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Youth Violence on the Rise in Baltimore, Maryland

The eastern U.S. city of Baltimore has a violent reputation, and a number of organizations put the Maryland city near the top in violent crime rankings based on government statistics. In the first half of 2008, local police say overall crime was down including homicides. But law enforcement officials are troubled by what they see as a growing number of violent crimes involving young African American male teenagers and young adults. VOA's Chris Simkins tell us how the police and a community leader are trying to curb youth violence.

In one neighborhood, African American teenagers are arrested for allegedly assaulted someone in Baltimore. In another neighborhood, a makeshift memorial marks the spot where a 22-year-old was killed in an early morning shooting. Police say the violence is part of a troubling trend of crimes being committed by young blacks.

"If they feel like their reputation is being tainted or bothered, they do what they need to do to try to bring it back,” Police Detective Gene Bennett said. “And commonly it is perpetrating violence on someone that they believe is messing with their reputation."

The detective says in recent years he has seen males between the ages of 14 and 25 more willing to commit violent crime. Nationwide FBI crime statistics show the murder rate committed by black male teenagers rose 52 percent between 2002 and 2006.

"In the last three or four years we have had an increase of juvenile victimization and an increase of juvenile participation in homicides and shooting type incidents,” Baltimore Police Colonel John Skinner said. “We have really tried to focus our efforts on disrupting those recent patterns."

Baltimore police are putting more officers on street patrols in high crime neighborhoods.

On foot patrol, Detective David Greene stops a moment to chat with some children. "Are you staying out of trouble, too? What's your name?” he asks.

One of their jobs is to encourage youngsters to resist influences that might lead them into a life of crime. Besides the police, others in the community are trying to help young people.

"There are no alternatives but jail or death. But the safety house gives them life and hope because they can come in and have a dialogue, interact, be loved, be directed, be counseled," Rev. Ray said. Reverend Willie Ray is the founder of an organization called "Save Another Youth". He opened this safe house 13 years ago, near a corner in Baltimore's Rosemont neighborhood, where poverty is commonplace and drug use and violence were once rampant.

Dana Barnes, a homeless woman, explains her situation to Rev. Ray, "I tried to kill myself a couple of months ago because I got nowhere to go, nowhere to stay," she said.

Reverend Ray is trying to comfort people like Dana Barnes, who is seeking a new life free of drugs. Ray seeks funding to open dozens of safe houses. Counselors would provide mentoring, job training and educational programs. Some ministers are forming youth groups as an alternative to criminal gangs.

"A lot of them do not want to be on the corners, who do not want to be selling drugs or who do not want to be involved in gangs but there no real alternatives out there that is being aggressive enough to challenge them," Rev Ray said.

Reverend Ray says over the last decade he has made a lot of progress in cleaning up this Rosemont neighborhood but he knows there is a lot more to be done. His long-range goal is to try and change the attitudes of the people living in this community not only how they view themselves but also how they view others.