Advertisement

Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon 'saddened' by riots

Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, a West Baltimore native who represented the neighborhoods hit by riots while on City Council, said she was "saddened" by Monday's violence. But she said she understood the "pain" residents are feeling over Freddie Gray's death and the depressed conditions of their poverty-stricken communities.

"It's troubling because the areas that these looters are destroying are areas that have had just begun to be rebuilt dating back to the riots of the 1960s," Dixon said. "People who live and work in those communities have worked hard to bring back some of the businesses and create some development, that part is sad."

Advertisement

She said there is a "group that is taking advantage of a lot of pain" in the neighborhoods of Sandtown-Winchester and Penn North near the historic Pennsylvania Avenue corridor that was once a thriving center of African American business in the 1960s and 1970s.

Dixon said the community's pain about Gray stems from the unanswered questions around the 25-year-old's death while in police custody. He was arrested on April 12 after police said he fled from officers for no reason. Video of his arrest shows a handcuffed Gray shouting out in pain as officers loaded him into a police van. A week after his arrest Gray died as the result of spinal cord and other injuries. His death is still under investigation by the Baltimore Police Department, the Baltimore state's attorney's office and the U.S. Justice Department.

"The people in Sandtown are feeling [sad] about what happened to Freddie Gray," Dixon said. Their pain is compounded by the fact that their neighborhood is "not benefiting from everything happening in the city" with economic development.

She said the city has "a lot of work to do" to help bring more jobs and development to impoverished parts of the city. She found it disconcerting that people in "majority white" parts of the city were carrying on with normal business while the anger in black neighborhoods was growing.

"We have some major inequities in the city," she said. "We have to put more focus in those areas."

But she said there is no excuse for rioting and that Gray's family did not want violence.

Attorney William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr. appeared with Gray's family, dozens of ministers and gang members Monday night at New Shiloh Baptist Church to reiterate the family's desire for peace. He said gang members and church leaders were working together to do their part to help quell violence. But he also called on all segments of Baltimore's residents and institutions to work to repair how the police and the justice system deals with poor black residents.

"We're asking prosecutors to re-exmaine their sentencing policies," Murphy said. "They're brutal to us."

He said police need to be equipped with police cameras as soon as possible. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is set to implement a pilot body camera system to determine whether to approve a wider system.

Murphy said the community is tired of waiting for "theoretical" fixes.

"We're desperately looking for practical solutions," he said. "As long as this is regarded as a white-black issue instead of a human issue, we will remain divided."

Advertisement
Advertisement