Members of Baltimore City Council introduced a resolution to declare April “Genocide Awareness Month” as they and other officials discussed violence in Baltimore and abroad Sunday.
As part of the “Together We Remember” vigil at the Lloyd Street Synagogue, elected officials and community activists spoke about ways to prevent violence in the city and abroad.
The resolution — introduced by councilmen Zeke Cohen, Isaac Schleifer, Robert Stokes, Sr. and Ex-officio Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young — is similar to efforts at other state legislatures and municipal governments to recognize the historic impact of systemic violence.
And while the event started with officials reading the names of victims who had died in shootings and government-led atrocities throughout the years, much of the discussion focused on the growing violence in Baltimore city.
“What do we mean when we say ‘never again’?” said David Estrin, founder and CEO of Together We Remember.
When discussing how to make “never again” a reality, Estrin stressed “that answer is different in Baltimore than it is in eastern Congo.”
In terms of violence in the city, a number of officials and community activists spoke about the factors that contribute to a more volatile community.
Baltimore police Maj. Monique Brown said she grew up in East Baltimore and there were times when she wouldn’t go outside because it, “some times sounded like Beirut,” Lebanon outside her door.
Now she’s seen the area grow into one with budding businesses — “not the neighborhood I grew up in” — which she said isn’t reflected in the entirety of Baltimore’s neighborhoods.
“Too many liquor stores. Why do we need four on one block?” she said, to applause from the audience. “We don’t have enough fresh food markets.”
But she also said the neighborhoods themselves bear some of the responsibility, saying they have abandoned the “village concept” she grew up with and need to do a better job at educating the youth about healthy conflict resolution.
Alex Long, a member of the city’s “Safe Streets” program which uses community outreach to dissuade the use of violence, put some of the blame on city officials while members of city council sat in the audience.
He derided what he called a lack of proper funding for the city’s schools as well as investments in the Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods.
“It really falls back to that decision that we’re making,” Long said. “These inner cities look like this on purpose. It’s no big mystery why we are where we are.”
Long and Brown called on those in attendance to be more active in their communities, a common thread throughout Sunday’s vigil.
The discussion also shifted to hate crimes, a relevant topic in Maryland after a Crofton man who admitted to having help hang a noose at a middle school in 2017 was found not guilty of a hate crime as the judge said it didn’t fit the current law’s statutes.
A bill to expand the definition of a hate crime in the state to include groups of people instead of individuals has not passed the past two years, said Del. Mark Chang, a Glen Burnie Democrat.
Jo Saint-George, a member of the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP, said there has been an increase in hate crimes nationally and “I don’t see things getting better,” referencing the fires set at three predominantly black churches in Louisiana.
“The hate level has risen because of this administration at the national level,” she said, adding that racial hatred has always been part of the country, “but now we have to deal with it because it’s in our face.”
Ex-officio Mayor Young, who’s assumed the position while Mayor Catherine Pugh is on a leave of absence, said that he is also keeping an eye on hate crime-specific bills, saying “I will lend my voice to that.”
Sen. Ben Cardin spoke about the lack of countries operating under true democracies, saying there have been 13 consecutive years where the number of truly Democratic states has declined, setting the stage for some of the human rights violations the world still sees here today.
And he looked to frame acts of hate against a particular group as ones against everyone, saying at one point “if any one of us aren’t safe, then none of us are safe. If there’s an attack against Muslims, it’s an attack against Jews.”
Cardin added, “we need to understand the risk factors and speak out about the rise of hate. We always must hold those accountable who are responsible for these actions.”
Cardin was another speaker who called on those in attendance to take action and become more involved in civic life.
“We need to lead. We are a democracy. Your activism will affect the policies of America,” Cardin said.