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14 Jun, 2021 01:01

Shots ring out despite Baltimore's attempted crime crackdown after businesses threatened to stop paying taxes

Shots ring out despite Baltimore's attempted crime crackdown after businesses threatened to stop paying taxes

Bullets fired in Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood on Saturday suggest the city's attempted crime crackdown amid a threatened tax revolt by businesses is off to a shaky start, regardless of how the gunfire might be euphemized.

Baltimore police told local media outlet WBAL Radio that they're investigating an overnight “discharging,” not shooting, in Fells Point. The discharging, as it turns out, came from a gun or guns, and the bullets damaged several vehicles. A man sitting in one of the vehicles suffered a laceration to the head, perhaps when the discharging broke a window in his car.

Police have heightened sensitivity over crime in Fells Point – a historic waterfront area that's home to many bars and restaurants – because dozens of business owners in the neighborhood have threatened to stop paying their local taxes and permit fees, citing unfettered “chaos and lawlessness.” The disgruntled taxpayers wrote a letter to city officials last week, saying they had reached their “breaking point.”

“Our elected leaders have closed their eyes and ears and turned their backs on our community for long enough,” the business owners said.

We are fed up and frustrated, and we now realize that nothing will change unless we demand action.

Their grievances included the city's failure to let police arrest criminals, creating a “culture of lawlessness,” and breakdowns in such basic services as trash pickup and parking enforcement. Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby stopped prosecuting such crimes as drug possession, prostitution and public urination last year, and she made that policy permanent three months ago.

The city recorded more than 1,000 shootings last year, and homicides have risen by over 17% so far in 2021. Fells Point business owners said in their letter that turning a blind eye to relatively minor crimes leads to more violent crime, such as the series of shootings earlier this month that killed three people in their area. A man was found shot dead on Saturday, ending an unusually non-deadly stretch for the city: one week without a homicide.

City leaders responded to the Fells Point threat by closing down streets around the neighborhood, setting up drunk-driving checkpoints and assigning more officers to patrol the area this weekend. A mobile police command center also was dispatched. 

Baltimore has been plagued for years by violent crime, one of the nation's highest homicide rates – it was No. 2 in the latest ranking, behind only St. Louis – and allegations of police brutality. During a 2015 riot over the death of a black man in police custody, then-mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake infamously ordered police to give protesters not only an opportunity to exercise their free-speech rights, but also let “those who wish to destroy space to do that as well.”

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