The Cherry Hill neighborhood in South Baltimore has recorded just one homicide in the past 365 days, and zero killings within its Safe Streets target areas, even as the city’s overall killing rate for 2021 outpaces 2020’s numbers.

Winnie McCray, interim CEO of Family Health Centers of Baltimore, said the milestone is a credit to the community-led work of Cherry Hill residents and Safe Streets, the city’s public health campaign to prevent and interrupt violence.

“We’re just so elated,” McCray said. “We’re so proud of our Safe Streets team in reaching this milestone. We are just really, really happy for the community because this is really a community effort … This is a celebration not only for the Safe Streets team, but for the community and for Baltimore City.”

On Dec. 27, 2020, Ricky Dixon was assaulted and set on fire, and later pronounced dead, according to the Baltimore Sun’s homicide tracker.

Although that homicide took place in Cherry Hill, it was not located within the community’s Safe Streets targeted areas, said Marche Templeton, spokesperson for the Family Health Centers of Baltimore.

Before that, the last reported homicide in Cherry Hill was the shooting death of Arthur Allen on June 23, 2020.

There have been at least 162 reported homicides in Baltimore City so far in 2021, outpacing the 156 homicides in the city this time in 2020, according to police statistics.

Baltimore City has recorded more than 300 homicides for the past six years, and the city is on track to reach that mark again.

The neighborhood previously went 395 days without a homicide, until that 13-month streak ended in February 2020.

Urban violence is a growing problem nationwide, and President Joe Biden on Wednesday said the White House will work with 14 cities, including Baltimore, on community violence intervention programs.

These programs, such as Safe Streets, can receive funding through the American Rescue Plan.

Among the Safe Streets partners working in Cherry Hill is MedStar Harbor Hospital. The hospital employs two full-time responders who work with victims and perpetrators of violence “to try to eradicate the cycle of violence in individuals’ lives,” said Ryan Moran, MedStar’s Director of Community Health for Baltimore City.

When people are admitted to the hospital with gunshot wounds, stab wounds, or other types of violence-related injuries, responders work with the patients to address the root causes of the violence by connecting them with food, housing, and medical providers who treat behavioral health and substance use.

MedStar Health has expanded their hospital responder program to Good Samaritan and Union Memorial hospitals, which work with the Woodbourne-McCabe and Belair-Edison communities, respectively, Moran said.

Other Baltimore hospitals and systems, such as St. Agnes, Johns Hopkins, and LifeBridge Health, also have hospital responder programs, Moran said.

Keith Brown, 46, one of MedStar’s hospital responders, has lived in Cherry Hill his whole life. He said his job allows him to take a hands-on approach that violence reduction requires.

“As a community, we’ve got to love one another, we’ve got to hold on to one another, we’ve got to be there for one another, we’ve got to support one another in everything that we do,” he said.

Brown said he made “bad decisions” when he was younger. After serving prison time for a shooting, Brown said his family’s love inspired him to change his life.

“My family loves me, always have,” he said. “They love me a lot, extremely a lot. With my decision making, I was kind of being selfish. I was just thinking about myself. I wasn’t thinking about my kids. I wasn’t thinking about my mom, my sisters. I wasn’t thinking about my brother, my aunts. I wasn’t thinking about people who really love me.”

He added, “I sat back in that cell and I realized all the pain and hurt I caused people that love me the most. That made me not only want to do better for myself, but I wanted to do better for them as well.”

Now, Brown wants to help other people avoid the same mistakes he made.

“I’m just trying to talk to the younger guys that’s coming behind me, our youth, and just trying to stop them from going down the road we went down,” he said.

The year has not been without violence in Cherry Hill. Recently, police reported that a 43-year-old man was shot in the leg June 19.

Still, Brown said the reduction of homicides in Cherry Hill over the past year is evidence that the Safe Streets strategies are making a difference.

“It’s what we strive for,” he said. “When you get these kind of results, you know your work is really productive in the neighborhood. It’s really working.”

Moran said Cherry Hill’s success shows that “public health intervention has profound impacts.”

“If you invest in people like the responders, like the Safe Streets violence interrupters, community navigators, to deploy their solutions and to improve their community, I believe that that is the success that you see here,” Moran said.

Family Health Centers of Baltimore also employs outreach workers, who de-escalate conflicts and steer people away from violence.

The Family Health Centers of Baltimore and other Safe Streets partners also work closely with schools to teach students that “violence is not the way to solve conflicts, that there are other avenues of solving conflicts,” McCray said.

Having workers and volunteers who are Cherry Hill residents — many of whom, like Brown, have lived here their entire lives — helps build and maintain trust in the community, McCray said.

“The community trusts those individuals and trusts that they have their best interests at heart, and that they are truly working to make this Cherry Hill community a better community and a safer community,” she said.

Brown agreed that “it’s a difference when they see you in the community each and every single day.”

“They’re not always willing to just listen to anybody,” he said. “You’ve really got to be somebody that they know, that they’ve seen go through the struggle and watched your transformation.”

Like him, Brown said those involved with Safe Streets are determined to make Cherry Hill — and all of Baltimore — a safe place for all.

“We don’t have bulletproof vests,” Brown said. “We don’t have guns. We don’t have tasers. We go outside and we stand on faith every day. We give it our all. We give 100% … There’s some people out here fighting tooth and nail to keep people safe.”

Note: This story and its headline have been updated from its original version to reflect the killing of Ricky Dixon December 2020. The attack of Dixon took place in Cherry Hill, but outside of the Safe Streets target area.

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Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at marcus@baltimorefishbowl.com...