Murder in the City: Hey Mister in Belair-Edison

first in a hopefully occasional series following Baltimore’s 2014 homicide rate, in an attempt to contextualize life in Charm City.

An informed citizen is a good citizen. There are several blogs and news entities who do an excellent job keeping tabs on Baltimore’s crime beat and statistics -The five most vital to follow are Baltimore Sun reporter @Justin_Fenton, @BaltimorePolice, City Paper’s Murder Ink, BaltimoreCrime.Blogspot, and Cham Green’s Homicide Map

A gauntlet has been thrown at the feet of Baltimore residents heading into 2014. Charm City’s murder rate, which finished under 200 homicides in 2011, has been on the uptick in the last two years, topping out at 232 murders for 2013. Taking note of the rising homicide numbers, police commissioner Anthony Batts put the blame for the bulk of murders on African-American males involved in the drug sales and distribution, and said that crime has dropped for ‘everyday citizens’ in that same period.

On January 1, Frank Turner, 48, and his son, Anthony Turner, 21, were shot down on Edmonson Ave., officially marking Baltimore’s first two homicides of 2014. Two days later city police, during a council meeting vetting the previous year’s murder rate, admitted they feared potential retaliation following the Turner murders.

A week later, on Jan. 8, following six more murders, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake called on citizens to stand up and actively help battle the city’s crime issues. “2014 is about making sure that everybody in their own way contributes to making Baltimore a safer city and the acknowledgment by the collective community that if you’re not a part of the solution — if you are not actively part of the solution — than you are actively part of the problem,” the mayor told the Baltimore Sun. That same evening, Marvin McGowan, 30, was shot and killed at the 5300 block of Easbury Ave. in Northeast Baltimore. He was the city’s ninth homicide of the year. A day later, the murder rate reached double digits when a convenience store employee was shot and killed on the 500 block of S. Smallwood Street.

So, at this juncture, as an everyday citizen, I’m as safe as I’ve ever been. As an everyday citizen, I’m also part of the problem, since I’ve never aggressively helped fix my city.

The mayor makes a valid criticism, though most taxpayers will understandably shrug it off. Those of us who live in the city’s white enclaves of denial have to deal with property crime and broken services, but we almost never face the terrorism that most of Baltimore’s other neighborhoods live under. Likewise, the citizens, mostly elderly, in the city’s poor neighborhoods keep to themselves, hoping to avoid bullets and house bombs.

I’m a Baltimorean, though, have been for most of my 30-plus years. The city’s homicide rate has never directly affected me, but I’m tired of watching a generation of potential productive citizens cut down. Hell, even the deaths of shitheads who decided long ago to live and die by the sword still affect so many directly and indirectly. And I also understand there are limits to one person’s abilities. So, through 2014, I’m going to wrap my hands around Baltimore and homicide and the context. Maybe through analysis and simple action, I can find enlightenment —for myself if not for the city—at the far end of the year.

Jan. 10, 2104
Homicide Count: 10

Jermaine Cole, 30, Belair-Edison
On Jan. 3, at the height of a beautiful evening snowfall, two men, Daries Williams, 27, and Nathanial Adams, 29, were shot and killed in the Broadway East neighborhood. A third man, Jermaine Cole, 30, was shot multiple times and later died while in his car East Baltimore’s Belair-Edison neighborhood. Belair-Edison is a community that’s suffered a long surge of violence over the last 13 years or so. It earned the distinction as the city’s deadliest neighborhood in 2013 with 17 murders. In a 2011 report from the Baltimore City Health Department, Belair-Edison averaged 24.1 deaths per 10,000 residents between 2005 and 2009, above the very high Baltimore city-wide average of 20.9 deaths. Homicides were the third highest cause of death in the neighborhood behind heart disease and cancer and above stroke, HIV/AIDS, respiratory disease and diabetes.

My high school, Archbishop Curley, is located on the corner of Erdman Avenue and Sinclair Lane on the neighborhood’s far eastern border. I’d drive from Hampden over each morning, cutting through Clifton Park golf course and across Bel Air Rd. passing the last White Castle burger joint in the city to get to school. Curley opened 1961 with a mission to educate many of the first and second generation immigrant Catholic families that lived in nearby Belair-Edison. Through decades of white flight, most of those families moved to Essex, Dundalk, Middle River and other suburbs in east Baltimore County, and middle-class African-American families slowly moved in. Later, in the mid-1990s housing policies pushed on both local and national level —detailed here in a rather strongly opinionated wikipedia page on Belair-Edison — pushed thousands of the city’s most desperate poor out of their old inner-city high rise housing projects and into Section 8 properties along the city’s eastern spokes of Bel Air Rd. and Harford Rd.

By 2000, my senior year in high school, the effects of that poverty hadn’t quite settled on all on Belair-Edison yet. My friend Melanie’s family lived in the area, before moving to Dundalk soon after. One night, feeling secure enough in our surroundings, we played ‘hey mister’ in front of the liquor store on Belair and Erdman after a nearby house party to acquire more booze. We drank that night and met our girlfriends for proms and the summer.

In 2008 I wrote a television segment for Inside Lacrosse’s ESPN season preview featuring Belair-Edison resident Christopher Clarke, a senior lacrosse player at nearby Patterson high school who was gunned down in a stray shooting just blocks from his home. I met his mother, who still lived in the neighborhood, for an interview. She was a lovely woman, a Jamaican immigrant, who when I met her was obviously worn down from Chris’ death. But she was cordial to me, and allowed me to poke my head into her and Christopher’s lives for brief period. IL posted that story online sometime later, and I hadn’t watched it until I started to write this piece. I found this note in the Youtube comments section:

“i remember wen my mother told me “glen i kno u had a strong connectionwith him but chris wuz shot” at the time ther wuz 2 chris’s at my church nd i din’t ko which 1 she wuz talkin bout but i cried myself to sleep tht night nd he will alwayz b remembered nd most importantly loved”


Author: Geoff Shannon

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