The sound of sirens tells a tale of Baltimore’s violence

8:42. It’s 8:42 on a Saturday morning here in Baltimore, Maryland. 8:42 and I hear the first sound of sirens for today. I’m trying something new where I count how many times I hear sirens from the time I wake up, until the time I go to sleep.

The thing about this habit is that often, the sirens wake me out of my sleep. Should I count those too? The ones that I hear through the night, although they aren’t in my dreams? Are they real?

The answer is yes because the sounds from ambulances are indeed as real as it gets. In my mind, somewhere, someway, somehow, someone is hurting, and in some cases, dying.

I wonder if I’m the only person who is phased by the sirens all day long, not annoyed, but rather worried. When will this end? Will it end? What does it take for this to stop? Or slow down?

The noise is one that is engraved in my mind. It’s almost as if we’re friends now, I’ve gotten so acquainted with them that I’ve given it a name. The sirens. They’re there when I’m walking to class, when I’m studying for an exam, when I’m taking a shower, they’re even there when I’m sleeping. The sirens accompany me wherever I go, and this is the one friend I wish I never had. 

This is unusual for me, as I am not new to Maryland, but I am new to Baltimore. In my hometown, sirens are not included in my daily routine, but when I’m on campus they become ritualistic.

According to a previous homicide report from the Baltimore Sun, there were 26 homicides in Baltimore — for January 2020 alone. We can not forget that each of these deaths is more than a repetitive headline stating “another Baltimore man shot” or “another Baltimore woman killed.”

Journalists Christine Zhang, Mckenna Oxenden, and Lillian Reed collectively observed this petrifying trend in November 2019 in a Baltimore Sun article titled, “Baltimore hits 300 homicides for fifth year in a row.” The article notes that “Around 43% of victims were in their 20s.’

This is not what I want young people to be remembered for. This is not the narrative we want to portray. I wonder if my peers have gotten so acquainted with the sirens that they don’t actually hear them. I wonder if they know that some of those sirens represent people their age, people who are included in our generational footprint, people whose lives were just getting started. 

Out of the 26 deceased in January, 11 of them were age 25 and younger. Justin Johnson was 25. Carter Strickland and Darius Massey were 24. Taquan Poole was 23. Darin White, Samuel Green, Dominic Watson, and Tariq Williams were 21. Khari Johnson and Raquiz Joseph were 20, and Dontae Patterson was 18.

In these circumstances, age is so much more than a number. Behind these numbers are decades of untapped potential. These were real humans that had an entire life ahead of them one minute and made friends with the sirens the next.

This is a problem within my generation, and it requires change that can only start with my generation. We can change our actions but first, we have to pay close attention to our peers because we have the biggest influence on one another.

So many people want to reverse this, so many people are working tirelessly to stop the violence. Parents, teachers, mentors, law enforcement, elected officials, and so many other leaders are reaching their hand out to us, but why won’t we grab it?

What are we doing to ourselves? As young people, we need to have an open conversation surrounding violence. I want to know if we’re thinking about this. I want to know when we can start talking about this. I want to know if we hear the sirens.

– Kaila Hodge, freshman

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