A confrontation between a driver and a group of squeegee workers ended in fatal shooting in downtown Baltimore late Thursday afternoon after the motorist swung a baseball bat — and one of the youths pulled a gun in response.
The shooting was reported around 4:30 p.m. at the corner of East Conway Street and Light Street, and officials said the 48-year-old victim later died in hospital. His name was not published.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said the motorist drove through the intersection, parked on the other side of Light Street, and got out of his car with a baseball bat. He then went back to the group of children and “banged the bat on one or more of the doctor workers.”
“In return, one of the squeegee workers pulled out a gun,” Harrison said. He said it was unclear how many shots were fired.
At the scene of the crime later Thursday evening, the metal bat lay next to a pool of blood on the sidewalk.
Witnesses at the scene heard three gunshots, followed by a quick police response. The deadly altercation messed with downtown traffic for hours during rush hour and ahead of a matchup between the Baltimore Orioles and Los Angeles Angels scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at nearby Oriole Park in Camden Yards.
Harrison said the shooting is the second incident involving a squeegee worker at the same busy downtown intersection on Thursday.
A few hours earlier, police confiscated a gun from a squeegee worker, and staffers from the mayor’s office for African American engagement were on the scene to make contact, Harrison said.
In a statement, Councilman Eric Costello said officers arrested a doctor blade worker at the intersection and confiscated a pellet gun just before 2 p.m. Thursday.
“This is a very complex situation where someone has taken matters into their own hands, whatever you believe about it,” Harrison said, noting he had briefed Mayor Brandon Scott fully.
In a statement, Scott said his government will seek to hold accountable anyone who uses violence on the city’s streets.
“Regardless of what caused this incident, it is a sad reminder that all too often avoidable confrontations escalate into acts of violence,” he said.
In a statement Thursday night, Baltimore District Attorney Marilyn Mosby called the violent episode “completely unacceptable” and said it “should serve as a focal point for our entire city.”
“There are too many guns on our streets and those who willingly use violence to resolve conflicts will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” she said.
The presence of doctor children on the streets of Baltimore has been a focus for years. Drivers unfamiliar with or unhappy with the practice often complain about the youth, prompting an outcry from city businesses that rely on visitors. At times there were physical altercations. But city officials argue their presence is symptomatic of Baltimore’s poverty and needs to be addressed with better social support.
Baltimore launched an employment program in December that matched former squeegee workers with jobs in the hospitality industry, part of a larger push to find alternative employment for them.
“This is about figuring out how we can support what they need so they’re not being driven to begging, which is essentially squeegeeing,” Faith Leach, Baltimore Deputy Mayor for Justice, Health and Human Services, said at the time .
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During his comments on the scene Thursday night, Harrison avoided commenting on the bigger picture or addressing the ongoing tensions that exist between motorists and doctor blade workers in Baltimore.
He said it was unclear whether the shooting victim actually hit any of the squeegee workers with the bat – including the gunman – before the shots were fired. The group of children fled the scene immediately after the shooting and “made up for their escape,” Harrison said.
Detectives are combing through video evidence from various sources in the area, looking for more footage, he said. What police now know is based mostly on testimonies from people who happened to be in the area when the shooting happened around rush hour on Thursday.
Cody Bro, 30, was visiting Baltimore from Phoenix for a convention when he heard three gunshots and watched police quickly swarm the area. He said others who witnessed the confrontation closely told him what they saw immediately after the shooting.
“There was a driver arguing with one of the squeegee people — the people who wipe your windows,” he said.
Bro said the victim fell to the ground after being shot. He wondered aloud why the man had a baseball bat in the car.
The Baltimore Police Department asked that anyone who took cellphone video of the incident or has relevant information contact detectives at 410-396-2100.