Crime rates are at a disconcerting high in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray roughly two months ago, but while some officials are pointing fingers at drug crimes and gang wars, others insist a department-wide temper tantrum by police has put the community at risk.
During a time when the city of Baltimore desperately needs to focus on healing and reformation, crime has continued to cripple the community.
To make matters worse, these crimes are deadly ones.
There were 42 homicides in Baltimore in May alone, a number that marks the highest monthly total for homicides in the city since 1972.
But what is causing the spike in violence? That’s where officials and community leaders can’t seem to agree.
Many have pointed fingers at the string of robberies that swept the city when protests took over Baltimore.
Reports indicate that nearly 30 pharmacies and drug clinics had been targeted by looters during the protests and resulted in roughly 175,000 units of dosage narcotics being unaccounted for.
Officials believe those doses are now on the streets and fueling drug wars.
“That amount of drugs has thrown off the balance on the streets of Baltimore,” Police Commissioner Anthony Batts told CNN. “… Criminals are selling those stolen drugs. There are turf wars happening, which are leading to violence and shootings in our city.”
But City Council member Carl Stokes believes the issue is greater than that.
“It’s not simply a matter of more prescription drugs on the streets,” Stokes told CNN. “Baltimore has always had a very high homicide rate for many years.”
Instead, Stokes suggests that the crime spike is the result of a department-wide temper tantrum from police officers who are now refusing to do their jobs.
“There’s more opportunity for the criminals in this city to do what they’re doing because leadership is failing and, frankly, because the Fraternal Order of Police — if they didn’t order it they have given some, again, not an order, but to say to their rank and file you don’t have to work as hard as you should be working, you don’t have to live up to your oath to serve and protect,” Stokes charged. “…I think we have a horrible situation going on in this town.”
According to Stokes, it’s more than just a long-shot theory.
He says people in the community have opened up to him and revealed several instances where officers blatantly admitted that they weren’t willing to continue working hard to protect the community.
“Unfortunately and crazily, police officers are actually telling average citizens, ‘We’re not doing all of the extra things that we used to do, we’re not doing it and we’re not doing it because we’re upset with our leadership,’” he added.
Batts insists that the officers are not slowing their work as a form of protest but that officers are now afraid of actively performing their duties.
Despite that fear, he told CNN that he urges officers to work hard every day and to remember the true purpose behind their line of work.
“I hope they realize that what their actions are and the fact that the community needs them,” Batts told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “When I’m going through the roll calls, what I share with them, Anderson, is the fact that [you] remember why you came on this job and why you put that gun belt on, why you put that badge on, and why you wear that uniform every single day, for the grandmothers and the babies and the little ones.”
As for Maryland state Sen. Catherine Pugh, she believes the drugs could be playing a role in the crime problem but didn’t say much about claims that officers are purposefully backing down.
It’s unclear what exactly is to blame for the historic spike in violent crimes in the city, but one thing is absolutely clear. For a city struggling to deal with the negative effects of segregation and decades of failed policies that work to keep them trapped in poverty and at a severe disadvantage when compared to their white counterparts, the string of violent crimes is one of the last things the city of Baltimore needs.