By Associated Press - Monday, January 18, 2021

BALTIMORE (AP) - A well-known anti-violence activist in Baltimore has been shot to death on the city’s streets, officials said.

City officials said Dante Barksdale, 47, was killed Sunday in the southeastern part of the city.

Police issued a news release Sunday reporting that a man was found with a gunshot wound to the head shortly after 11:15 a.m. The news release contained both the wrong date and the wrong address for the shooting, but was later corrected to show the right location in the Douglass Homes housing project.

Police did not identify the victim but said he was pronounced dead a short time later at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The Baltimore Sun reported that city officials later confirmed that Barksdale, who helped lead the Safe Streets program, was the victim.

Mayor Brandon M. Scott described Barksdale in a news release as the “heart and soul” of Safe Streets.

“My heart is broken with the loss of my friend Dante Barksdale, a beloved leader in our community who committed his life to saving lives in Baltimore,” Scott said. “His death is a major loss to Safe Streets, the communities they serve, and the entire City of Baltimore.”

Erricka Bridgeford, an activist who leads the Baltimore Ceasefire 365 initiative, said Barksdale’s death is a “war cry” for people working to stem the violence in one of the country’s most dangerous cities.

Baltimore has had more than 300 murders in each of the past six years.

The violence has drawn the attention of state officials. Last year, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan proposing a crime-fighting package that included stronger penalties for violent offenders, including mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving guns.

Democrats who control the General Assembly have balked at Hogan’s proposals, saying they prefer an “evidence-based approach” to fighting crime.

Meanwhile, the Sun reports that police have had a strained relationship with Safe Streets in the past, with officers doubting its workers have left their criminal ways behind.

Barksdale had served time in prison, and was the nephew of Nathan Barksdale, whose crimes and run-ins with police inspired characters and story lines in the hit HBO series “The Wire.”

Barksdale was charged with drunken driving in 2019 but received probation before judgment, according to online court records. Prosecutors dropped an assault charge against him in 2018.

In a 2019 memoir, Barksdale recounted his introduction to the Safe Streets program in 2008.

“I was tired of getting locked up, of getting robbed by police, of having to keep an eye out at all times…. My reputation as a hustler would help the Safe Streets mission, more than any amount of training could,” he wrote. “No one would suspect alliance with BPD. Nobody could accuse me of not understanding.”

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who visited the scene of Barksdale’s shooting on Sunday morning, praised his efforts.

“His work in outreach, mediating conflicts and reducing gun violence in our city was invaluable and he embodied a message of redemption and peace to the many young people of our city,” Harrison said in a statement.

Safe Streets outreach workers mediate disputes in an effort to prevent violence. They also lead public education campaigns and work closely with faith-based organizers and community members, but not with police, to steer young people away from violence.

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