High-school-age teens in Baltimore continue to be shot in record numbers this year, even as overall, nonfatal shootings and homicides are down, according to an analysis by The Baltimore Banner.
Last year was a record year for children being shot in Baltimore, a disturbing trend first reported by the Banner in September. That year ended with 84 shooting victims 17 and younger. But since then, the situation has gotten worse.
January had the most high school-aged teenage victims of gun violence of any month since 2015, the first year with reliable publicly available data. The two most violent weeks since 2015 occurred this year: the first week of January and the second week of February, the last week with publicly-available data. The increase in youth victims of gun violence reflects a national trend, but the problem is especially acute in Baltimore.
Shootings between teenagers have been traded off in retaliatory fashion and concentrated in certain areas, according to gun violence experts and The Banner’s analysis. Last year, the shootings were concentrated in the city’s Eastern District. So far this year, the violence has spread to the Northeastern District and taken hold in the Southwestern District, which was primarily driven by a mass shooting across the street from Edmondson-Westside High School that killed one teenager and injured four.
School zones have become a dangerous place for Baltimore’s youth. Twenty-three school-age children and young adults, ages 13 to 18, have been shot near a Baltimore City school during the school day this academic year. Winter has been especially violent. More than half of all of the victims were shot since the winter break.
The Banner had initially focused its analysis on people 17 and under, but further analysis made clear the central role schools are playing in the increase in violence. Nearly 1 in 4 gunshot victims who were 18 or younger were shot near a school this academic year, and 18-year-olds were shot near schools at similar rates as 17-year-olds. Very few children 12 and under are shot in Baltimore, and the rate is actually down significantly since 2015.
Students typically report feeling safe in the schools themselves, but the walk home can be dangerous. Edmondson-Westside High School students told The Banner that leaving school campuses required calculated vigilance.
Shooters may be targeting their adversaries near schools because they are likely less able to defend themselves, said Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, who led a city-commissioned review of homicides in 2015.
“The idea is to catch your rival when they are not prepared to deal with you,” Webster said. “That can be a variety of scenarios, but one may be, ‘Hey let’s get them when they get out of school.’ ”
Still, the reasons behind the spike of gun violence involving teenagers in Baltimore are not well understood.
Mark Mason, a therapist who works with high school students and other victims of gun violence, said he’s never seen this volume of teenagers before.
But Mason, whose work used to be housed under the city health department and who is now the associate director of victims services for the mayor’s public safety office, said it can be hard to identify the reason for a particular shooting, let alone a growing trend in multiple parts of the city.
A lot of the perpetrators behind teen shootings have yet to be caught, Mason added.
“We can’t always get to the true definition of why these incidents actually happen,” he said.
Mason and Webster agreed that participation in social media has inflamed the situation, a phenomenon mentioned by experts last year. But social media has been ubiquitous for some time, Webster said. It’s not a recent development.
On the other hand, Webster said, there is a national context: The pandemic disrupted school, social support networks, the work lives of countless parents and the physical and mental health of communities.
Teenagers are experiencing more stress and receiving less support, Webster added
“There’s a hell of a lot of chaos going on in our country right now, a whole lot of division, and it’s very easy for young people to kind of lose hope and not to rely upon, ‘Hey, you know if I play by the rules and everything, I’ll get a job, I’ll live happily ever after,’ ” Webster said. “It seems as though the feeling is ‘Nothing is assured, danger is everywhere, and I can’t count on family, school, the government, police or anybody to protect me.’ So I think that’s the world our youth are living in right now. And so yeah, they’e sort of acting accordingly.”
Webster also theorized that the growing trend of diverting teenagers from the criminal justice system, especially avoiding putting youth in detention facilities as much as possible, could be contributing.
While Webster said he supported non-carceral policies for young people, the short-term effects of the policies had to be considered, and part of that could be that those teenagers who are not incarcerated then become more vulnerable to gun violence.
Mason, who oversees a team of three in the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, said they are attempting to make inroads into communities that have been heavily affected by gun violence by providing services ranging from housing to employment assistance and advocating for a child’s education.
Every case is different, Mason said, but the common thread is that the shootings happen in communities that are lacking in basic necessities.
“We have to be able to pour as many resources into the community as possible and hopefully deescalate some of those tensions,” Mason said.
This analysis relied upon data complete through Feb. 18. Learn more about our analysis and reproduce our findings by visiting our GitHub page.