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References to race in Downtown Partnership security email prompt criticism, accusations of racial profiling

References to race in an email the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore forwarded to its members this week caused concern among some organizations that said the notice was an example of racial profiling.

On Tuesday, a security guard from Admiral Security Services sent an email to the group’s senior vice president of safety about a cluster of five black teenagers he suspected stole a woman’s phone a week before. The security guard described the group as “displaying behaviors indicative of predators” whose “target market” might be Caucasians.

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The note estimated the teens were between ages 15 and 17 and described them as all wearing blue jeans and black hoodies or jackets.

Downtown Partnership then forwarded the email to members.

“This was classic racial profiling. You could have this in a course instruction on how to express implicit bias,” said John Nethercut, executive director of the Public Justice Center, which received the email. “My first reaction was I almost laughed because it was just so classic.”

Responding to questions from The Baltimore Sun, William Marcus, senior vice president of safety for the Downtown Partnership, said in an email that he planned to issue guidelines for communication in response to the incident. Marcus added that he and the security guard who wrote the initial email are African American.

“I would not have used his exact language, and therefore will be instituting, as soon as possible, a protocol for usage and communication with our stakeholders,” Marcus said. “As should be obvious, physical descriptions are necessary to apprehend suspects in crime, but no one should generalize about any population.”

Admiral Security Services, which provides security at a Charles Street building downtown, did not respond to a request for comment left late Friday with its answering service.

Nethercut said the language in the email — which also called the teens a “scavenger crew” — raised a red flag of instilling “white fear of black youths.” In addition to the language, part of what upset Nethercut about the message was that he wasn’t notified until a week after the actual robbery mentioned in the email.

“To be profiled — that actually puts people in danger,” Nethercut said. “My main concern was not being notified about a real crime but then getting this thing that basically profiles anyone.”

Councilman Eric Costello, whose district includes downtown, said in an email that the Advocates for Children and Youth, whose offices are in the same building as the Public Justice Center, brought the issue to his attention. Marcus said he met with representatives from both groups Thursday.

“It’s important to note that: 1) [Downtown Partnership of Baltimore] is not the source — this came from someone else, but the language is nonetheless very disturbing; and 2) the individuals referenced, as inappropriately as they were, do fit the description of a group of individuals that were seen committing an assault,” Costello said in an email.

He said he plans to convene a meeting between the Downtown Partnership and stakeholders to further discuss the issue.

“While public safety is a the top concern, we have to be cognizant of the language used to ensure all of our residents are treated fairly,” Costello said in an email.

Others who saw the message took to social media to express their outrage. Carol Ott, tenant advocacy director of the Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland, shared the email on Facebook and Twitter after it was sent to her.

“I thought it was disgusting because it’s obviously racial profiling,” she said. “I mean, when you talk about black children in terms of predators and scavengers, perhaps don’t do that. Common sense would tell you to not to that.”

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