When Crime Hits Too Close to Home

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Last Sunday, I watched as my 13-year-old daughter pored over the interactive, electronic map of Baltimore City, courtesy of Baltimoresun.com, that showed exactly where each shooting and stabbing had occurred over the past year. “Hmm. These are pretty close to where we live,” she said with cool detachment, as if she were studying for a geography test.

Although there were no fancy, clickable maps of Baltimore murders when I was young, I vaguely recall taking note of the homicide numbers in the newspaper at the end of each year. As of the last Sunday in December, this year’s number was up to 234. I’m sure there were a few more added by the end of the year.

As many major cities report downward trends in violent crime, Baltimore’s murder rate rises. “Lost Year for Fight against Violent Crime” read a headline in the Baltimore Sun last Sunday. The bodies are found behind broken-down row houses, floating in the harbor, and in plain sight. Most victims knew their assailant. Some, like the little boy not yet two years old who got caught in a spray of bullets intended for his father last May, didn’t.

We see the maps. We hear the reports. And after a while, whether adult or child, we become numb to the violence that rips, daily, through this city we call home. Until it hits too close to home.

For years, I’ve been on the email list that reports crimes and attempted crimes in our neighborhood. The emails typically consist of news regarding attempted car break-ins, followed by reminders to lock car doors and refrain from leaving purses in plain sight. Though it’s sort of creepy to think that while I and my family are asleep someone is mere feet away, peeking in my car and trying to open its doors, it never gives me too much pause. But the email I got this week, describing a forceful entry and burglary, did.

A few days after Christmas, in the dark shadows of the backyard of my neighbor’s house, whose front is adorned with multiple colored lights intended to delight the three little children who live there with their parents, someone shattered the sweet refuge that was their home.

The perpetrators didn’t just try the back door. They forcefully broke it down. They didn’t simply head to the parents’ bedroom where they would most likely find jewelry. They ransacked the entire house. They couldn’t just leave with the jewelry. They had to take the kids’ brand-new Wii. They even made off with an ice cream pie. Most likely, they stole the children’s innocence with it. I know they took a bit of my kids’ with them. Even though we tried to shield them from the news, kids have a way of finding out these sort of things.

That’s how it is in a tight-knit community. Ours is the rare sort of neighborhood where kids grow up together, knocking on each other’s doors at any time of the day, with a ball in hand or a bike parked against the back fence, ready to play. We leave our doors open as the kids whiz in and out of them. We let them loose in the neighborhood, safe in the knowledge that we can hear the thrum of a basketball against concrete, even if we can’t see the kid bouncing it.

Usually, the bouncing takes place in an alley directly in back of the house where the recent burglary took place. In fact, mere hours before the violent intrusion occurred, my son and his buddies were shooting hoops a few feet from the gate through which the burglars trespassed.

Last night, hours after my son learned about the burglary, I put him to bed like I do every night. He asked me to lie down and stay with him, a request he hasn’t made in a long while. His body felt tense under the weight of my arm that I slung around him.

Here’s hoping that by the end of next year, the city’s crime headlines will read a little differently, the trends in Baltimore’s violent crime rate will fall in line with those in most other major cities, and that my kids and I will sleep a little more easily.

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