not immediately respond to a follow-up email from City Paper.
Davis said guns, gangs, and drugs drive the violence, and even suggested that a recent seizure by the Drug Enforcement Agency of 45 kilos of opiates heading to West Baltimore may have incited more violence there.
"There are unintended consequences," the commissioner said, "of drying up a heroin supply."
Davis then criticized the character of Baltimore's criminals, saying members of the Bloods and Black Guerrilla Family "in particular are undisciplined, ruthless killers" with "no respect for their elders."
This is not a bizarre as it sounds. In many times and places, professional criminals have lived by a sort of code: don't harm non-criminals; no ostentatious violence. It's bad for business; draws unwanted attention, etc. Senior gangsters could rein-in young hotheads (or kill them) to keep the drugs flowing and neighbors, if not happy, at least not apoplectic.
But Baltimore has not been like that for years. Consider the late "Little" Melvin Williams, spotted, in 1999, at age 57, personally pistol-whipping a man near Hollins Market. Williams had already allegedly "found God" by then, and a federal judge set him free a couple years later with no explanation. Williams was always a darling of Baltimore's political class, ever since cops asked him to help quell the riots in 1968. His violence was normalized.
Police detectives warned City Paper reporters at least as far back as 2008 that Baltimore gangsters did not have a "code." It is one of the things that distinguishes Baltimore criminals from those in other cities. And it has little to do with the ability of cops to lock up knuckleheads: As former Deputy Commissioner Anthony Barksdale never tires of pointing out, the city's murder count dipped below 200 in 2011 and stayed near that (comparatively) low level until 2014. Agree or disagree with Barksdale's thoughts on "stop and frisk" tactics, there is no denying the stats.
The violent crime epidemic is orders of magnitude more virulent in Baltimore than in other cities. Baltimore has had 159 murders as of this afternoon (and there was another shooting after the press conference). That's 32 more than the same time last year, and it's 66 more than the low-water year of 2011. Washington, D.C., with about 50,000 more residents than Baltimore, has had 48 murders so far this year, according to the Washington Post. Philadelphia has 1.5 million people—more than two Baltimores—and 140 homicides as of June 12. Philadelphia's homicide rate is 20 percent above what it was in 2016, a crisis level—and yet it's less than half of Baltimore's current rate, adjusted for population size. Violent crime is up nationally, as Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told a congressional committee today. But very few cities see homicide rates close to Baltimore. Seattle, with about 680,000 residents (Baltimore plus Dundalk), had four murders through April 2017.
In his press conference, Davis decried the prevalence of juvenile delinquents: "violent youthful offenders going around in little packs," robbing and beating people, car-jacking them. Last week a youth violence prevention coordinator was jumped downtown at lunchtime by a group of boys, who knocked him out, fracturing his face, and stole his two phones.
The victim did not hold his attackers responsible.
"I think we need to look into what is causing people to engage in this kind of behavior," Greg Sileo, 33, told The Sun on Saturday after being discharged from the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. "A couple of young guys stealing my cellphones and ending up in jail doesn't seem to be worth it."
Davis called for clergy, schools, and parents to step up and guide these youngsters, who are the city's future. "Young, idle minds will drift toward criminal misconduct," the commissioner said.