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Baltimore Sets Murder Record

January 2nd 2018

Crime scene tape

The city of Baltimore saw a surge of homicides that brought the total to 343 in 2017, thereby setting a new per-capita homicide record of approximately 56 killings per 100,000 people. Baltimore has 615,000 residents after decades of depopulation. Mayor Catherine Pugh told The Associated Press during the last days in December, “Not only is it disheartening, it's painful." 

The causes of the violence appear to be manifold. Experts attribute the murder spike to incidence of illegal firearms, opioid addiction, racism, unequal justice, and economic contraction. Some analysts blame the hands-off approach allegedly take up by local police in poor neighborhoods following the death of Freddie Gray, a black man whose fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody in 2015 triggered protests and the worst riots in decades. All six officers involved in Gray’s death were cleared and returned to the police force.

The murder rate in Baltimore began to rise soon after Gray's death in 2015. That year, Baltimore witnessed over 340 slayings. The rate has increased since then.

Arrests in Baltimore have been declined to the lowest level in many years, while police say they are working in a dangerous environment noted by illegal firearms, narcotics, and gangs.

Because Baltimore has been noted for violent crime, citizens refer to their hometown as “Bodymore" as a tribute to the murder rate.Before 2015, the murder rate in Baltimore had been declining. In 1993, Baltimore’s homicide rate peaked at 353 killings: 49 killings per 100,000 people. Baltimore had over 700,000 inhabitants back then, making the per-capita rate lower than in 2017.

Despite the uptick in killings, Mayor Pugh vowed at a recent candlelight vigil for victims of violence that Baltimore “will become the safest city in America."

Lock-down in Baltimore

In early November, Detective Sean Suiter, a married father of five and an 18-year veteran with the Baltimore Police, was shot point blank in the head while patrolling West Baltimore when he spotted suspicious activity. Suiter later died of his injuries in hospital.

In response, the Baltimore Police Department reacted with "fire and fury," blocking off city streets and setting up checkpoints. Officers in tactical gear went door to door speaking to residents of neighborhoods that had been effectively cordoned off by police. In what critics called an “open-air prison,” residents were prohibited from entering their own neighborhood unless they showed proper identification for a week after Suiter's death. The lockdown was initially attributed to helping police track down Det. Suiter's killer.

Critics in Baltimore contend that police declared marital law. Some police officers took up positions with semi-automatic rifles. According to Baltimore Brew, local citizens felt harassed by police during the lockdown. "Two women walking down Franklin Street to get to their cars, parked blocks away because of the lockdown, complained that they had been harassed by officers. 'They know I live here. They’ve seen me come and go. But this one had to pat me down. He [the officer] went like this to my jacket, grabbing it,' said Shelly, 25, who asked that her last name not be used. 'They wanted to know where I had been. Why do I have to tell him that? It’s just me in my flip-flops trying to go to my own home.”

The ACLU of Maryland released a statement in November, stating that was troubled "troubled by reports that some persons entering or leaving the area have been subject to pat down searches, and that non-residents have been barred from entering the area.” The group stated, "While the search for a killer is, of course, a high priority for the police, the limits on lawful police behavior do not disappear even when engaged in that pursuit. And at least one federal appellate court has said that a similar police cordon and checkpoint system was unconstitutional."Following the police lockdown and days of rumors ciruclating throughout the community, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis confirmed that Detective Suiter was murdered on the day before he was supposed to testify before a federal grand jury about corruption in the Baltimore Police Department. Police contend that he was shot with his own service pistol. He was scheduled to testify “about an incident that occurred several years ago that included officers who were federally indicted back in March, the GTTF squad, and included officers who were at the scene of the particular incident.” Davis referred to the Gun Trace Task Force, whose seven members were indicted in March 2017 on charges of racketeering, robbing citizens, stealing from suspected drug dealers, and committing overtime fraud. Four of the officers have since pleaded guilty.

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