It was a typical Wednesday evening at “Redds” Scaff’s home in Parkville. She and her 11-year-old daughter were in the kitchen cooking dinner.
Her cell phone started ringing.
She didn’t know the number, but answered anyway.
“I just got this particular feeling to answer the phone. I had a funny feeling. And I answered the phone,” Redds said.
Her son was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital in an ambulance.
Redds asked the woman if her son was alive. She said all she could think to ask was: “is my son dead?”
She didn’t get an answer. She got in her car and drove to the hospital.
“I must have run every red light in Baltimore City to try to get to my child,” she said.
But she was too late.
What started as an ordinary weeknight, is now a date Redds will never forget: September 14, 2016, the day she lost her oldest son.
Amoni Grossman, “Moni” was headed to Salisbury University. He graduated from Flatwood Job Corps in 2014 where he specialized in business. He worked for Baltimore City Youth Works and Five Guys. His mother and younger sisters adored him.
His son, Kaion Blue was born on July 4, 2014, just two months before Moni’s death. That boy will now grow up without his father.
It’s a story far too common among Baltimore’s city streets.
Pastor P.M. Smith has lived in Baltimore nearly all his life. He moved to the 900 block of Luzerne Avenue in 1969. He moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan to pursue a law degree. In 1976, he moved back to Baltimore. He’s lived in the 800 block of Luzerne Avenue ever since.
“I raised my children in that community. I’m still living there. I don’t intend to move,” he said.
On Aug. 1, the city’s rampant crime struck his backyard. Ronald Mundell Jr., 36, was shot and killed in the 2600 block of East Madison Street, near the intersection of 700 Luzerne Avenue. Just a block from Smith’s front door.
“Last year there were three occasions when I came out of my house and could not get out of my block because of the crime tape,” he said.
Smith was aware of Tuesday’s homicide and said he’s not surprised by it. He’s no stranger to violent crime.
Earlier this year, he conducted the funeral of 23-year-old Andrew Zachary. The former Marine and father of one was visiting a friend in Brooklyn Homes. He was approached by a group of men who questioned why he was in the area. They robbed him of some cash and his life.
Of the 344 homicide victims in 2015, 320 were African-American. Smith said understanding the numbers is key to understanding the problem.
“We’ve got an ‘us’ problem. Nobody can save us from us but us. And nobody can police us but us,” he said.
When Smith was growing up in East Baltimore, on any given day he’d walk down the block and see doctors and lawyers. His father owned a barbershop. He was surrounded by businessmen and entrepreneurs, though no one called it that back then, he recalled.
He said he was surrounded by role models at every turn. Nowadays, if a young person wants the experiences he had, he said it’d have to be intentional.
Smith said instead of doctors, lawyers and businessmen, drug dealers are now the men with the expensive clothes and fancy cars.
“If we are a community that determines success and ‘somebodiness’ by material things, whoever has the big car must be the big man,” he said. “Whoever has the nice wardrobe must be the big man. That opens the door for the drug dealer, because he had the car, he had the clothes, he had the money, so he has the influence in our community today.”
Aside from the drug dealers, Smith said politicians have also become role models, but he doesn’t think that’s necessarily positive.
“Who believes a thing that comes out of a politician’s mouth?” he argued. “But that’s our leadership now.”
He’s challenging the city’s African-American leaders to devote time to the youth, to give back to the community. Smith is also challenging the city council members to spend just 80 minutes a week in a city school.
He says it’s a start. He wants the violence to stop.
Smith’s words speak volumes in a city where the homicide rate continues to rise. Hope Crosby, a West Baltimore mother of five, recently lost two of her nephews.
“Some nights it keeps me awake,” she said. “I lost two of my nephews three months apart, and you know, late night if you get a phone call or a knock on the door, I expect it to be bad news.”
Since the passing of her nephews, she’s says she’s become a more protective parent.
“I’m finding myself calling my sons, telling them they have to call me and tell me where they are, who they’re with, when they’re pulling up in front of the house. That’s stressful for me."
Despite Crosby’s growing concerns about her children’s safety, she remains loyal to Baltimore with no plans to leave.
Redds, on the other hand, who was pregnant with her youngest son at the time of Moni’s death, said she can’t raise another son in Baltimore.
“I want out of here,” she said. “Like, if I could just pick up and leave right now, I would be gone if it were that easy. But that’s my next project: getting out of the city of Baltimore.”