Activists in the city have had varying degrees of success in housing and food justice. But justice for police abuse remains elusive. Here’s why.
As the new year began in Baltimore, a group of “squeegee kids” – young black people who make money cleaning windshields at city intersections and are often criminalized –helped cars navigate a faulty traffic light because the police did not.
It took the city hours to fix the light, and those attending Sunday’s Baltimore Ravens football game only arrived safely because young people who lacked economic opportunities navigated traffic, making the work that should have been done by the police. It served as another stark reminder of Baltimore’s shattered priorities.
In 2020, Baltimore had the highest police spending per capita of any major US city, at $840 per resident. For context, the comparably sized Nashville, Tennessee spent just $311 per capita.
A week earlier, as the COVID-19 pandemic reached historic levels in Maryland, with many desperately unsuccessful in seeking medical masks and home testing, the city quietly approved spending $18 million on new police helicopters and $23 million on police cars, but it has not invested in stockpiling personal protective equipment, increasing testing capacity or improving ventilation in the city’s aging school buildings.
I demand that the money be reallocated from the Baltimore Police Department [to] vital resources.
The $18 million funding was the last cash injection before the end of the year for the police, whose budget was increases of $28 million to reach a historic $555 million in 2021. During this time, the city has experienced 337 homicides this year, marking the seventh consecutive year that the grim mark of 300 murders has been exceeded. The BPD arrested suspects for only 41% of the city’s homicides, marking the fourth consecutive year, it has fallen below the national average.
Long before it became a national rallying cry, Baltimore activists urged the city to fund the policequestioning the effectiveness of investing heavily in policing while neglecting programs and services that can help prevent violence.
In 2021, these calls reached their climax. At the annual Taxpayers‘ Overnight, dozens of residents spoke out, calling on the city to redirect police spending on schools, public and mental health care, youth programs and violence prevention, all of which are chronically underfunded.
“I demand that the money be reallocated from the Baltimore Police Department [to] vital resources,” Baltimore resident Elaine Millas noted at the forum.
But the city council ignored his appeal and vote unanimously to vote the budget, without debate.
For every dollar spent on policing, the city spends 1 cent on addiction and mental health, 1 cent on youth violence prevention, 5 cents on employment development, 12 cents on housing and community development and 55 cents for public schools, according to a 2017 report by the Center for People’s Democracy.
Bilphena Yahwon, a 28-year-old restorative practice practitioner and abolitionist, is a fierce critic of the city’s spending priorities. -19 overvoltage.
“In the midst of a pandemic, the city has $41 million to shell out for police helicopters,” Yahwon tweeted. A day later, she tested positive for COVID-19, and she wasn’t alone: On January 4, Baltimore averaged 2,739 new cases per day, an increase of 1,879% from the previous two weeks. , according to The New York Times.
Yahwon’s illness was unpleasant, but his symptoms were manageable – his fever and sore throat passed after a week – but the outbreak quickly overwhelmed Baltimore hospitals and spread to the public education system long under -financed by the city, forcing schools to close en masse as the virus spread rapidly through a system that lacked the resources to keep it at bay.
For Yahwon and other activists, the latest spike in COVID-19 as well as police budget increases have underscored the need for Baltimore to take a radically different view to combat both COVID-19 and rates. high rates of crime and homicide in disinvested communities.
“We look at our hospital infrastructure and they fail, and we look at our schools and they fail, and we look at our extracurricular resources and they fail, or we look at our teachers and they fail, all because of COVID and even before COVID says Yahwon. “And it’s like we’re not saying, OK, how about taking the $41 million [we just spent on police helicopters and cars] and ask, what might this look like in our classrooms? »
As in many other cities, the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have been a flashpoint for the fundraising movement in Baltimore, where activists have long called on the city to invest more resources in black and black communities. low-income brunettes. Then-Council Speaker Brandon Scott, who is now the mayor, backed calls to shift police spending from law enforcement to social services.
In 2020, Scott helped reduce the police budget of $22 million. “In order to reduce our reliance on the police, we need to continue the work we started tonight into the next term,” Scott said at the time.
But a year later, in 2021, Scott increases the police budget of $28 million. The mayor cited high crime, police pensions and health care obligations, as well as obligations to a federal consent decree overseeing the city’s notoriously corrupt police department, as reasons for not reducing the police spending.
Activists who backed Scott’s campaign after he pledged to divert police resources have strongly criticized him for reneging on his pledge. “The mayor is no longer an ally,” said Rob Ferrell, senior organizer of the black-led grassroots group Organizing Black. The trace. “He is the target.” Ferrell’s organization helps lead the fundraising movement in Baltimore.
Although the city’s fundraising movement has suffered setbacks, activists in Baltimore have had varying degrees of success in other areas of grassroots organizing: for housing justice through community land trusts and for food justice through urban agriculture projects.
While grassroots activists have made progress on the aforementioned fronts, the demand for defunding the police remains stubbornly out of reach – for now. The black organization has required that the city cut $100 million in police funding – which is less than 20% of the 2021 budget – and that half of the remaining police budget be invested in black neighborhoods in the form of affordable housing instead, d public education, universal health care and a jobs program. They also call for the creation of a community welfare trust fund, governed by participatory budgeting, that would allow citizens to determine how to increase public safety. The group also calls for the police not to be used to respond to quality of life issues, such as mental health crises.
“The steady growth of the police budget has not been correlated with a decrease in crime or harm and has only fueled surveillance and police violence in black and brown communities,” Organizing Black said. in a press release.
Photos by Neal J. Golden cannot be reused without permission from the photographer.
is a senior producer at the Real News Network. He previously worked at Democracy Now! and graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her mother was a public school teacher in the city of Baltimore for more than two decades.