The Greatest City in America?

When it comes to death by gun, Detroit and New Orleans remain the two most murderous cities in America.

The good news of 2013, however, is that in comparison to the year prior, both of these cities saw a significant decrease in their total homicide rates. Detroit’s murder rate went down by 13.5%, and that of New Orleans fell by 21.7%.

Unfortunately, while heartening declines in gun-homicide were the norm in most large American cities last year, two places bucked this trend dramatically.

Among the top 10 cities with the highest levels of gun-homicide in 2012, only two of those actually saw violence worsen in 2013.

Those cities are Baltimore, Maryland and Newark, New Jersey. In 2013, the gun-homicide rate in Baltimore jumped by 7.3%. Newark’s skyrocketed by 17%.

While we have become complacently familiar with high violent crime rates in places like Baltimore or Newark, we tend to have a poor understanding of its true causes and sources. Fortunately, increasingly stronger police data is changing this. Today, we know better than ever who the overwhelming majority of gun-violence victims are going to be.

Put simply, if you live in Baltimore or Newark, the best way to make sure you do not become a murder victim is to refrain from becoming a drug dealer.

Former Newark Mayor and current US Senator Cory Booker has sighted the statistic that 85% of murder victims in his city had on average been arrested more than 10 separate times.

Anthony W. Batts, Baltimore’s Police Commissioner, notes that 80-85% of those murdered in his city were actively involved in the illegal drug trade.

Of course, the damage that gun-violence causes ripples widely beyond those who are its immediate victims. Every victim of gun-violence has a family. Every victim of gun-violence is neighbor and member of a larger community.

True, America has a gun problem. Yet, digging deeper into the source of the vast majority of urban gun-violence is instructive.

Simply looking at the data of what causes the immense majority of violent death in our cities shows that if we are serious about solving our gun problem, we will almost certainly fail unless we also solve our drug problem.

For images of what the aftermath of gun-violence looks like in Newark, see Gunplay. The photographs below show how the intersection of guns and drug money is playing out in Baltimore, “The Greatest City in America.”

395. Baltimore, MD. Baltimore’s vast narcotics trade served as the baseline for HBO’s The Wire. This is a picture of the real life public housing project known as “The Pit” in the show’s first season.

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396. Baltimore, MD. Part of what made The Wire so authentic was that it did much of its filming on site in Baltimore. Here at “The Pit,” we find balloons and teddy bears for someone actually murdered here recently.

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397. Baltimore, MD. Teddy bears and balloons.

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398. Baltimore, MD. And then of course, the more enduring urban memorials.

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399. Baltimore, MD.

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400. Baltimore, MD.

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401. Baltimore, MD.

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402. Baltimore, MD.

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403. Baltimore, MD. Signs like these are always super effective…

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404. Baltimore, MD. …apparently about as effective as signs like these. Broken Windows.

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405. Baltimore, MD. In the highest crime areas of the city, an eerie, wide-reaching surveillance system is in place.

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406. Baltimore, MD. The vast majority of residents in neighborhoods like this, residents who have zero involvement in the drug trade, are non-the-less subject to living under perpetual police surveillance, punctuated by non-stop flashing blue lights from above.

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407. Baltimore, MD.

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408. Baltimore, MD. 21-year-old Tyree Taylor was shot and killed here in West Baltimore about two weeks before this picture was taken.

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409. Baltimore, MD. Cognitive Dissonance.

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