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Baltimore mayor: I am impatient

Like so many citizens of Baltimore, I am impatient.

For too long we have endured levels of violent crime that have caused many to live in fear and dread at the prospect of what might befall a son or daughter coming from or going to school, work or a neighborhood market.

For too long, we have endured acute disparity among city residents who, because of their zip code, have endured underinvestment in their neighborhood and for whom such essentials as adequate grocery stores, entertainment venues and green open spaces are lacking.

For too long, we have come to accept as an inevitability of city life that hundreds of men, women and even children have no place to call home, but instead make their bed on city streets, encamped in tents beneath highway overpasses and along major thoroughfares.

For too long, vacant and boarded houses have defined whole neighborhoods and an image of our city that conveys resignation, despair, willful neglect.

For too long, these harsh realities have formed a narrative that we now wish described someplace, anyplace else but here.

It’s for this reason that I have targeted violent crime and, equally, the conditions that undeniably are its root causes as my highest, most urgent priorities. Because I believe we can do so much better and must achieve progress faster, it is why I determined the need to appoint new leadership at police headquarters. Commissioner-Designate Darryl De Sousa is an officer who has spent the past 30 years in our neighborhoods and on our streets dealing with crime as well as the conditions that fuel it.

Having observed him during this first year since I took office, I have been impressed by his ideas, his thoughtful approach and the way he pursues collaboration as key to finding solutions to complex problems. Under his leadership, we will continue with the consent decree between the police department and the U.S. Justice Department that was required in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death and the turbulent aftermath. Unquestionably, it has proven a catalyst in changing mentalities, approaches and ultimately the culture of our police department. Commissioner-Designate De Sousa has been instrumental in the implementation of the Violence Reduction Initiative that I introduced in late October and which requires daily collaboration among city department leaders and district commanders in targeting neighborhood problems before they become bigger problems that then give rise to violent acts. With me, he has been a regular participant in our Call to Action meetings, which convene neighborhood leaders, non-profit representatives and violence disruptors, empowering them to intervene and clear paths for those most at risk, while offering real hope and the prospect of a better way.

Commissioner-Designate De Sousa is known and respected by his fellow officers, a man who is humble, respectful and empathetic. He has done the hard work each and every day throughout his long policing career, rising through the ranks and earning consistent distinction for the faithful performance of his duty. Like me, Commissioner-Designate Darryl De Sousa is impatient.

Amid too much national attention for all the wrong reasons, there is much that justifies our immense and abiding pride in this city of neighborhoods and irresistible charm. Once blighted areas of Baltimore are being rejuvenated and are now pulsing with energy, new businesses, new restaurants and new residents. Average unemployment continues to hover at near 5 percent, well below neighboring cities to the north and south. We enjoy real estate market value that is the envy of Washingtonians 40 miles from our Inner Harbor, who pay exponentially more for substantially less. Our major league teams, renowned symphony orchestra, celebrated museums and acclaimed performance theaters draw tens of thousands of tourists and residents from neighboring counties, filling our restaurants and hotels, and driving economic growth. We rightly claim to have the finest medical system in the world and higher education institutions of international esteem, which attract students from every other nation and where ground-breaking research is conducted and prized.

These — and many others — are the assets we must celebrate and cherish even as we work to address the long-neglected systemic issues that betray our proudest boasts, still elusive for far too many of our fellow citizens. Ending the levels of violence that have plagued us in recent years and contributed to the regrettable narrative of the city we know to be so much more, requires relentless commitment by not only the usual suspects, but by all citizens who have the will and capacity to be part of the solution. It means giving voice, time and effort to not only complaining about, but solving, neighborhood problems. It means intervening in young lives that lack direction, a moral compass or just a summer job. It means joining in and committing to the work of so many mission-driven organizations that are lifting-up others, cleaning neighborhoods, creating quality food hubs, extending life skills to young and older alike, and, yes, welcoming home ex-offenders who have served their time and must now find a way to contribute and sustain an honest way of life.

This is the work before us, eager as we are to write this still elusive, but more promising, narrative. We — all of us — have an obligation to now be impatient, to affect the change we insist must come. As mayor, it is my duty and commitment to be relentless in pursuing the policies and initiatives that I believe will change our course. As citizens of Baltimore, we share a responsibility to be part of the conversation, the hard effort and the solution.

We would do well to recall the words of our most recent former president: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”

It is my plea for the sake of our city and our future that we stay impatient.

Catherine E. Pugh is the Democratic mayor of Baltimore. She can be reached at mayor@baltimorecity.gov.

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