Shootings and the response: no excuses
Over the past 16 years covering city cops and violence (with a five year break) I've seen a parade of mayors and police commissioners standing grim-faced in front of television cameras and talking about violence.
They were angry and frustrated but refused to show it. They didn't want to talk about programs or vigils or stop snitching ("That's crap," the mayor sternly warned. "You have innocent people shot and could've been worse," she said.
How true and how sad. At least 18 people shot (see full coverage) in one half of the city in one night and, with only two dead, it could've been worse. And so the mayor and her top cop didn't want to talk about Operation Safe Streets, or about another cop walk, or the focus on violent offenders, or even lecture people about coming forward.
To underscore just how violent and brazen some can be in Baltimore, Bealefeld said that at one double homicide scene, on Conkling Street, a police commander stopped a man from barging through the crime scene tape. The cop arrested the man and then found a loaded .44 caliber handgun lying on the front seat of his car. He had driven to a crime scene full of cops with a gun in plain view.
Talking about the violence, Bealefeld and Dixon were stoic, reserved, almost subdued. Bealefeld rightly noted that people don't want to hear about what the city already does but wants to know what the city will do. The gut reaction is always more cops and the mayor, in introducing that subject, said, "Of course" they would boost resources in the area. But Bealefeld went a few steps further: 37 uniformed foot patrol officers, two overlapping shifts in the neighborhood where 12 people got shot at a backyard cookout on Ashland Avenue, 20 more detectives as part of the Violent Crime Initiative, an additional SWAT platoon.
But Bealefeld also complained that an investigation that started 15 months ago, after the younger brothers of one of the targets in yesterday's shootings were kidnapped, sparking a wave of retaliatory violence, had somehow languished. And the cookout shooting was on the anniversary of the deaths of two main players in the bloody saga, something the commissioner said his intelligence officers should've known.
"This was a very well planned and thought out event," Bealefeld said. "The timing of this is not lost on us. The targets are not lost on us. And we are certainly going to Monday morning quarterback every aspect of police operations connected to this incident, as we should do. We should be evaluating our connections to this community so we have good information about community events and whether there are memorials or large cookouts. We're going to hold people accountable for that and push harder to make sure we have coverage. We're going to be evaluating our effectiveness as it relates to some of these specific organizations and individuals that are operating in East Baltimore, and in Southeast (above, Dixon talks with the media in a photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor).
"I can tell you our investigative efforts are continuing. I can tell you standing on the scene of 12 people shot last night, I can safely speak for the top levels of command in the police department, we are concerned about the pace and progress of some of these investigations, and we're going to do everything we can to speed those efforts along and to put these guys out of business just as expeditiously as possible."
Bealefeld did note that people in the community, including the shooter's friends, had to know what was about to take place. "There was a lot of work that went into that hit," he said.
But Dixon was clearly fed up: "There is no reason for me to stand here and rant and rave like a maniac. I am disturbed. It comes to a point where there's no personal responsibility. People have to begin to make choices. I don't know all the details of this incident, but you can see there's a pattern. Folks are going to have to set what they're going to accept and not accept in their homes and in their communities. I don't want to hear excuses."
She continued: "People have to be outraged. You know, standing on a corner and having a candlelight vigil, that's fine and good. But what happens now to those families in the midst of what happened? What are they going to do for those children so they don't get exposed? ... I don't want innocent bystanders to be involved. If they want to take it out between themselves, fine and good, but that shouldn't impact our communities."