Baltimore's long hot summer continued to simmer, with at least 24 homicides reported in the last month alone, including three children. And as the death toll rises, the political temperature is rising, too. In the wake of recent shootings, whose victims included a Baltimore police officer, Maryland and Baltimore politicians have begun firing accusations at each other over who is to blame. The only thing they could agree on was that the black market drug trade bears much of the responsibility for the wave of violence.
Recent killings have included the drive-by shooting of a 13-year old boy in West Baltimore, an area of thriving black market drug activity. The boy was with eight or nine other teenagers at the time, the Baltimore Sun reported, raising the question of whether the bullet was intended for him or someone else. Targeted killings like these, which are usually linked to the unregulated drug trade, are contributing to the recent rise in shootings.
A police officer arresting a suspected drug dealer was also shot and nearly killed in July as well. The suspected motive for the shooting was to avoid arrest. The July incident was the third time in 18 months that a Baltimore police officer making a drug arrest has been shot, the Sun reported.
Juveniles have become common victims of shootings in Baltimore. The Sun reported that a 60-year old Baltimore man shot three youths between the ages of 11 and 18 to remove them from his doorstep. Neighbors said the building was being surrounded by young drug dealers, another example of the doleful impact of prohibition and the black market.
Drug war violence has spread from Baltimore to the rest of Maryland. Suburbs such as Owings Mills, once a refuge from area crime, have experienced an increase in thefts and burglaries and drug-related killings, including the fatal shooting of an 18-year old during a marijuana deal at Owings Mills Mall. Westminster, a town almost 25 miles northwest of the Baltimore beltway, has experienced a surge in heroin-related overdoses. High school dealers obtain heroin from Baltimore, which, despite the city's raging drug war remains as pure as 80%, according to local news sources.
In response to Maryland's increasing drug and violence crisis, politicians have formed a circular firing squad. Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. accused his opponent in the upcoming gubernatorial race, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, of distorting statistics showing a drop in juvenile crime in Maryland, according to the Sun. Back in Baltimore, Mayor Martin O'Malley has ordered a temporary doubling of overtime police hours in high-violence areas, expected to cost at least $10,000 a night. Community groups have criticized the plan as only a way to scatter the crimes geographically, rather than prevent them. O'Malley is also forming a citizens' group to monitor the prosecution of gun crimes, he announced.
O'Malley in turn has criticized State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy for failing to pursue gun charges and not opposing bail for a suspect in the shooting of a 10-year old boy (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/246.html#baltimore). Jessamy, who is running for reelection in a hotly contested race, responded through an aide by accusing O'Malley of skewing crime reports to hide his failure at fighting crime. Court transcripts show that no one from Jessamy's office appeared at the bail hearing.
On Saturday, O'Malley and Jessamy held a rare face-to-face meeting, where the two called a truce and agreed on pouring more money into the witness protection program and establish programs to increase collaboration between prosecutors and detectives. The witness protection program's budget has been increased from $300,000 to as much as Jessamy feels is needed, up to $17 million. Neither Malley nor Jessamy discussed the role of drug prohibition in creating the illegal drug market and the crime it causes.
While Baltimore remains stuck in the midst of the drug war, the town once known as "The City that Reads" is grimly earning a new moniker, "The City that Bleeds."