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  October 5, 2015

Baltimore Police Commissioner Stunned by Poverty in Baltimore

Another violent weekend with 9-year-old girl shot prompts debate over root cause of mayhem
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STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: It was another violent weekend in one of the most murderous cities in the country. A total of five killings in just three days, starting Friday in this Northwest Baltimore shopping center where five people were shot and a 71-year-old man gunned down, and culminating in the shooting of a 9-year-old girl on the 3500 block of Old York Road in North Baltimore, Sunday. Police say the girl, who will survive her injuries, was an incidental target.

KEVIN DAVIS: He missed his four intended targets and instead hit a nine-year-old little girl who was playing on her steps behind them.

JANIS: The shooting prompted both the mayor and the police commissioner to visit the scene. After conferring with investigators they held an impromptu press conference at which the Real News raised a simple question that is rarely broached amid the city's seemingly endless cycles of vengeance: why, despite the city's heavy investment in policing, does violence persist if indeed police are the answer.

MAYOR STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE: It's more than a problem for me, it's a problem for this city. You know, I don't, I am one person.

JANIS: The mayor said little, offering statistics as a sign of progress.

RAWLINGS-BLAKE: Well, it continues, but also we've made some progress. I mean, you can, if you're following the numbers you know that July was better than June, August was better than July, September was better than August. So we're going in the right direction.

JANIS: But later interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis admitted the city's entrenched poverty was shocking to him, and might play a role.

KEVIN DAVIS: The poverty in Baltimore is pronounced. And I'm a lifelong Marylander. And you know, I'm 46 years old. I had not been in certain communities in Baltimore City my entire life, and I've been introduced to those communities since I've been here in January. And the poverty--you wouldn't think that a community like that would still exist in this country, quite frankly. The housing, the poverty, the drug addictions, the hopelessness. So you know, Baltimore is a far different city than DC. And you know, [See four] has said this a number of times, so I'll quote him. Washington is a relatively wealthy city with pockets of poverty, and I think Baltimore is the opposite. It's a poor city with pockets of wealth.

JANIS: It's a question that has real consequences for a city that spends twice as much on policing as it does on education, and is still beset with crime. But connecting the dots between the city's inequalities and its penchant for violence leaves some unconvinced.

COUNCILMAN BRANDON SCOTT: It's a culture change that has to take place in Baltimore.

JANIS: City Councilman Brandon Scott says the problem has deeper roots.

COUNCILMAN BRANDON SCOTT: I think, I think it has something to do with poverty, but it's also a lot to do with other things, too. Look, this is America. When, when young men are born the first toy they get is a GI Joe. We preach to them that having a gun is being a man and being strong. And when you're talking about African-American young men in our city, not only you have that, we teach them that they're supposed to go out through music and media and movies to sell drugs and do rap, and they can only be athletes. We give them a limited ceiling, and we can't just expect them to turn that off.

JANIS: While Munier Bahar, founder of the city's 300 Man March, argue structural poverty and entrenched racism may indeed play a role but do not justify the mayhem on the streets.

MUNIER BAHAR: There is no excuse for an individual to take somebody else's life, period, no matter how much they're behind on their bills. No matter how many jobs they can't find. We've all been in those situations. We didn't think, oh, I'll go take a life, and I got a pretty darn good excuse. You know, because I can't pay student loans. So there's no excuse. Yes there are issues that plague communities, but those issues do not provide an excuse for the immorality.

JANIS: And finally talked with Jacqueline Robarge, executive director of Power Inside, an organization that assists homeless women.

JACQUELINE ROBARGE: You know, I really want to challenge people who think it might be a spike in gang violence, something related to the Baltimore uprising. Because the historic poverty and the racial discrimination really is at the root of a lot of what we're seeing.

JANIS: Her take: the only way to stop the violence is to address a chain of causality that perpetuates it.

ROBARGE: If a battered woman right here right now came up to me and said, I need to leave, and I've got three children. I really wouldn't have any place to send her. We could call the battered women's shelters, but it's highly unlikely that there would be available space. And there's no available shelter for her. So we continually expose children to domestic violence particularly, but when they stay in neighborhoods marginalized by violence and poverty they are continually being exposed to violence.

JANIS: A cycle as stubbornly entrenched in the city as are the opinions on how to end it.

Reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore, this is Stephen Janis, Taya Graham, and Megan Sherman.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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