Sunday, August 21, 2011

Why Do We Kill: The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore - Kelvin Sewell

I've just read the sobering book Why Do We Kill? The book is unique because it was written not by an academic, sociologist, or psychologist, but a policeman who walked the streets of Baltimore for 22 years and asked himself how people could do the things he's seen people do.

The book was special to me because I lived in Baltimore the early years of my marriage. My children were born there. We lived in a rowhouse in Butchers Hill, one of the previously-deprived neighborhoods being upscaled for a new population of white professionals like me. Every day I took my dog for a run around Patterson Park. I still remember the shout I got one day from a snarky local. "Hey, is that your dog?" "It sure is." "It sure looks like you!"

As I look back 30 years later, I realize I was never a part of Baltimore - I just lived there a few years. Besides, what could it mean to be a part of Baltimore? Neighborhoods changed completely from one block to the next, even from one side of the street to the other. Walk one block from my rowhouse on Baltimore Street, and I was in a neighborhood of Polish immigrants who had lived there for generations. Walk a block on the other side, and I was in the black ghetto.

In a very real sense, that has been a part of my entire adult life - I've never lived in a community of which I felt a part. I was always a foreigner during my 15 years in the Middle East, living and working with other expatriates isolated from the local culture and community. Even though I made more of an effort than most to learn the language, culture, and history of the countries I lived in, I was still a stranger. This was followed by several years living in Georgia, which was no different. I wasn't really a part of the south; I was just a Yankee temporarily living there. I lived in a modern subdivision inhabited mostly by geographical transplants like myself. The company for which I worked had very few genuine Southerners in it. Even my church was not local - it was part of a denomination started by a southern Californian and pastored by a New Englander.

So what does my experience have to do with a book about murder in Baltimore? Although the author could not come up with a single definitive answer for why hundreds of young Baltimoreans point their guns at other  people every year and pull the trigger, I came away with the impression that these young people experience a deep, deep sense of isolation. Unlike me, however, they do not have positive influences in their lives that enable them to move beyond their isolation. Their inability to emotionally enter into the life of another person makes it much easier to end that life.

As I began to read the book, I carried many of the judgments against the young murderers that other White Christian Baby Boomers might carry. "I bet almost all of them are black....I wonder how many of them came from broken families?....Do they even know what it means to have a father?"
Actually, these are relevant questions, but they don't cut to the heart of the issue. The author points out that our cities are still neglecting their poor. In the case of Baltimore, billions of dollars have been invested in developing the Inner Harbor skyline that attracts millions of tourists and catches the eye of everyone taking I-95 South from New York City all the way to Miami. City officials have dealt with Baltimore's legendary murder rates by building larger and newer prisons and exploiting every statistic that points to a lower ratio of any type of crime. But the teenagers whose case files are examined by Kelvin Sewell still continue to kill, and too few people are asking the question, "Why do they do it, and what can we do about it?"


aemish said...

If ever there was a case for the "trickle-down theory" perhaps you might read the sorry, sad and repulsive, 'The Franklin Cover-Up':

"The shut-down of Omaha, Nebraska's Franklin Community Federal Credit Union, raided by federal agencies in November, 1988, sent shock waves all the way to Washington, D.C. $40 million was missing from this minority-oriented, $2.6 million institution. The credit union's manager was Republican Party activist Lawrence T. "Larry" King, Jr., behind whose rise to fame & riches stood powerful figures in Nebraska politics & business, & in the nation's capital. In face of opposition from local & state law enforcement, from the FBI & from the powerful (Omaha World-Herald) newspaper, a special Franklin committee of the Nebraska Legislature launched its own probe. What looked like a financial swindle, soon exploded into a hideous tale of drugs, Iran-Contra money-laundering, a nationwide child abuse ring, & ritual murder. Nineteen months later, the legislative committee's chief investigator died--suddenly & violently, like more than a dozen other people linked to the Franklin case. Author John DeCamp was a Nebraska state senator for 16 years, & is one of America's most decorated Vietnam veterans. In 1990, his "DeCamp memo" first publicly named the alleged high-ranking abusers. Today, he is attorney for two of the abuse victims."

Susanne said...

Sounds like an interesting book...if not a bit disturbing. I like how you shared some of your own history of not belonging in this post. I've sometimes wondered what Yankees think living in the South and whether they ever feel part of life here or always outsiders. And now I know one person's perspective.

Susanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
aemish said...

If ever there was a man with his finger on the spiritual pulse of the nation...

you are the best, QQ