It was bound to happen — an angry assault that left one of the squeegee kids bloodied in downtown Baltimore. There’s been a lot of hostility directed at the boys and young men who offer to clean car windshields. They’ve been called a menace to society, the embodiment of urban lawlessness. They’ve been blamed for keeping suburbanites from patronizing Baltimore restaurants. Some people just hate the sight of squeegee workers.
Given the temperature of the country — the high level of political and racial tension, the amount of fear (and weapons) that people carry with them — I can’t say I was shocked at Brandon Mead’s description of what he and his wife witnessed Friday night.
We’ve all heard stories about motorists getting angry at squeegee workers who spray windshields without permission. There have been assaults in the past, usually reported by drivers who claimed squeegee workers became aggressive when their services were rejected.
But the viciousness of Friday’s attack on a squeegee kid and its sudden nature surprised Mead, a criminal defense attorney based in the city.
“Clearly,” he says, “this guy was ready for it.”
“This guy” was the driver of a minivan on the southbound side of President Street. The van, with Pennsylvania plates, had stopped for the red light at President and Lombard around 7:45 p.m. Mead and his wife, Amanda, were in their car to the van’s left, headed for dinner a few blocks away.
“There were only two [squeegee workers] at the intersection at the time,” Mead says, “and they were younger, like middle teens.”
When he stops at a squeegee intersection, Mead usually gives a kid a few bucks. That’s what he did Friday night. He opened his window to give one of the kids some money.
“All of a sudden, I hear an angry voice saying, ‘Don’t touch my [expletive] car,’” Mead says. “So I immediately look over to my right, and this guy’s out of his car and he’s got one of those mini [baseball bats] in his hand.”
Mead describes the driver as white, middle-aged, about 6 feet tall and 215 pounds. The kid who approached him was Black and “maybe 115 pounds soaking wet.” Mead saw the man raise the bat.
“The kid is backing away when the guy comes down at him,” Mead says. “The kid puts his squeegee up to block the blow, and that shatters the squeegee. The guy takes two more steps at the kid, hits him right in the face. And the kid goes down right in front of my car. That’s when I got out, and my wife grabbed my arm and said, ‘Don’t do anything.’ She was afraid this guy was going to come at me if I said something.”
Mead yelled angry words at the driver. But the man had no response to an actual grown-up. He got back in the van, turned right onto Lombard and drove off. Regrettably, neither Mead nor his wife was able to get a tag number. Their attention was on the battered boy, who had moved to the sidewalk.
“His whole face was covered in blood,” Mead says. “I run over to the sidewalk, and the kid turns and puts his fists up like he thinks more fighting is about to happen, and I say, ‘No, no, no, I just want to make sure you’re all right. Let me call 911, the cops,’ and the other boy, the younger of the two, says, ‘No, we’re used to this, we don’t want to do anything. … We just want to go home.’”
The boys walked east on Lombard and out of sight.
Next day, Mead drove back to the intersection to look for the one who’d been assaulted. He wasn’t there. The other squeegee workers had yet to hear of the attack. Mead left his business card with them. “I’d like to know if he’s OK,” he says, because the blow to the boy’s head could have caused serious damage. (I spoke with three squeegee workers at President and Lombard on Monday afternoon; only one had heard of the incident, and he did not know the identity of the victim.)
In describing the Friday night attack, Mead seemed convinced that the squeegee kid had not done anything to provoke the driver.
“He could not have been at [the van] for more than two seconds” before the driver’s door opened, Mead says. “To me, [the driver] clearly was ready for it and was the aggressor — within seconds, outside the car with a bat, swinging it at somebody.”
The driver might have had a bad experience in the past. He might have been triggered by talk of the “squeegee menace.” He might have anger issues. He might have been playing vigilante in the big bad city. He could be a racist thug. Any of that is possible, none of it justifies what he did.
It’s true that some squeegee workers act aggressively and breed contempt. More generally, their presence is an unwelcome reminder of Baltimore’s problems, and some people have lost all patience for that old story.
Latest Dan Rodricks
But this should be clear to all who still care about getting Baltimore to a better place: Reacting with fear, hostility or resentment only breeds more of the same, sending boys and young men on their way, wounded spiritually and sometimes physically, and even more isolated from a society that goes rushing by.