The “Black Lives Matter” movement is arguably one of the most covered and polarizing topics of the past few years. The movement, accented by various forms of protest across the nation, was born in response to the killings of unarmed Black men by police officers. One of the BLM movement’s most notable demonstrations was the the uprising of fed up citizens in Baltimore. The unrest came after the controversial death of Freddie Gray, but it could be seen as the boiling point for a Black B-More community that has been neglected and mistreated by the city’s powers-that-be. As we venture further into 2016, local elections, calls for police reform and the trials of the police officers charged with Freddie Gray’s death are critical issues to whether the trust between the community and government is mended or not. However, most signs point to more-of-the same, according to a recent report by VICE. “People are generally angry about a variety of things, and we have a community that makes promises but no real substantive investments,” said co-founder of pro-Black grassroots organization Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle (LBS) Dayvon Love. “This year we’re gonna see a lot more of what we saw in 2015. It won’t be an anomaly. We’ll continue to see a lot of the same.”
One bad sign is the plans of Police Commissioner Kevin Davis to “pressure the state legislature to make possession of illegal firearms a felony, rather than a misdemeanor, and for police to hunt down gun traffickers.” He also plans to bolster the police ranks by filling 200 vacancies in the department. This is in response to increased crime in the city. VICE breaks down a report by the Brennan Center for Justice:
Charm City saw a per-capita record of 344 homicides in 2015, the highest total since 1993, when the city had 100,000 more people living in it, as the Baltimore Sun reported this month. In April, 25-year-old Freddie Gray died while in police custody, sparking weeks of Baltimore protests and unrest. In five of the eight months following Gray’s death, homicides surpassed 30 or 40 a month. Before the unrest, according to the paper, Baltimore had not witnessed 30 or more homicides in one month since June 2007.
All told, there were some 900 shootings in Baltimore last year, up some 75 percent from 2014—a violent crime spike unparalleled among the 30 largest cities in America, according to the Brennan Center’s analysis.
Oddly,in light of those statistics, the anti-violence program known as Operation Ceasefire (which has been successful in New York City) was substantially underfunded. The program was so neglected that its director resigned, citing “insufficient resources and support.”
Another problem was the cancellation of a long-planned transit program that would have primarily benefitted low-income Blacks in Baltimore. This cancellation spurred the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund to file a federal complaint,on behalf of a community that is deprived of adequate transportation options. The money earmarked for the project was spent on roads and highways elsewhere in Maryland, by Governor Larry Hogan, instead. The governor has no qualms about cutting the funding for vital Baltimore services, evidenced by his depleting funds for the city’s educational program by 3.3%. However, he did announce a $700 million plan to destroy vacant buildings throughout the city and develop the land over the next four years.
One bright spot is the potential of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program (LEAD). The program (which was first developed in Seattle) is a collaboration between the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Programs at Baltimore’s Open Society Institute (OSI) and the city’s police to send drug addicts to a community-based treatment program for help, instead of locking them up. It is hoped that LEAD will lead to improved community/police relations.
Needless to say, the city of Baltimore has a lot to work on for an improvement from last year. “I don’t see us policing ourselves out of this crisis. That has never worked before,” said Alex Elkins, University of Michigan visiting historian and police analyst. “We need sustained engagement with hard-hit communities in order to establish a different pipeline, toward civic inclusion rather than banishment to jail and prison. To achieve that, a policy that attacks root causes is essential, ethically and strategically.”