The 300th murder has become a grim yet well-known milestone in Baltimore. Such a death toll had been unknown for more than a decade. Then the city killed more than 300 people in 2015 and every year thereafter.
Some city guides dismiss any meaning for the 300th mark, saying it is a persistent and arbitrary measure. No man is just a number, and the city is no safer than 300, with 299 murders. Still, the census catches the eye and puts Baltimore on the internet rankings of violent cities. The number weighs on the heads of town hall leaders and the streets. A criminologist who came to town in 2015 said Baltimore was consumed by its murder count.
All of this meant that Richardson knew the 300th murder was going to attract a flurry of attention; she got ready. But when the call came it all fell apart.
She met Bernard Richardson in 1999 as a student at Morgan State University. He was five years older than her and was training to be an electrician. They had come to a group study for the Five Percent Nation, a social movement that focuses on Islam and emphasizes family, history and black pride.
“We had very strong feelings about the city and what we can do to help,” said Zy Richardson.
She grew up in Pittsburgh; He was from the Parkside neighborhood in northeast Baltimore. Bernard Richardson attended Patterson High School. In 1993, when the soccer team was making the playoffs, he started at wide receivers.
As members of the five
Percent Nation they chose new names. “Zy” meant “beautiful black woman”. He chose “Shallah” for God. He was a serious and deliberate man. When he spoke, everyone listened. They were seven years old, married in 2007 and raised two children. The Richardsons taught their son and daughter to be proud of themselves and their black community. They called them king and queen.
Shallah was an amateur sketch artist who practiced tai chi. Its bookshelves were full of black history and economic empowerment, health and nutrition, graphic design and color palettes. He read the Chinese military treatise “The Art of War” and 5th Century Marvel Comics.
In 2002, he and a high school friend started a Peewee soccer program. They never thought that their little football program would be the biggest and most successful in Baltimore. Or that they’d give so many city boys a trip to Florida a sense of self-worth to play – and win! – the national Peewee championships. For the players he was simply “Coach Shallah”.
As a 10-year-old quarterback, Jihad Muhammad faced pressure to lead the victorious Parkside Warriors on the field. One day in practice it became too much. He went away crying.
Shallah followed him. They sat under a big tree. The boy told his coach how it felt to have his father out of the house. For an hour they talked about everything except football. At the next training session, jihad was back. That year he won the MVP trophy.
“He felt particularly responsible for helping young men develop positive life lessons through football,” said Zy Richardson.
Shallah wasn’t a fiery trainer. Rather, he would pull a boy aside to make a point. After training, he reminded players to eat well and do their homework and pushups.
Then he would go to watch a rival team and record the game. He spent hours studying the video to uncover the tendencies of 10-year-old running backs. Other trainers called him the brain behind the warriors.
In 2009 the boys traveled to Florida and beat a team from Staten Island to win their first national championship. Some of the boys had never left Baltimore. Florida surprised her: warm weather in December? They returned to their city as national masters.
“All you ever see is Baltimore City and everything that it takes to be in Baltimore City, from the poverty to the abandoned buildings,” said Dennis Harding, who co-founded the program with Richardson. “You’re kind of in a box. You don’t want to go outside. . . . We had to make a lot of psychological and emotional preparations. “
The warriors returned to the national championships four years in a row. They didn’t have the money to fly to the annual Florida game, so the coaches rented vans. The night before, the team slept in Shallah’s house so that no boy could be late.
Zy Richardson laughs at the memory of the 10 year olds bundled up in sleeping bags all over their place, their house full of boys.
“It was very much like the Super Bowl for them,” she said.
She also understood that Shallah was about more than football.
“He felt particularly responsible for helping young men develop positive life lessons through football,” she said.
The soccer program became so popular that the Parkside Warriors fielded 18 teams, each with their own coach, aged 6-14 in a decade. Peewee football devoured Shallah’s life. In 2014 he resigned.
“He stopped to devote himself more to his family,” said Harding, the co-founder.
Then Zy and Shallah divorced after eight years of marriage.
“We were better separated as co-parents,” she said.
Both attended the school graduation and recitals of the children. They kept close. He remarried in August and rode off in a horse-drawn carriage with his new bride.
Three months later, on a November morning, his new wife, Zy, called in desperation. Shallah had been attacked.
He was walking outside his home in northwest Baltimore when a man walked up to him and stabbed him in the chest, police wrote on charges. Wounded, he made it back in to tell his wife who attacked him, the officers wrote.
His wife told the police that she had a son with the man and that he had spoken ill of Shallah. The police arrested Karl Anderson and charged him with murder. He is being held without bail and awaiting trial. His lawyer declined to comment.
Shallah, 44, died in hospital and became the city’s 300th homicide case.
Zy’s cell phone buzzed with a flood of messages. Now she saw his death on Facebook and Twitter and on the Murder Ink Instagram page. She was angry.
Shallah was a gentle man; He didn’t deserve a brutal death. She wanted to scream, “How can a man like this die this way?”
“I felt this heavy burden to explain Shallah,” she said.
Harding watched the news in fear.
“That was all [about] the 300th murder, ”he said. “We don’t want to remember him like that.”
The night before his death, Shallah called his son and they talked for an hour.
“He had plans to get back into coaching,” said King Richardson, a freshman at Morehouse College in Atlanta. “I was just happy for him. The hard stuff was over. “
At least 28 people have been killed in Baltimore in the month since Shallah died. The number of murders is increasing day by day. Zy’s cell phone is full of news of every murder.
In her loss she sees the number differently. Counting does not minimize violence, it expands it.
Zy sees the depth of her children’s pain. More than 300 families share such torments.
She is stunned to see the ocean of sorrow across the city.