With two police cars flanking the block, a group of SWAT team officers stood outside the former Orchard Street Church in West Baltimore on Saturday afternoon. Amid the recent spike in violence in West Baltimore, the scene may have recalled a shooting investigation to some who passed by.
Inside the building, which now serves as the headquarters of the Greater Baltimore Urban League, however, guns were being turned in. A woman from Owings Mills, who declined to be identified, said she wanted to turn in her late father’s gun because she wanted it out of the house. In return, she received a Google Chromebook from a team of Street Geekz.
The event was the latest installment of a gun buyback program created by Digit All Systems founder Lance Lucas. The event fits with the nonprofit’s mission to expand access to computer training for disadvantaged urban youth. Digit All Systems provides A+ Computer certifications, and puts the same members of the Street Geekz team that was assembled on Saturday to work in the community servicing computers.
At Saturday’s event, the focus was on putting computers directly into the hands of people in the community. In all, police collected 17 guns. They will likely be melted down, unless they were found to be connected to a crime.
To Lucas, the message behind the event was to “stop shooting, and start coding.” And that’s perhaps just as important as the event itself.
By now, the issues with gun buybacks are well known. The woman who we spoke to (as well as those interviewed in the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Brew) also bore out the criticism that gun buybacks don’t get guns out of the hands of criminals.
Then, there’s the turnout.
The 17 guns collected Saturday was lower than the 50 turned in when former Technical.ly Baltimore lead reporter Andrew Zaleski visited a similar event in 2013. Lucas said the police presence, which was heavier than at other buyback events, may have contributed to the lower number.
For sheer numbers, a police officer posted in the room where guns were collected told us that an East Baltimore gun buyback offering ShopRite gift cards in 2012 led to the biggest outpouring. That event netted 461 guns. A Baltimore Sun article from the time also points out that it was in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
But with Digit All Systems’ program, what’s being given a place in the home is just as — if not more — important.
Delegate Barbara Robinson, who represents West Baltimore and chairs the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, pointed out that many homes in disadvantaged neighborhoods don’t have computers. Introducing one into a home could open a completely new pathway that could potentially lead to a job.
Of the event on Saturday, Robinson was most impressed with what Lucas does after turning over the brand new Digit All Systems-funded Chromebook.
“He is not only giving them these computers, but he’s available to show them how to use them. That’s the amazing part,” Robinson said. “It’s not just something that I can take home and sit on the shelf and let it collect dust.”
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