When people these days shake their heads despairingly over the city of Baltimore, they point to weeks such as this one, in which the homicide count tops 300 for the fifth straight year and the mayor says something so preposterous that you want to count up the digits in his IQ score.
Every mayor bears the brunt of criticism over the body count – it comes with the territory – but some handle it better than others. This week, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said something so stupefying that it boggles the minds of all who heard him.
Young was responding to criticism from John K. Hoey, president and CEO of The Y of Central Maryland, after the shooting death of Catonsville Y employee Jordan Taylor inside his West Baltimore home Nov. 5.
Taylor, 31, was a newlywed and sports and teen director for the Catonsville Y . His death brought criticism from Hoey aimed at political and police leadership.
The police response to Hoey’s criticism is still a work in progress. The cops are operating on a new strategy for fighting violence that was initiated several months ago.
Mayor Young’s response is merely bizarre.
“I’m not committing the murders, that’s what people need to understand,” the mayor told reporters. “I’m not committing the murders.”
Uh, thanks for clearing that up, Mayor.
Gosh, was there some lack of understanding until he uttered such clarifying words? Did some dimwit claim the mayor was an actual suspect in the city’s ongoing slaughter?
No one likes to ask such sarcastic questions when it comes to life-and-death issues, but how are we to react to such a non-sequitur as Young’s remark?
“I’m not committing the murders, that’s what people need to understand.”
Did he really think people were blaming him for committing murder?
The problem is, Young had to throw some kind of remark out there, and this is the best he had. And remarkably, the words are only slightly emptier than any municipal leader’s had in years of public debate over the endless killing.
We know there are too many guns on the street, but nobody’s got the gumption to take on the gun lobby.
We know the great bulk of the killing occurs in neighborhoods rife with poverty, drugs and gangs running the street corners. But nobody’s had an original idea for combating such problems in several decades.
We know the bulk of the killing is committed by one drug dealer shooting another over turf. But the sheer numbers of homicides makes great numbers of suburbanites imagine the entire city’s a shooting gallery, and makes them stay away.
We know much of the killing is gang-related, and we know young people join gangs because it offers them a surrogate family for the one they’re lacking at home – whatever “home” means – yet we still haven’t figured out how to heal the breakdown of the traditional family structure.
But we still turn to our leaders for calming words on the awful ongoing homicides. And when we get a remark as preposterous as Mayor Young’s this week, it makes us realize: the city’s leaders not only don’t have any answers, they don’t even know how to fake it anymore.
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,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.