Baltimore Anti-Gun Violence Activist Shot Dead At Housing Project
Safe Streets cover shoot at Balmor Court in the Gilmor Homes.
Andre Chung for The Washington Post via Getty Images

On Sunday, a prominent Baltimore anti-gun violence activist, who had formerly spent time in prison but then altered his life to mediating disputes that could lead to violence, was fatally shot as he visited a public housing project.

Dante Barksdale, 46, was well-known for his work with Safe Streets, Baltimore’s violence-prevention program. “Barksdale, fondly known as ‘Tater,’ was shot in the head in the Douglass Homes housing project around 11:15 a.m. A few weeks earlier, one resident said, he had delivered winter coats to families at the complex,” The Baltimore Sun reported. “Southeast District officers found Barksdale suffering from the gunshot wound near the 200 block of Douglass Court. He was transported to nearby Johns Hopkins Hospital where he was pronounced dead.”

In a memoir Barksdale published in 2019, he noted his turn away from crime in 2008: “I was tired of getting locked up, of getting robbed by police, of having to keep an eye out at all times. I wanted a regular job. And it seemed the universe had one in mind for me. My reputation as a hustler would help the Safe Streets mission, more than any amount of training could. No one would suspect alliance with BPD. Nobody could accuse me of not understanding.”

Barksdale’s death prompted Mayor Brandon M. Scott to issue the following statement:

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. He was the heart and soul of Safe Streets, where he worked for 9 years. His death is a major loss to Safe Streets, the communities they serve, and the entire City of Baltimore. I send my deepest condolences and prayers to Dante’s family in this tragic time. 

While I am devastated by the loss of my Brother in the fight to save lives in Baltimore, I will not let those who chose to violently take his life dampen the light of his work. The work that Dante did, and the work that so many in Safe Streets and other street-based organizations do to actively interrupt violence, is critical to my priority of reducing violence and making Baltimore’s neighborhoods safer. 

Safe Streets and other community-based violence interventions are effective. They save lives. Dante’s work saved lives. This is a sobering reminder of how dangerous this frontline work is. We must be steadfast in our commitment to continuing this work, investing in it, and making it more effective for a safer Baltimore.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison stated:

The men and women of the Baltimore Police Department offer our heartfelt condolences to the family of Dante Barksdale. 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.

City Council President Nick J. Mosby asserted:

For the last decade, Dante Barksdale used his life to save others by preventing gun violence on our streets and confronting Baltimore’s horrendous cycle of violence that traumatizes families and entire communities. And he beat a myriad of odds to do it. … He had an outsized impact on Safe Streets through his masterful conflict mediation skills, the passion he demonstrated in his commitment to peace and his steady presence in reducing crime on behalf of this city he absolutely loved.

Barksdale “was the nephew of Nathan ‘Bodie’ Barksdale, an infamous Baltimore drug kingpin who served as inspiration for some of the characters in HBO’s ‘The Wire,’” the New York Post reported.

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