With Baltimore Ceasefire 365, Bridgeford has organized two weekends this year built around a simple message: “Nobody kill anybody.”
After the second weekend, she noted, “Baltimore went for six whole days without anyone being killed.”
Sitting in the hair salon she has owned for 27 years, Pamela Coleman was saying she hasn’t been a victim of crime herself. Then she quickly knocked on the nearest piece of wood — to avoid jinxing not only herself, but also her city.
“I’m not going to say we’ve hit bottom,” said Coleman, the 52-year-old owner of X-Cetra Salon in the Hamilton neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore. “But we’re not far from the bottom.
“I think it’s the worst I’ve ever seen, and I have been living in Baltimore my entire life. I don’t really feel safe anywhere anymore.”
Even in a city where crime seems like a chronic rather than an episodic disease, the recent string of killings, shootings and robberies has felt qualitatively different. Mayor Catherine Pugh says the violence is out of control. Three years into a historic spike in killing, it’s not clear that anyone has any idea how to curtail it. In conversations private and public, in neighborhood gathering spaces and on social media, fear is rising.
On Wednesday, Baltimore showed it still had the capacity to shock, in the fatal shooting of police Detective Sean Suiter. The 18-year veteran, who joined the homicide unit in 2015, as the violence began rising, was investigating one of last year’s 318 killings. He became this year’s 309th. The shooter remained at large, even as police descended on the Harlem Park neighborhood, shut down streets and banged on doors in search of the suspect or evidence that would lead to him.
The daylight shooting of Suiter came hard on the heels of another brazen attack. Just the day before, a Locust Point man was killed in a robbery as he left a Royal Farms on Key Highway. He had stopped at the convenience store after work to pick up a snack of cookies and milk. Three suspects are in custody.
That Alexander Wroblewski, 41, was killed within view of the security cameras that guard the nearby and just-opened Anthem House luxury apartments seemed emblematic of where Baltimore finds himself at the moment: striving for a better version of itself, and yet seemingly trapped in a dangerous, impoverished past.
Baltimore, and the image it has sought to present to the world — and to Amazon, which is looking for a place to build its second headquarters — has taken a decided hit, as even those most devoted to polishing that image conceded.
“We have experienced a very disheartening week and a rash of incidents of violent crime and homicides,” said Don Fry, president and CEO of the pro-business Greater Baltimore Committee. “One of the things that this clearly does is it overwhelms the good news and positive things that are occurring in the city every day.”
Marc Weller, lead developer of Port Covington, where Under Armour is building its headquarters and hopes to welcome Amazon’s as well, said businesses will continue to flock to the city.
“Unfortunately, and many times tragically, crime is up in many cities, and Baltimore is no exception,” Weller said.
He was quick to add that the city’s political, police, business and community leaders “are all working hard together to find solutions to reduce crime now, but also create jobs and educational opportunities so we can change these trends for the long-term.”
But in neighborhoods beyond Port Covington — home also to The Baltimore Sun’s printing plant — the wait for those fixes has felt endless.
Owen Keith surveyed the crumbling and vacant rowhouses, the empty lots and wind-whirled debris outside Harlem Park Elementary School.
“This is what you get,” said Keith, 49.
By “this,” he meant the angry crime, the dilapidated housing, the rampant drug dealing and all the other urban woes that he blames on general neglect — especially to the needs of young people in Baltimore.
“They don’t have enough for these kids to do,” he said. “And you look around and see all the vacants. They could get the kids to help build the community up.”