Black kids as scavengers and predators

Scavengers and predators. Those are apparently the first words that popped in the head of a security guard for a private company when seeing a group of black teenagers roaming the streets of downtown. Dehumanizing words that evoke tired, age-old stereotypes of young black boys as uncontrollable and animalistic.

The security guard, in an email sent to the Downtown Partnership and others, continued his offensive, fear-mongering story line to say the five teenagers dressed in blue jeans and black hoodies were targeting Caucasians, hearkening back to yet another caricature of the fearful black man. In a decision he now regrets, the Downtown Partnership’s senior vice president of safety forwarded the email to its members with all the derogatory language intact.

Baltimore's Downtown Partnership plans to place unarmed guards at intersections to monitor 'squeegee kids.'

We realize part of the Downtown Partnership’s goal is to keep a safe environment that promotes a thriving area where people want to live, shop and dine out at restaurants. This is not the way to do it, and the group is justifiably getting flack on social media because of it.

Kirby Fowler, president of the booster organization, adamantly agreed and said he would never utter such words to describe black youth and that William Marcus, the group’s senior vice president of safety, forwarded the email in haste.

We appreciate Mr. Fowler’s earnestness, but we can’t let the group totally off the hook. The inflammatory language should have immediately raised red flags with Mr. Marcus, especially since he is African American. The actions of its employees reflect on the partnership and shouldn’t be discounted so easily. The fact that Mr. Marcus is African American (as he pointed out in an email to The Sun), as is the security officer, doesn’t make the situation any better. Remember, black Baltimore cops were among officers found to have been shaking down and assaulting residents of their own race too.

Councilman Eric Costello, whose district includes downtown, sought to cut the Downtown Partnership some slack because the email didn’t come directly from the organization. He also pointed out that the five teenagers did in fact fit a description of a group that had been seen participating in an assault. We certainly hope he is not endorsing racial profiling. The vague description presented in the email could have been any number of groups of teenagers. Such a description does nothing but raise suspicions about any black boy who happens to find his way downtown. They might as well have posted signs that say: “Beware of Black Teenagers.”

The incident is reminiscent of the time in 2012 when former Baltimore County Del. Patrick L. McDonough, known for attracting attention with inflammatory comments, issued a press release entitled “Black Youth Mobs Terrorize Baltimore on Holidays.” His comments came after reports of hundreds of fighting youth on St. Patrick Day. He also dubbed the Inner Harbor a “no travel zone” because it was so dangerous and called on Maryland State Police to control "roving mobs of black youths.”

Mr. McDonough’s words are really no different than what the security guard wrote. His employer, Admiral Security Services Inc., did not immediately return a phone call or emailed requests for comment.

The good thing is the Downtown Partnership has shown some remorse, although it seems to have come after a little prodding and public criticism.

Mr. Marcus told The Baltimore Sun’s Sarah Meehan in an email that he planned to issue protocols on how to communicate that include guidance on how not to generalize a population of people. (We would have thought that was obvious, but apparently not.) Hopefully, the guidelines will also advise people against using derogatory language because words do indeed matter. Some racial sensitivity training is clearly in order.

Mr. Costello said he plans to hold a meeting with the Downtown Partnership and businesses about the email, which is also a good idea.

Mr. Fowler pointed out that nobody employed by the Downtown Partnership has ever been found using such language. Nearly 95 percent of the group’s security force are African Americans, many of whom have experienced racial profiling and wouldn’t want to engage in it themselves, Fowler said.

“Youth are very much welcome as part of the downtown experience,” he said.

We certainly want downtown to be a safe place. And business owners, residents and tourists have a right to know about potential crime problems for their own safety. The Downtown Partnership and security firms working the various office building downtown can still push out safety alerts without using inflammatory and offensive language. Otherwise, they create an embellished narrative of a crime-ridden city that keeps away the very people the booster organization is trying to attract. Baltimore recently logged the biggest population loss in a single year since 2001. Scaring people away with such emails won’t help reverse that.