Md. state, city leaders promise to help shaken community in wake of mass shooting

Gov. Wes Moore (center) and Mayor Brandon Scott speak to reporters outside the Brooklyn Community Center. (right)
hakeem James, a 14-year old freshman at Digital Harbor High School, asked Gov. Wes Moore (D) and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D) why it took a mass shooting event to bring help to his Brooklyn Homes community. (Courtesy Maryland Matters/Bryan P. Sears)
Children play in a pile of ice chips outside the Brooklyn Homes Community Center. (Courtesy Maryland Matters/Bryan P. Sears)
The Peace Mobile, operated by the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. (Courtesy Maryland Matters/Bryan P. Sears)

This article was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

Chakeem James had a question.

James, standing at the edge of the crowd gathered in front of the Brooklyn Homes Community Center, waited his turn. Gov. Wes Moore (D) led a parade of officials to the Baltimore neighborhood on the 4th of July — two days after a mass shooting claimed the lives of two young adults and left 28 others wounded — many under the age of 18.

James listened as Moore and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D) answered reporters’ questions. He said he fought off being nervous.

And then Scott called on him.

“Why y’all trying to help the community now and make it like a nice place after the mass shooting? Why haven’t you already been doing that?” James, 14 and a freshman at Digital High School asked.

“I would just say we have been doing that,” Scott said in response to James’ question.

The mayor noted the recent opening of Baybrook Elementary, a brand new $20 million school just blocks from the community center. A new recreation center is coming, Scott said.

“I came to Brooklyn with the senator and delegate a few years ago before I took office knowing this neighborhood had been ignored,” Scott said. “I spent a lot of time here myself and those investments will continue to come from all of us. This incident just heightens the needs, as you heard from the governor, for us to work more quickly together.”

On Saturday James was at Brooklyn Day, an annual community festival in the public housing community.

“I was there until the shooting started happening,” he said.

Hundreds of people attended the gathering that stretched into the early hours of July 2.

Then came the gunshots.

Details are scant. The investigation is ongoing.

Police believe there were multiple weapons — how many is unclear. A motive has not been released. Videos posted on social media after the shooting show some attendees who appear to be teens holding weapons.

Gunfire erupted and the crowd scattered.

“It was random and unexpected,” said James.

Aaliaya Gonzalez, 18, was pronounced dead at the scene. Kylis Fagbemi, 20, died at the hospital. Twenty-eight others including 15 people under the age of 17 were wounded.

No arrests have been made.

“To all of the victims and to all their families the message is: We grieve with you. Our hearts are broken with you,” said Moore. “The message is that there are two things that we are in search of and we’re not going to stop until we find them and that is justice and peace. Justice and peace. For them. For their families. For our community. And we’re not stopping until we get it.”

The atmosphere in the community may not have looked unfamiliar for an Independence Day holiday. The connection to the shooting was undeniable.

Fire engines and a police command post dotted the streets. Residents milled about carrying hot dogs and hamburgers cooked by a group there supporting the first responders.

Residents could play video games or listen to music or journal inside a bright orange city-owned bus called the Peace Mobile.

Children chased each other, spraying water out of bottles handed out by aid workers. In another area, a tub of ice chips dumped on the grass by a Red Cross volunteer provided a break from the heat to other children who tossed the crushed ice at each other.

Moore came to Baltimore Tuesday to visit families of the wounded at the Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland Medical Center, attend a music festival in nearby Cherry Hill, and tour the Brooklyn neighborhood, speaking to residents behind closed doors at a local community center.

“It’s barely open, it’s never open,” James said of the community center. “It’s like my first time seeing this open. I’ve been here for a year and its my first time seeing this open.”

Moore and Scott promised to bring more services to the community, focusing on what local leaders identify as needs.

“I want the community to know we all stand with them,” said Moore. “Today. Tomorrow. Today we’re here as electeds but I want them to know that we’re going to keep being here because this is not a response to an incident. This is a response to a chronic challenge that the community has been facing.”

Moore said the visit was about “improving the quality of life for everyone for good.”

Brooklyn Homes, tucked into the southernmost part of the city bordering Anne Arundel County, is one of several public housing complexes in Baltimore.

The needs are not new. The problems are generational. They predate James’ move with his mother into the community from West Baltimore more than a year ago.

“Part of the challenges is what services are they receiving here in this community center that can help with food or housing or could help with job training or anything else?” said Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, who represents the area.

“It’s everything all at once. We have to build on some of the things that we have been doing,” Clippinger said.

Asked if there was a role for the legislature to play in helping to heal the community and improve local services, Clippinger said: “It’s certainly something for the mayor and the governor.

Moore told reporters he hopes to bring those services into Brooklyn Homes.

“This is all of the above. This is wrap-around services for families,” said Moore. “This is making sure that the victims and their families are being supported in this moment. It’s about making sure that young people feel loved and cherished and know that we need them in this. It’s making sure that the perpetrators and the people responsible for the pain this community is feeling, that they are held responsible and they will be held accountable for this. It’s about letting the community know that we are focused on building up and working with the community for the long run. This is not a short-term project.”

But Clippinger said lawmakers have other policy areas they can look at in the coming legislative session.

“I think one of the broader questions that we’ve got to deal with is what are the actual services provided by the Department of Juvenile Services that relate specifically to kids who are found in possession of guns,” said Clippinger. “This has been one of the challenges that no one has been able to solve.”

Additional efforts will have to wait for the conclusion of the investigation, he said.

“So as far as legislation goes, let’s see what they have to say and go from there,” Clippinger said.

James, the high school student, hopes city officials and agencies will be more present in the community.

“I guess they can keep trying,” he said.

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