The following is an op-ed piece from Delegates Kathy Szeliga and Ryan Nawrocki.
This past Sunday night, police were called to the intersection of Belair Road and Rossville Boulevard. On the scene, officers found a 17-year-old suffering from a gunshot wound. Unfortunately, he later died at a nearby hospital. This homicide occurred in our neighboring community, and the young man was a student at Parkville High School. We are heartbroken for his family, friends, classmates, teachers, and community members.
The juvenile crime crisis is affecting Baltimore City and County. To date, nine kids under 18 years old have been killed in Baltimore City. Three juveniles have been killed in Baltimore County. Students have been shot and killed near schools, and one of the first homicide victims in Baltimore City in 2023 was a young girl. After the tragedy on Sunday night, the newly confirmed Baltimore County Police Chief Robert McCullough commented to the media, “We realize, and we’ve seen over the years, an increase in juvenile crime.” The crisis is glaring us in the face.
On April 15th, a 12-year-old was shot and killed in Baltimore City. The young boy was on house arrest when he was killed and was wearing an ankle monitor for a previous theft charge. His mother, aunt, and grandmother all told the media that criminals selected him because they knew he could commit crimes such as carjackings. These adults knew he could go home afterward because he was a child according to the law. Soft-on-crime policies for juveniles create a pattern that adults are targeting kids to commit crimes for them. Rather than giving a juvenile a consequence, they are sent back out on the streets and caught up again in reckless behavior. The argument to coddle young criminals is wrong. During opportunities for teachable moments, young people need precisely what a consequence does – it teaches them not to commit that crime again.
Too many kids have been killed by violence this year in record-breaking numbers. Republicans introduced legislation to bring mandatory sentences to repeat violent offenders using illegal firearms. The liberal leadership in Annapolis refused even to give that bill a vote. Every year for at least a decade, the Republicans introduce a bill to make stealing a gun a felony. It’s currently a misdemeanor – Maryland is one out of four states with such a trivial penalty. The bill dies on a party-line vote every year. The majority party also refuses to close the drug dealer loophole that says if someone is dealing drugs and has an illegal firearm, they cannot be charged with the firearm crime.
In the closing moments of the 2023 legislative session in Annapolis on April 10th, Republicans stopped the “Drug King Pin” Bill. Astonishingly, liberals were attempting to reduce criminal punishments for traffickers distributing heroin, fentanyl, and other deadly narcotics that are leading Marylanders to their untimely deaths by the thousands – not to mention how these substances have also resulted in an increase in violent crime and homelessness across communities.
A bill that we had hoped to see become law, HB1190, Juveniles-Truancy Reduction Pilot Program-Expansion, passed the House unanimously but did not make it through the Senate. This program would have held juveniles and their parents accountable when they chronically miss school. Chronic absenteeism has been reported in Baltimore County public schools currently at 33%, and in Baltimore City at 58%. We enthusiastically supported this bill. Students can only learn if they are in school. Parents must be part of the solution to student truancy. We hope to get this bill passed next year.
Recent Baltimore County Public School graduation rates are drastically declining, with a disappointing 84%. Baltimore County ranks 20th out of 24 school districts in Maryland. When young people don’t graduate from high school, they all too often have a future filled with poverty and crime. A good education is the BEST antidote to social ills.
We are disheartened to see crime continue to fester in our state and our communities. Unfortunately, not much was done again during this legislative session to curb the crime crisis. We will not stop fighting to protect you and your families in Maryland. We will keep supporting and introducing crime legislation that holds people accountable for criminal behavior as we advocate for the services and supports juveniles need to stay out of trouble and in school.