Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 8, 2020

I witnessed a drive by shooting in Baltimore

By JAMES O'DONNELL | September 14, 2017


This last w

Yet the most important and the most unforgettable thing that students encounter here is the crime, the shootings and the murder. So even though they left it out of the Baltimore Day programming, I didn’t get to miss experiencing Baltimore crime firsthand.

On Friday I was in an Uber with a friend, driving through an intersection. The light changed, and that’s when I heard the unfamiliar yet unmistakable sound.

Pop-pop-pop. A flat, unceasing staccato coming from the car behind us. Pop-pop-pop. People outside started screaming. Bodies sprinted down the sidewalk, and our driver stepped on the gas. Pop-pop-pop. I stared out the rear window, transfixed by the scene.

The car behind us was wheeling wildly around the intersection. It slammed into a pole, maybe a traffic light, which crashed down onto the street. Pop-pop-pop. Cars in front of us were stopped in their tracks, and as people streamed around us, I just stared.

I didn’t get out to help, I didn’t grab my phone and call 911. I was paralyzed. I sat and stared at the person sprawled on the sidewalk.

The traffic cleared, and our driver sped away. She was shaken, shocked. She called her husband. He made a joke. When she hung up, she said, “This is just too normal now. Too normal.”

The rest of the ride back to campus was silent. It was normal. I felt normal. In fact, I didn’t really feel anything.

I’m already forgetting. I can’t remember if the car behind us was white or gray. I don’t remember how many shots I heard. I can’t even remember when people started screaming.

But I remember the body on the ground. I’ll never forget that, and I’ll never forget how normal I felt afterwards.

The problem is, people here seem to want to forget. When we got back, our driver said she was too shaken up and needed to go home. Everything on campus was the same as an hour before: pristine, perfect.

And a few miles away, we had just watched as animals tried to gun down a busy intersection. At Hopkins, life goes on nevertheless.

Upon recounting our story, people told us, “welcome to Baltimore,” with a grin and a chuckle. I just remembered that body on the pavement.

Here at Hopkins, we seem to cherish our close ties to the Baltimore community — a community that a precious few of us truly call home. We are guests in this city and poorly integrated guests at that.

When touring Hopkins, I remarked to my parents that it reminded me of a city upon a hill, removed from the dirt and rust of Baltimore itself. Our experience is not that of regular Baltimore residents.

I absolutely don’t intend to denounce Hopkins students for not taking a more active role in this city and its crime-ridden streets. I know that many students do attempt to make a difference and work in many University-sponsored outreach programs.

This being said, the vast majority of students don’t seem to care. Sure, we talk about the high murder rates in class, but that occurs a few blocks away.

That’s not the Baltimore we know. That’s not our problem. Why should it be, when it’s so easy to forget about?

Forgetting is easy but so is being aware. I would ask that Hopkins students stay aware, not just so that they understand the risks to their own person, but the risks that all residents of Baltimore share. Nearly everyone I’ve met in this city is kind, decent and concerned.

As guests here, we are responsible to try to help, at the very least by being aware of the constant struggles that Baltimore residents undergo. I know that at home I am completely at ease in my surroundings, practically carefree.

I can’t imagine living my entire life under a shadow of violence such as the one enshrouding Baltimore. So stay aware. Be polite to people you meet on the bus.

Be kind, be conscientious of other people’s fears and realities, and be a good guest. It’s the least we can do.

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