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Dante Barksdale, who worked for more than a decade to keep Baltimore’s streets safe from gun violence, is shot and killed


Dante Barksdale spent the past decade and a half helping to keep Baltimore’s neighborhoods safe from gun violence.

On Sunday, Barksdale — who has been described as the “heart and soul” of the city’s Safe Streets program and a “beloved friend” to many in the community — fell victim to the very problem he worked to prevent.

Barksdale, 46, was discovered with a gunshot wound to his head on Sunday morning near Douglass Homes, a public housing development in southeast Baltimore, according to Baltimore police. He was taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital and was later pronounced dead.

Officials did not provide any more detail around the circumstances of his death.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott mourned the loss, saying Barksdale’s work “saved lives.”

“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 said in a news release. “His death is a major loss to Safe Streets, the communities they serve, and the entire City of Baltimore.”

Shantay Jackson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, called Barksdale “not only a respected Safe Streets team member, but a beloved friend to so many in Baltimore.”

“He turned his life around and worked tirelessly for nearly a decade to prevent gun violence in our communities by working with those who were at the highest risk of being a shooter or the victim of shooting,” she said.

His work was informed by his past

Since 2008, Barksdale — known to people locally as “Tater” — had worked with Baltimore’s Safe Streets, where he most recently served as the program’s outreach coordinator.

At the core of Safe Streets is the idea that communities are best equipped to police their own neighborhoods. Staffed by people who know and understand the street culture that often perpetuates violence, the program works to build relationships with young people in at-risk communities and help them mediate conflicts.

Barksdale’s work there was informed by his own experiences of growing up in a housing project in East Baltimore, which he chronicled in a 2019 memoir titled “Growing Up Barksdale: A True Baltimore Story.”

“I was tired of getting locked up, of getting robbed by police, of having to keep an eye out at all times,” he wrote in the book. “I wanted a regular job. And it seemed the universe had one in mind for me.”

Barksdale was also the nephew of Nathan Barksdale, a Baltimore drug dealer who was purportedly one of the inspirations behind the character Avon Barksdale in HBO’s “The Wire.”

“… My reputation as a hustler would help the Safe Streets mission, more than any amount of training ever could,” he wrote in another book passage. “No one would suspect alliance with BPD. Nobody could accuse me of not understanding.”

Other leaders pay tribute

Barksdale’s death shook community leaders and city officials, who spoke about the impact he had on Baltimore’s neighborhoods as well as their personal lives.

Erricka Bridgeford, another anti-violence activist in Baltimore, wrote on Twitter that “my level of shock & pain at his murder make my knees buckle.”

“Dante Tater Barksdale is a beautiful friend, the best hugger, a warrior when I need one, a confidant when I can’t tell everybody everything, and our smiles and laughs were contagious to each other,” she wrote in another tweet.

Nick J. Mosby, the president of the Baltimore City Council, also lamented Barksdale’s death.

“Dante Barksdale used his life to save others by preventing gun violence on our streets,” Mosby tweeted. “He beat a myriad of odds to do it. Dante was my friend, and I grieve with countless others at the murder of this exceptional man.”

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