After bloody weekend, Police Commissioner Batts says “we care”
The surreality of Baltimore’s murder politics was on full display this afternoon as Police Commissioner Anthony Batts called a hasty press conference and walk-along on the 700 block of Kenwood Avenue, where in the wee hours of Saturday morning five people were shot, one killed.
It was part of a eight-murder weekend, the summer’s first, and a phenomenon that made national news. Reporters, long accustomed to the pugnacious pronouncements (and occasional heroic-looking collars) of former Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld tried in vain to get Batts to say or do something as the bodies dropped. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office was reportedly silent, as she was in Las Vegas.
So as Monday dawned the several detectives assigned to the department’s public information detail were frantic, first in meetings, then setting up the microphone for the photo op in front of the rowhouses at 710 and 712 N. Kenwood.
“C’mon, give me a hug,” a man leaving 716 N. Kenwood said to a little girl on the stoop. She did, and then went back to blowing bubbles through a pink wand, which drifted toward the house across the street, 709, with a “Public Auction” sign in the window since January.
People stuck their heads out their front doors and second floor windows to watch the commotion as the TV trucks and print reporters crowded the sidewalks now thick with uniformed police.
“For us, it’s a concern,” Batts told the scrum, speaking of the murders. “We are having an unusual high spike.”
Bald and crisp in dress whites, the commissioner reminded the scribes and the wider public that, statistically speaking, crime had been trending down. He said he had been working with the “feds,” anticipating the summer violence. “This weekend I was in contact with U.S. Attorney Rosenstein,” Batts said, adding that the alphabet soup of federal law enforcement agencies—DEA, ATF, ICE, FBI, etc.—were also called to help respond, as well as the State Police.
“So you will see a coordinated attack,” the commissioner stated in his flat, emotionless style. He added condolences to the victims’ families. He then mentioned that some of this weekend’s murder victims had “drug-related backgrounds,” a fact that in Baltimore hardly needs to be added. “That tells me that’s not a random incident that took place.”
As if Baltimore citizens were otherwise being struck by meteorites.
The questions were perfunctory—what are you doing about illegal guns? What about criticism from the city council? The answers were too—but telling all the same: “The crime rate is down,” Commissioner Batts said. “I think we’re doing a good job and going in the right direction.
“What’s really critical is that this is a community, and that they understand that we care.”
The commissioner then demonstrated his care by walking across the street, cameramen and press gaggle in tow, to shake hands with Cecil Dixon, one of two men on the stoop at 709 N. Kenwood.
He told the men that he cares.
After Batts left, Dixon, who says he works at the corner store across the street, told me he heard about the shootings on Saturday morning and has no idea how they came about. Of Batts: “He’s doing his job.”
A woman three or four doors up the street said something similar after the Batts parade strode past on its way to the high corner of the block.
And so it went, as photo-ops do. There is a woman on the block who remembers things a few years ago, when an Eastern District commander made it his business to remove the corner boys. “A lot of them went to jail,” she says.
New boys came, of course. The woman—she doesn’t want to give her name—says she’s been calling them in. “They like to sit on 726,” she says. “Then they get moved off and they go across the street, I think to 729.” She is unsure of the addresses. I suspect she means 728 and 709, as 728 is floridly vacant and Cecil says there has been no sign of 709’s new owner there since the January auction.
But the beat goes on, she says: “This year we got those younger guys. You know they don’t have a heart.”
On the way back to his car Commissioner Batts shakes the hand of a WWII vet and thanks him for his service. The Commissioner says, “I just wanted to make sure you knew we were here.”