|Pages 88-89 describe how "demography is destiny"|
It was 1942 and William McCullough, at the age of fourteen, was a small but committed part of the largest ethnic migration in American history. It was larger than the flight of the starving Irish a century before, larger still than the succeeding waves of Eastern European and Italian immigrants who later crowded the halls of Ellis Island and Castle Garden. The black exodus from the rural South in this century would utterly transform the American cities of the East and Midwest. In the Mississippi Valley, the northward migration brought thousands of southern blacks to Memphis, Kansas City, St. Louis, and ultimately, t the terminus cities of Chicago and Detroit. In the East, the same phenomenon brought waves of migrants to Baltimore and Washington, Philadelphia and New York.There was nothing surprising about this. Mechanization was changing the agrarian economy of the South, with the sharecropping and tenant farming that characterized so much of the black rural life increasingly marginalized. By the early 1940s, even the farming of cotton- the most labor-intensive of the Southern crops – was being transformed as mechanical cotton pickers were perfected and marketed. Once the South had staked both its society and economy on black labor; by World War II, the same labor force was expendable.To the north, the smoking cities of the American industrial belt offered an alternative. Even in the Depression years, the pages of the black community newspaper in the McCullough hometown of Winnsboro were littered with the notices of a generation inexorably drifting northward: “We regret to report another departure for Baltimore…”“Mr. Hill, a Winnsboro native and lifelong resident of the county, will leave to join relatives in Philadelphia.”“On Sunday last, a good-bye picnic was held for the Singletary family…”“… the young gentleman will be departing our community next month with friends to pursue prospects in Washington…”Baltimore siphoned from the rural black population of both Carolinas and the Virginia tidewater. Southern whites- those with any sense of the future anyway- began to see the migration as beneficial, a pressure valve on their demographic time bomb. Though increasingly superfluous in the wake of mechanized agriculture, the black population had become a majority in many rural counties, a growing threat to the world of Jim that might one day require a reckoning. Now, through migration, much of that reckoning would come in the North. (p. 88-89, The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood).
Cornelius Owens stood alone on a West Baltimore corner, his usual hangout. In front of him mostly vacant row houses reflected the bleak opportunities provided by a life on the street. A block away, a makeshift memorial for his slain teenage friend represented a common, and fatal, dead end.
Owens, 21, lives nearby on West Lexington Street but violence isn’t going to make him move from the neighborhood. He pulled out a battered smartphone, and found a music track: So stuck in my ways, get the [expletive] out of my way …The tinny speakers blasted the rap song he recorded, a street-hustling anthem as well as a personal statement. He vowed not to be taken from his corner, his way of life, his goals or the 1-year-old son who bears his name.
It’s brash talk considering gunfire has taken three friends in three years.“Only certain ones survive,” he said. “The good ones, they get took.”
Deshaun “Lor D’Shaun” Jones was one of them, a teen who helped make up a group of amateur rappers. They included Owens — who goes by “C” — “Icon” and “Lor David” — Jones’ brother, all plying their trade on YouTube and at area clubs with some success.
Jones, just 15, was one of the best, Owens said. He was killed Aug. 24 when, police say, someone shot up a dice game, wounding six others, near North Gilmor and West Fayette Streets.
“He was a ‘hood legend,” Owens said. His videos have amassed more than 16,000 online views. Rumors have surfaced since his death that a nationally known rapper was starting to take an interest in his music.
It’s something the entire group dreams of.
“I’m trying to put it all in my music, so I won’t have to be in the streets,” said Kevin “Icon” Ben. “I love my city but it’s quicksand.”
Owens loves Franklin Square, too — his “hood,” his community. But he wants to rise out of it, as well. He is proud that he graduated from high school last year at 20. He had almost given up when a two-month stint in jail for assault put him too far behind to stay with his class.He’s reluctant to abandon his home even after losing two other friends: David Mitchell, 16, in 2010 and Davon Dorsey, 18, “shot in the head” in 2011.
“The last couple of years, you have seen the violence rise,” he said. “East Baltimore, West Baltimore, Cherry Hill. … For all the little kids around here and my son, of course I’m scared.”
Had Owens not been working a day-labor job, hauling junk and abandoned mattresses out of an East Baltimore yard, he said, he would’ve been with Jones that fatal summer night.
“Probably would be a victim myself. Probably wouldn’t be standing here,” he said.
Owens said he knows what’s causing the violence. It’s not drugs or money, though they are fuel. Triggers are pulled over “respect” — and it doesn’t take much.“It can be words,” he said. “It can be eyes. Eyes can be disrespectful. I know it sounds crazy but it’s true.”
Turn the other cheek today and someone will take advantage of you tomorrow.“At the end of the day, if someone feels disrespected, what’s the first thing they think about?” he said.
“They have to respond to disrespect. You can’t walk away from where you live at.”We do this every day, every day we live …
The song “Stuck in My Ways” on Owens’ phone ends abruptly. Jones was supposed to go to a studio and rap the last verse.
“Didn’t get the chance to be on it,” Owens said. “So we had to end it right there.”
An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun reported incorrectly that 296 people had been murdered in Baltimore in 1990. In fact, the number of violent deaths officially classified as murders at that time was 294, according to the police.
The Sun regrets the error.
A pair of shootings early yesterday pushed Baltimore's 1990 murder count near the 300 mark -- a level of violence that the city has not encountered in almost two decades.
Yesterday's slayings -- one in an argument over a woman, the other in apparent retaliation for the theft of drugs -- were the 295th and 296th of the year.
The numbers confirm 1990 as the most violent year since Maryland's renowned shock-trauma system was organized in the early 1970s.
It was in 1971 and 1972 that the city posted its highest murder totals -- 323 and 330, respectively -- after which the emergency medical system became fully operational and the homicide rate fell dramatically, reaching a low of 171 in 1977.
But for the last three years, the city's murder rate has climbed steadily, dovetailing with a national trend that has produced record homicide totals in more than a dozen other U.S. cities this year.
Nationally, police generally attribute the increase to the burgeoning inner-city drug trade and the proliferation of firearms, particularly semiautomatic handguns. Locally, homicide detectives are saying pretty much the same thing.
"We've had 18 murders in the last two weeks," said Kevin Davis, a veteran homicide detective. "It's the guns and the drugs and the general lack of respect for human life that's keeping us busy this holiday season."
The city homicide unit has solved about 67 percent of this year's homicides.
Officially, the city unit's current clearance rate is 75.9 percent, taking into account the 23 murders from previous years that were solved in 1990 -- a statistical system permitted under federal crime reporting guidelines. The Baltimore rate is better than the national average of about 70 percent.
Police officials and city prosecutors acknowledge, however, that the increasing violence is straining the criminal-justice system by burdening investigators, clogging courtrooms and producing backlogs in the trace evidence, ballistics and fingerprint sections of the city crime laboratory.
As in past years, the 1990 murder toll has fallen disproportionately on young black men, who accounted for the great majority of both victims and suspects and for whom homicide has become the leading cause of death nationwide.
Almost 93 percent of the city's murder victims this year were black, 85 percent were male, and 58 percent were 29 or younger. Police records show that the first 74 homicide victims of 1990 were black.
Similarly, of 300 suspects currently identified in connection with the year's murders, more than 91 percent are black, 90 percent are male, and 58 percent are 25 or younger.
It was the last day of 1990. The killings in Baltimore had hit 305 and the mayor was talking tough.
"We are going to lower the number of murders next year," Kurt L. Schmoke insisted. "We just can't repeat 1990."
We didn't, but we came close. Baltimore closed out 1991 with 304 homicides, one fewer than the city recorded in 1990. At least 12 had been children under 9 years old.At the close of 1990, Baltimore recorded more homicides than any year since 1972, when 330 persons were killed in Baltimore. For more than a decade after that, improvements in Baltimore's emergency medical services brought the number of killings down, reaching a low of 171 in 1977.
While the numbers have been steadily increasing for the past three years, homicide detectives say it might have been even higher except for the emergency medical services.
"The only thing we can do is thank God for our medical personnel in Baltimore City, our outstanding medical personnel," said Sgt. Jay Landsman, a veteran homicide detective.
In this majority-black city, young black men have dominated the homicide roster in recent years, and 1991 was no exception.
As of Nov. 30, when The Sun put the year-to-date killings at 269, 62.8 percent of homicide victims -- or 169 -- were black men between the ages of 20-39. When blacks between the ages of 10 and 20 were included, the percentage of victims who were black and male increased to 75 percent.
All of the slain children were black. Among them was 6-year-old Tiffany Smith, who was killed late one summer evening when she was visiting a young friend overnight in the Walbrook area of West Baltimore. She stepped into the path of a shootout between two men. And there was Renae Hicks, an 11-month-old baby allegedly beaten to death last month by her mother and her mother's boyfriend.