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Baltimore's Fight Against Drug Violence

The Dawson house, one week after the deadly arson blaze.
Tracy Wahl, NPR News /
/
The Dawson house, one week after the deadly arson blaze.

NPR's Melissa Block joins the host team of All Things Considered today with a story on how the city of Baltimore, spurred by a horrific crime, is fighting drug use and violence with a new attitude of cooperation.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor district is a magnet for tourists and shining example of urban rehabilitation. But past the yatch harbor, the museums and the waterfront esplanade, there is another Baltimore. The city has the nation's second-highest murder rate, fueled by a voracious and violent drug trade.

In October 2002, there was a crime so brutal -- so indiscriminate -- that it shocked even those who'd grown used to the horrible stories and mean streets of Baltimore. In the middle of the night, an arsonist poured gasoline inside the home of Carnell and Angela Dawson and set it on fire.

The blaze killed the couple and five children -- the oldest 14, and the youngest 9-year-old twins. Angela Dawson had become something of an anti-drug crusader in her East Baltimore neighborhood. She was well known for calling the police to report drug activity and crime.

Two weeks before the fatal arson, someone tossed a Molotov cocktail into the Dawsons' rowhouse. The family escaped that fire -- a warning, they said, from drug dealers. City officials say they offered to relocate the family through the witness protection program. But the Dawsons stood firm, and paid with their lives.

A neighbor of the Dawsons -- 21-year-old Darrell Brooks -- was arrested and faces federal charges for the seven killings.

The murders sparked a grass-roots anti-violence movement that some say has fundamentally changed the East Baltimore community. A combination of high-profile police presence, better street lighting and greater cooperation among neighbors has led to a new optimism on these once mean streets.

At the funeral for Angela Dawson and her five children last October, the Mayor of Baltimore, Martin O'Malley, spoke against those who "push and peddle hate."

"So long as Baltimore remembers the Dawsons," O'Malley said, "we will never surrender to your hate -- not one neighborhood, not one block, not one house."

The Dawsons' house, charred and boarded-up, is a constant reminder to Mayor O'Malley of how far the city still has to go in its campaign against crime and drugs. It is also spurring greater interest in the "Believe" campaign, a community-centered program aimed at reducing drug trafficking, violence, and the use of drugs.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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