A Violent Tale of Two Cities

I lived in West Baltimore until age 7 in the same block on North Ave where unrest and rioting occurred after Freddie Gray was fatally wounded in a police van. During my time there, my parents warned me to stay away from the front windows for fear of stray bullets. After attending law school in Washington, DC, I eventually moved to the District of Columbia where I currently reside. Despite being less than 40 miles apart, the two cities are as different as night and day except when it comes to the recent spike in violent crime.

Baltimore is mostly a blue collar city over 60% black with almost one fourth of its residents living below the standard of living. Washington, D.C. with its federal government presence and large professional population residing there bears little to no resemblance to Baltimore. Both cities like many others are experiencing increased spikes in crime not seen in many years--for reasons not clearly known. In Baltimore, the spike was thought to be due to several factors. Former Police Commissioner Anthony Batts believed it was due to stolen drugs taken in May from pharmacies raided during the unrest after Gray's death. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake fired Batts citing increased violence in the city on his watch.

Community leaders and many residents living in areas affected by the outbreak in violence following Gray's death determined the lack of police on the streets doing less caused the increase in crime. Many residents believed police retaliated following the arrest of six officers for the death of Freddie Gray in April. Changing police chiefs has done little to combat the violence. Baltimore's violent crime rate in 2015 so far exceeds that of New York despite New York having over 7 million more people.

In Washington, DC, no unrest or riots occurred. D. C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, like Baltimore's former police commissioner, stated the increase in crime was due to drugs--new synthetic ones on the street. Others state no data exists to support that theory. D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier rose through the police ranks and has served under three mayors. She is no novice to crime in her city. Lanier asserts illegal guns as one reason for the rise in violent crime. Rank and file police members state a change in deployment of police and disbanding of vice units by Lanier are to blame. Most criminologists are at a loss for the reasons. D.C.'s 102 killings in 2015 so far almost equal all of those occurring last year. Baltimore logs in at more than 200.

Reported violent crime in the District of Columbia does not exclusively occur in lower income areas of the city. In May, Daron Wint allegedly held captive three members of a prominent family plus their house keeper in a more affluent area of the city, later setting their house on fire and killing all four. In another incident, a woman posed as a man to meet a male lawyer for a sexual encounter in a downtown hotel--killing him. And in murder number 102 occurring in August, the victim died as a result of a stabbing at a neighborhood basketball game.

Baltimore and the District of Columbia are alike in that they want answers and a greatly reduced violent crime rate. What is clear is that a one size fits all approach will not work to stop the increased violent crime in both cities. Any approach needs to include involvement of community leaders, activists, residents, police, law enforcement officials, criminologists, sociologists, social workers, criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors for starters. The reasons for the increased violent crime rates may be as diverse as the number of violent crimes occurring.