Hoping to channel frustration into constructive action, BUILD confronts Baltimore Mayor Pugh on proposed reforms

One hundred twenty-seven days after Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh agreed to an array of reforms proposed by Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, the influential coalition of city churches and community groups held another town hall-style meeting to review what’s been done.

Filling the pews of Zion Baptist Church on Wednesday night, several hundred BUILD members — many wearing bright-blue T-shirts of the organizations — cheered and applauded as Pugh reaffirmed her commitment to improving the lives of immigrants, setting affordable housing quotas, funding education and reforming the Baltimore Police Department.

“I am hopefully optimistic,” BUILD member Jo Anne Stanton said. She said Pugh had met only one of the three reforms BUILD had recommended in the area of reforming the police department — and that more needed to be done to improve trust between police and community members and to bring stability to a department that has had three police commissioners this year — and is soon to have a fourth.

People frequently complain that “there has been just too much turnover in commissioners,” Stanton said.

“Get angry, BUILD!” the Rev. Bruce Lewandowski of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Highlandtown told the crowd in opening remarks, urging it to channel frustration with the city’s many problems into constructive action.

Lewandowski held up one of the first parish identification cards that will allow undocumented immigrants a means of getting ID through their local church, an initiative BUILD announced in June.

Pugh said the ID cards will help assuage fears of undocumented immigrants who need to call the police to report a crime. She pledged to continue the program and that city police will not work with immigration authorities.

Additionally, Pugh agreed to pursue funding for the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education and to require developers that receive TIFs to hire locally and to engage in profit-sharing with the city.

BUILD member Audrey Carter-Johnson received a standing ovation after her moving testimony about losing her son to gun violence this summer.

“To this day, the killer has not been found, and I feel like the detective and the police don’t care,” she said. Frustrated by the lack of police action, she has taken to placing laminated photos of her son — this year’s homicide victim No. 116 — on doorknobs around the city.

Carter-Johnson’s voice quivered as she handed one of the photographs to Pugh.

“What will it take, Madame Mayor, for you to bring stability to the Baltimore Police Department?” she asked. “Madame Mayor, it’s not your fault this is happening, but it is your responsibility.”

In response, Pugh recited familiar talking points — that crime is trending downward, but still, that one life lost is one life too many. She blamed attrition within the police department as contributing to the high crime level, as well as too many illegal guns, and “too many black men killing black men in our city.”

Pugh also promised that the next police commissioner will meet with BUILD within days of taking the job.

“I’ve taken my time selecting the next police commissioner,” she said, adding that “we’re very close” to a decision.

ctkacik@baltsun.com

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