There’s a lot of gun violence in Baltimore. It’s a city with few economic opportunities, little social mobility, and problematic sprawl. I went to college there, and Baltimore’s motto "The City That Reads" used to depress me whenever I saw it on a city bench. It seemed so cruelly out of touch with the priorities of many local residents. But when I was living there (doing a lot of reading as part of my privileged education and feeling the irony with every page) certain moments reminded me that the slogan was really true of the local community. Or could be.
I read about one such moment today in BaltimoreBrew. An event on Saturday, "Stop Shooting, Start Coding," offered Baltimoreans the opportunity to trade a gun for a fully functioning laptop and IT training courses. Sponsored by Digit All Systems, a local nonprofit, and the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the event drew more than 50 people who traded their guns for a refurbished Dell laptop.
As Fern Shen reports, local residents were excited about the opportunity, and everyone she talked to wanted the laptop so they or a family member could do things like open a business, read the news, or send emails. For example, Shen interviewed a Maryland Transit Authority employee, Marcel Simpson, 56, who had no home computer. He said that, "I came in to do the right thing—to get it off the street." And he added that he would use the laptop "to read news, look at websites, and do positive things on the Internet."
Shen describes residents unloading their guns before handing them in:
Wrapped in t-shirts, towels, newspaper and plastic bags, guns of all kinds were removed from pockets, purses and shopping bags. There were lots of small-caliber ‘Saturday Night Special’-type handguns, a .357 Magnum in a cardboard box, and several long guns, including a double-barreled shotgun, the kind that can be sawed off and made concealable.
"Stop Shooting, Start Coding" is part of Digital All System’s Guns For Computers Initiative, and aims to take guns off the street at the same time that it provides computer certification courses for community members who do not have access to this type of training. The hope is that people who take the courses will have more marketable skills and opportunities for a wider variety of jobs. Lance Lucas, the founder of Digit All Systems and a native Baltimorean told Shen:
"Look at the unemployment in neighborhoods like Rosemont – 15%, 20%. If there was a Ford plant over there, there would be no crime like we’ve been having . . . We’ve got to look at the link between lack of education and poverty. And we’ve got to change peoples’ expectations about our community."
Dell laptops distributed at the event were reconditioned for $33 each. The Baltimore Police Department will melt the guns down.
[Image: Flickr user Robert S. Donovan]