Once a homicide hotbed, Baltimore dramatically reduced its murder rate last year. Unfortunately for us, Philadelphia can't follow suit until the state changes its outmoded gun laws. (Don't hold your breath.)
His name is Perry Bowles, and history almost recorded him as No. 5.
As he sat inside a 1995 GMC Yukon in front of his East Baltimore home, two men in their late teens ambushed the 23-year-old Bowles, unloading a flurry of bullets that left nine holes in the driver's side window, one in his arm and a couple in his stomach.
The shooting brought police officers Stan Premick and Natasha Younger to the same neighborhood where just the day before, they assured the Laundromat owner she'd be safe.
"Life just goes on," says Premick, who quit an undependable electronics job to don a uniform. "It just continues."
In his three years on the job, he's seen more than his share of drug-related homicides. He's found stashes and cultivated a cat-and-mouse relationship with the pimps, pushers and prostitutes in his district.
So has Officer Younger, who's married to a Maryland state trooper who tells her he doesn't mind the danger she faces because he has faith in her co-workers. She glides through stories about her work with a group that helps young witnesses cope with what they've seen as easily as she glides through tales of the nights she's spent posing as a prostitute.
As their car passes boarded-up homes and businesses with graffiti tributes reading "RIP Rock 6-20-97" and "RIP Dre, The Good Die Young," they can't help but laugh at two people who take their time getting out of the speeding cruiser's path. The pedestrians summon their best dirty looks. There's little civility between the two sides in these parts.
To tell the police of Baltimore's Eastern District that things have improved just doesn't feel right. The Demitrius Smiths continue to die on their watch and the Perry Bowleses keep getting shot.
Are there fewer problems now?
Sure, that's what the stat sheets say, but who can realistically promise there won't be 600 murders here in 2001? It's a question they wonder after Baltimore ambulance No. 20 pulls away from Bartlett Street with Bowles inside. His family's left behind to deal with probing detectives. But the dozen police cars depart as quickly as they arrive, leaving behind index cards to mark the bullets on the sidewalk.
Also gone within minutes is the crime-scene tape, the same tape that was nowhere to be seen in the Benedict Laundromat.
Bowles, though, will live to see another day, leaving investigators wondering when the next retaliation shooting will occur.
Back in their police cruiser, Premick's and Younger's thoughts have turned to more pressing matters. Dinner had already been pushed back by a pit bull call and the Bowles shooting. But what to get?
"Something quick, I guess," Younger says. "Something quick, before it hits the fan. I'm tired of greasy burgers, though."
"This is East Baltimore," Premick says. "What else is there?"
Neither has an answer.
Brian Hickey last wrote about Christie Whitman's EPA appointment.
Photography By Jessica Gryphon
The 50 greatest Philly pop songs