A leader in a city’s gun violence campaign in Baltimore who was widely known for using words of reconciliation to seize streets prone to gang warfare was shot dead on Sunday, authorities said.
Dante Barksdale, an outreach coordinator for the city’s Safe Streets program, was found with a gunshot wound to the head near Douglass Homes, a public housing complex in southeastern Baltimore, around 11:17 a.m., police said.
He was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he died a short time later.
Mr. Barksdale, 46, was nicknamed Tater and was the nephew of Nathan Barksdale, the late drug dealer Bodie, who inspired the character Avon Barksdale on the HBO crime series “The Wire.” Dante Barksdale used his time in prison selling drugs and the experience he had gained in public relations projects.
His death rocked community leaders, who recognized Mr. Barksdale on Sunday for his work in defusing gang violence.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott called him the “heart and soul” of the Safe Streets program in a statement Sunday.
“While I am devastated by the loss of my brother in the fight to save lives in Baltimore, I will not allow those who have violently committed suicide to dim the lights of his work,” said Scott. “Dante’s work saved lives. This is a sobering reminder of how dangerous this frontline work is. “
It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Barksdale was involved in the shooting or whether he had been targeted. Homicide detectors are investigating the murder, police said.
City Police Commissioner Michael S. Harrison accused Mr. Barksdale of helping to de-escalate crime in Baltimore.
“His work in public relations, conflict mediation and gun violence reduction in our city has been invaluable,” said Harrison, “and he embodied a message of salvation and peace for the many young people in our city.”
It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Barksdale had any survivors.
Erricka Bridgeford, co-founder of the gun violence prevention group Baltimore Ceasefire 365, mourned Mr Barksdale in a tweet on Sunday.
“The level of shock and pain at his murder makes my knees buckle,” said Ms. Bridgeford. In another post she added, “I know Tater’s soul is unleashed to miraculously continue the work. We weren’t left alone. We have just won a mighty warrior in this spiritual war. “
Mr. Barksdale has been the subject of a number of local and national news media profiles about his public relations work, including a 2014 article by The Atlantic entitled “Walking the Streets of Baltimore with the Fellow Barksdale”.
Mr. Barksdale, who grew up on the city’s projects, wrote about his life in a 2019 book, “Growing Up Barksdale: A True Baltimore Story.”
According to the Baltimore Beat website, he also appeared in the 2018 documentary Charm City, which investigated the violence in Baltimore following the 2015 murder of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who worked at a severe spinal cord injury died in police custody.
Nick J. Mosby, President of Baltimore City Council, paid tribute to Mr. Barksdale on Twitter on Sunday.
“Dante Barksdale used his life to save others by preventing gun violence on our streets,” said Mosby. “He has innumerable chances of doing it. Dante was my friend, and I, along with countless others, mourn the murder of this extraordinary man. “
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs contributed to the coverage.