Understanding Baltimore's Murder Epidemic From Multiple Perspectives
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
This week, we're checking back in with some of the people we met during 2017 - today, photographer Amy Berbert and Pastor Rodney Hudson. They both live in Baltimore, where they have different connections to the city's murder epidemic. Amy has spent the year doing a photography project called Remembering the Stains on the Sidewalk. She documents the scene of every murder that took place in Baltimore during 2016. Here's how she described the project when we met over the summer.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
AMY BERBERT: Same place, same time, same day, one year later. And for me, that's the biggest piece, is that I have to plan my life around these people's death. I'm missing my cousin's wedding. But these people will never be able to go to another wedding again. So it's a small sacrifice considering this 318 people will never see these opportunities again.
SHAPIRO: I joined her as she photographed the place where a 29-year-old man named Donzell Canada was killed. Pastor Rodney Hudson knew Canada from doing church work in the community.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
RODNEY HUDSON: I believe deep in my heart that if they had another choice that this would not have been the desired life. But this is all they knew. All they knew were killing. All they knew was drug addiction.
SHAPIRO: This year, the total number of homicides in Baltimore is even higher than it was in 2016. Amy Berbert and Rodney Hudson are with us once again. Welcome back to the program.
BERBERT: Thanks, Ari. It's great to be back.
HUDSON: Thank you for the opportunity.
SHAPIRO: Amy, how did this project change your understanding of Baltimore's violence problem?
BERBERT: Well, when I started out this project I was really doing it to remember the victims and honor their memory. And while that's still a huge piece of it, over the past 12 months what I've learned is that the people doing the killing and the people being killed are really not all that different. And it's so much easier to feel sympathy for the victim. But what I've learned is that if we want something to change, if we want less violence in the city, then we need to start sympathizing with the people committing the crimes because they're the ones that are pulling the trigger. And if we want to be able to stop them from pulling the trigger we need to intervene before they make the decision to pull the trigger.
SHAPIRO: Pastor Hudson, when you work in this community, how do you get past the instinct to blame and find a way to sympathize and connect with people who are causing such violence?
HUDSON: I don't have sympathy for people who commit violent crimes. I grew up in a similar type of community, and I have many friends who grew up in this kind of community. We didn't need sympathy. But we needed to have hope. And that's what we try to give them - hope. And when they refuse hope, then the refusal of hope leads down a dangerous path. And I think that's what's wrong. We don't need sympathy, but we need to care.
BERBERT: I agree that it's not about feeling bad for these people. It's people outside of these communities need to see these people as human beings. And they need to care about these people enough to not just write them off as murderers and drug dealers, but to see them as people outside of that.
SHAPIRO: Amy, you've taken more than 300 photographs this year. Can you describe one that has really struck a chord?
BERBERT: Oh, there are so many. On my birthday, there was a young man that was shot and killed at 11:30 at night. And it was my 22nd birthday. And he was killed when he was 21. For me, that helped me put into perspective everything that I had done from the time that I was 21 to 22, that whole year. Like, I imagined what it would be like to erase that, that - as if that never happened.
SHAPIRO: Pastor Hudson, I know that your work in the community to address violence includes collaboration with law enforcement, community organizations, addiction specialists. Do you see a role for artists, people like Amy?
HUDSON: Absolutely. The fact that she's documenting these murders keeps it on the forefront that this should not be ordinary, that a young man or a young woman - it should not be ordinary that they don't make it to 30.
SHAPIRO: Amy, what will your last photo be?
BERBERT: On December 31 around 1 a.m. on North Avenue. I don't know if I will feel more relief or sadness - probably a mixture of both. So it'll definitely be bittersweet.
SHAPIRO: Pastor Hudson, you live in the middle of this. And the murder rate this year has gone up, not down. Do you see any reasons to be hopeful?
HUDSON: I see a lot of hope. We need a resurrection in Sandtown. And that's what we hope that will happen, that Sandtown will be resurrected, resurrected on the wings of those who are going to come in and help our neighbors see that they have value.
SHAPIRO: Pastor Rodney Hudson and photographer Amy Berbert speaking with us from Baltimore. Thank you both so much, and Happy New Year.
HUDSON: Thank you.
BERBERT: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.