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C. Fraser Smith: Mosby’s wrong on homicide study

Baltimore may need a boost to reach basket-case level.

  • Aftershocks of Freddy Gary turmoil continue.
  • A murder a day is almost good news measured against the current pace.
  • And yet the state’s attorney refuses to cooperate with a homicide reduction commission.
  • Two Harvard University academics say Baltimore is the worst place in the country if you are a black male.

Nor do the city’s woes stop with the rash of murders.

  • Gov. Larry Hogan kills the desperately needed Red Line, offering no Plan B.
  • City schools CEO Gregory Thornton deals with sharp, public criticism from Kalman R. Hettleman, former school board member and advocate of reform.

All of this leaves Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake weakened. She’s vulnerable to citizen concerns – and to reports that challengers, watching the trouble, may try to unseat her.

Former Mayor Sheila Dixon wants to run. State Sen. Catherine Pugh is actively considering a candidacy. And businessman David Warnock, wealthy host of “Baltimore’s Future” on WYPR, may also have his eye on City Hall. No one would be surprised to see others assessing their chances.

A host of challengers might be the mayor’s best hope: A big field might get a share of the unhappiness but not enough to defeat her.

But, unless she gets a handle on all the problems Baltimore faces, she might be the underdog in a race an incumbent should win easily.

That’s just the current bottom line. The mayor did not fare well in critiques of the city’s performance after the Freddy Gray matter.

And she has not managed to show she’s in control of the continuing recovery effort.

Mosby’s remarks

States Attorney Marilyn Mosby has made the task more difficult.

Rawlings-Blake formed a commission some time ago to deal with homicides in the city. But now  Mosby refuses to cooperate. She says she fears her current cases might be compromised if she gives the commission access to these cases.

The concern is not frivolous. But others say it could be minimized – and should be, give the urgency of the situation.

Mosby also suggests that the homicide study group is wasting money and that its chairman, Daniel Webster, is in it for the money: a pretty low-rent observation. Webster’s extremely well-regarded as a student of violence in Baltimore and other cities.

We need to keep looking

Though Mosby insists no more study is needed, the sharp upturn in murders raises the possibility that there are new factors at play. Current cases offer a better glimpse into the current state of play.

Beyond that, Webster’s commission is looking for ways to address the issue at a much deeper level.  What long-term factors make the city and its young people more likely to be involved in criminal behavior? It’s not a new question, but none of the answers have been used successfully so far. Don’t we have to keep looking? That’s what the mayor says.

She needs to say it more forcefully. Citizens want to see her defending them from the killers – and herself from the cheap shots.

She and Webster have tried, it seems, to avoid the kind of response invited by Mosby’s remarks. We have enough violence in the street. We don’t need an overlay of harsh language among those we hope can find a useful strategy.

Webster and others have come upon some hopeful results in Milwaukee. A contingent of observers from Baltimore returned with mixed feelings about the plan they saw.

What seems reasonable is a new plan tailored to Baltimore. One size surely does not fit all. No one is urging some rash mobilization of forces.

But we are beyond the point of waiting for perfection.

The mayor’s new police commissioner, Kevin Davis, and homicide commission chairman Webster need strong and visible help.

The people will demand it. If not now, then during the next election.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.