On a stroll through my neighborhood, I count three signs saying Black Lives Matter. So do black deaths. I live in the city of Baltimore, where the homicidal dying for the year 2018 ended at 309.
There are people, mostly in distant suburbs, who point to such a number and declare, “This is why I no longer venture downtown.” By which they mean: anywhere inside city limits. Quite often, they are the same people who point to the Black Lives Matter signs and say, “White lives matter, too.”
As, indeed, they do.
And yet, inevitably, it’s the lives of African-Americans that look most vulnerable, and most poignant, as we tabulate the numbers from the city’s killing fields. In all of the shooting, you know how many white people were among the 309 homicide victims last year in the city of Baltimore?
It goes on like this, year after year. In 2017, out of 342 city homicide victims, 24 were white. In 2016, 17 white victims out of 318. In 2015, 17 whites out of 342 victims. When we talk about the awful shootings and dying, we are mostly talking about a specific group of people.
You can look up the numbers yourself on the Baltimore Police homicide website. And if simple percentages tell us anything, some of those white victims put themselves in danger through various drug activities — as did most of the black victims.
If there’s a pattern here, it’s not just black people killing other blacks, it’s the connection between random killing — or any street crimes behavior — and poverty ingrained over generations.
Last spring, we were reminded of financial disparities built around race by a report from the Urban League, “The State of Black America,” which declared average African-American incomes were about 60 percent of white Americans’.
Also last spring, the Associated Black Charities of Maryland issued a study showing the median income of African-American working people is just over $38,000 a year — and just under $77,000 for this state’s whites.
Several weeks ago, The Washington Post sent three reporters into Baltimore to look at the killings. Their story ran about as long as “War and Peace.” Among the findings: the killings “are clustered in a small number of the city’s neighborhoods. Even as the city homicide rate has soared, there are neighborhoods that are safer today than they were” before the 2015 death of Freddie Gray and the nationally televised disturbances that followed.
The Post pointed to “areas that have been among the city’s most economically depressed and, because of years of residential segregation, populated almost exclusively by low-income black residents.”
This is not exactly a bulletin, is it?
What’s changed since the death of Freddie Gray, though, is the homicide arrest rate. West Baltimore was still smoldering when State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced criminal charges against six officers in the Gray case. None were convicted. But the psychological effects on the department have been debilitating.
We’ve had more than three years here of a cop slowdown — patrol officers reluctant to leave their vehicles. Some are literally gun-shy, while others are making a point about Mosby’s perceived grandstanding. In either case, they don’t want to be judged as over-aggressive, and have their careers, and their lives, changed forever.
So fewer people are stopped for questioning in the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods — and the homicide arrest rates have thus fallen from 41 percent to 27 percent. As The Post did their arithmetic from 2015 to the start of 2018, the city had 1,002 homicides — and no arrests in exactly 750 of those cases.
In other words, you murder somebody in the city of Baltimore, you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting away with it.
You mix entrenched poverty and drugs, and a demoralized police department in a city that had three different police commissioners in the last year, and it’s a killing combination.
But it’s a killer that’s particularly bad in certain neighborhoods, and virtually nonexistent in a lot of others.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.