Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh agreed to an array of proposals by the Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development at an assembly at Kingdom Life Church on Wednesday night, including a system that would allow undocumented immigrants to get identification cards through their churches.
Opening with songs and prayers, the event had the feel of a revival meeting, with Pugh taking on the tone of a minister in addressing the crowd.
“I thank God every day that I get to do this work,” she told the audience of over 1,000 people, mostly from churches around the city. She had skipped a planned trip to Chicago to attend the event in West Baltimore, she told The Baltimore Sun, because BUILD is “an organization that is about jobs, about youth, about public safety. … Everything that they want is what I want in terms of moving our city forward.”
Group leaders called on Pugh to address the “crisis” faced by the city. “We cannot wait for another police commissioner,” said the Rev. Michael Philips of Kingdom Life Church. “A failure to act now will cause the next generation to inherit destruction.”
Teenage students spoke of fearing for their lives while walking to school, and of losing friends to violence. Member Antoinette Mugar told of the murder of a loved one, and then of later being told dismissively by police that the average life expectancy for an African-American man in the city is 25 years. “Someone can survive prison but cannot survive the streets of Baltimore city,” she said.
BUILD’s survey showed many in Baltimore are reluctant to call police, due in part to abuse and corruption within the department. Members called on the mayor to reorganize the Baltimore police department’s Internal Affairs Section, and to increase training and foot patrols. To this, as with other measures, Pugh readily agreed.
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“My commitment from day one has been reducing violence in this city,” she said.
Later, Pugh committed to championing the Kirwan Commission, which plans to revamp and increase spending on Maryland public schools. She also promised to use Port Covington as a model for all future TIF projects, and to require companies that seek such money to hire 30 percent locally and to offer at least 20 percent affordable housing.
Nearly half the crowd had come from Sacred Heart of Jesus in Fells Point, the newest addition to the interfaith community organization and a predominantly Latino parish. The church will help pilot the new parish ID program, modeled after a program in Texas that allows members to receive IDs they can use when interacting with police and city officials. Many undocumented immigrants avoid calling police because they fear being turned over to ICE.
“The theory behind it is that immigrants are often targets of crime and because of their immigration status they’re afraid to call police,” said Sean Caine, a spokesman for the Archdiocese, which is backing the program. If successful, Caine said, it could expand to the approximately 50 Catholic churches in the city. It’s all in line with what the Diocese sees as its duty to serve its congregation, Caine said.
The speeches were simultaneously translated into Spanish via headsets. Antonio Portillo, an El Salvadoran immigrant and member of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, said receiving an ID card through his church would help him with several areas of his life. Overall, he said, the BUILD event made him feel that he has a voice.
Afterward, BUILD member Drinah Hack said she was cautiously optimistic. “I just really hope that Mayor Pugh lives up to the expectations,” she said. “She’s been in office for quite some time now, and the city is at a corrupt standstill. We need help. We need jobs. We want people to come here and feel safe.”