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As city leaders jump to address Fells Point complaints, some Baltimore residents say their communities aren’t getting the same treatment

People swarm into Keisha Allen’s Westport neighborhood from around the city and surrounding counties every day, using stoops and backyards of the South Baltimore residents’ homes to buy, sell and use drugs. Her complaints to the city and calls for help have done nothing to stop the problem.

That’s why the head of the Westport Neighborhood Association paid attention to the city’s reaction to recent violence, including shootings that injured three people, in trendy Fells Point. Business owners there signed a letter threatening to not pay taxes if city officials did not provide additional resources for what they described as long-standing problems, including crime, trash and traffic. On Saturday several cars were damaged by bullets and one person was treated for lacerations stemming from gunfire, police said.

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The response was swift. Mayor Brandon Scott convened a virtual town hall before about 700 participants and the police department announced detailed plans to flood the area with officers, along with a promise to start enforcing laws such as open container violations that have long been ignored.

The town hall came at the request of Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, who sent a letter to the mayor and Police Commissioner Michael Harrison asking for the meeting. Three state delegates and City Councilman Zeke Cohen echoed his request. In addition to the meeting with residents, they demanded “a comprehensive plan for Fells Point that not only aims to deter violence, but that also addresses the other conditions.”

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Cal Harris, Scott’s spokesman, said the administration strives to work with all communities to address their concerns.

“The Mayor believes that every resident has a right to have their concerns heard by City Hall, and our administration has granted this platform to neighborhoods across Baltimore,” Harris said in a statement.

Still, some community leaders say the city has not acted with the same urgency to their concerns.

Allen said she has long tried calling police, City Hall and politicians to get them to focus on Westport’s problems, but the city has not given her and her neighbors the same attention.

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“I just want it to be consistent,” Allen said of the city’s response. “I just want to see City Hall and our police department and our politicians respond the same way as you would there.”

Keisha Allen head of the Westport Neighborhood Association, has been advocating for better city services and more focus on crime for years but says her neighborhood doesn't get anywhere near the quick response recently accorded to Fells Point business owners.
Keisha Allen head of the Westport Neighborhood Association, has been advocating for better city services and more focus on crime for years but says her neighborhood doesn't get anywhere near the quick response recently accorded to Fells Point business owners. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun)

Community leaders across the city for the most part said they weren’t criticizing the Fells Point business owners for their demands, but the city for its response elsewhere.

“We don’t get any kind of response like that,” said Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham, president of Matthew Henson Neighborhood Association in West Baltimore.

Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham said the city's recent response to complaints by Fells Point business owners is "a tale of two cities" - one white, one Black - but said community groups can learn from the way Fells Point influenced city officials.
Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham said the city's recent response to complaints by Fells Point business owners is "a tale of two cities" - one white, one Black - but said community groups can learn from the way Fells Point influenced city officials. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Sun)

Allen, who serves on the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee and is co-founder of the Westport Community & Economic Development Corp., said she has for years been contacting officials in the mayor’s office and police department. She said she often dials the non-emergency 311 line for various issues.

“It’s no surprise that their voices [in Fells Point] are heard louder than ours even when we try,” Allen said.

Other community leaders agreed. They note differences between their neighborhoods and Fells Point, which is more affluent and predominantly white.

Cyndi Tensley, the Carrollton Ridge community association president, said after she saw the news of the violence in Fells Point, she was concerned, but then quickly thought about the circumstances in her neighborhood.

Tensley questioned whether the city would have reacted so quickly to a letter from leaders in Carrollton Ridge or other parts of the city comprised of predominantly Black residents suffering from poverty.

“I think it’s crap. If our community members threatened to withhold paying taxes, would we have the same result? That answer would be no,” Tensley said.

“For someone to do that is basically saying our city has failed, and they are determined to not become [one of many communities] that have been failed. While they have this leverage they will use it, because it is about survival.”

Beth Whitmer, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, said she understands the frustrations.

“I’m sure there are communities that feel marginalized, and I can understand that sentiment,” she said.

Federal Hill, like Fells Point, is more affluent and whiter than many other neighborhoods. Federal Hill and Fells Point also share similar issues, as waterfront communities that draw tourists.

“In the last couple of years there have been significant issues with traffic, dirt bikes, speeding and really dangerous driving, late night partying and drinking,” she said.

She said she’s glad the city is making an effort to address the issues in Fells Point but would like to see those efforts elsewhere, too.

“It does seem like they are taking action, and I hope it continues and it needs to be broadened,” Whitmer said.

Scott and members of his administration said that they have reached out to other communities after violence has exploded in other areas. Following a quadruple shooting in Carroll Park in early May, city officials met with community members to discuss their concerns, the administration said.

Cheatham, a longtime advocate and influential voice in the city, said he would like to see other communities learn some lessons from what happened in Fells Point.

“I commend Fells Point for doing what they are doing,” he said. “I’m telling Black communities to stop, look and listen. We can learn a lot from what they are doing.”

Cheatham said that on the day he spoke to The Baltimore Sun for this article, he received three calls from neighbors about garbage in the community. It’s a persistent issue.

“I point the finger at our elected officials,” Cheatham said. He spoke of “a tale of two cities,” one Black and one white.

Cheatham said the majority of the city’s homicides are Black victims and their killings are occurring in Black communities.

“What if we stopped paying taxes?” he said.

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