Baltimore police peacefully disbanded a crowd of more than 400 youths at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor on Saturday according to the police.
A gathering of hundreds of teens at the Inner Harbor over the weekend has stirred up heated and complicated feelings about crime and the portrayal of the city’s African American youth. On the one side are those fed up with robberies, burglaries and carjackings who want the police to do more to make their communities safe again. Then there are those tired of the racial profiling of black children and the notion that somehow people from certain communities aren’t welcome in all areas of a city that is supposed to be their home. A misinformed social media dialogue and inflammatory remarks from the main union that represents officers have only deepened the divide.
In truth, there are legitimate concerns from both sides. Crime is bad; some people don’t feel comfortable going out even in daylight, and the police are trying to fix it with the approach of the summer season, when crime usually tends to get worse. An image of a dangerous city could scare away tourists, potential new residents, conventions and businesses.
Yet portraying a group of African American youth with a blanket description, like the Fraternal Order of Police did, stokes fears and stereotypes. Union President Sgt. Mike Mancuso wrote on Twitter that officers shouldn’t be caught in the “trap” that the Inner Harbor revelers were just kids and called some criminals, further igniting an already sensitive incident. We agree with the ACLU that what the union tweeted was unacceptable. Police Commissioner Michael Harrison condemned the comments as well in a telephone interview, calling them “highly inappropriate” and pointing out that Mr. Mancuso doesn’t speak for the department or have authority to give commands to staff. The comments did nothing to help the situation, and there was no reason to share such a sentiment so publicly other than to stir up controversy. Not to mention, as far as we can tell, they were in fact kids, and it’s not unusual for teenagers to congregate and act obnoxiously and do juvenile and stupid things when they’re in groups. That’s true in the city, the suburbs and rural communities.
To our officers at the Harbor tonight: Protect each other and don't fall into the trap that they are only kids. Some are criminals! Keep the current policies and Consent Decree in mind. If ordered to arrest put the name of the on-scene Commander in all reporting. Mike Mancuso
But teenage antics can also go too far, and when they do, police have to step in. Large numbers of rowdy youth had been gathering at the Inner Harbor for the past couple of weekends as the weather got warmer, prompting increased police patrols, Mr. Harrison said. Initially around 30 officers were deployed, and by the end of the night about 60 were brought to the area because the crowds were so large. Police body camera and Citiwatch video footage from Saturday provided by the police department showed kids darting in and out of traffic almost getting hit by cars. Groups also ran across the promenade, along Pratt and Light streets and other parts of the Inner Harbor, randomly breaking out in fights, the 5 ½ minutes of video, self-selected by the police, showed.
In one of the worst cases, a man was knocked off his bike, and about a dozen kids kicked him as he balled up his body and covered his head for protection. Another youth standing on the steps of a building kicked a random man in the head as he walked by. He was rewarded with a high-five from another young man standing nearby. This behavior is not appropriate, and the youth involved need to pay the consequences — and a few did.
The police department took the right measured approach — acting as a visible presence and intervening when necessary — to keep things under control. This is how policing should work. Police reported that 400 youth came downtown Saturday, but police arrested just six people and charged them with destruction of property and disorderly conduct. (The youngest person detained was 11 years old.) There were no injuries and no weapons involved in any incidents. In one case an officer is heard de-escalating an incident, telling the kid to “calm down” and that “it is not that serious.”
“The goal was to have a presence so that kids that were in conflict did not get into fights,” Mr. Harrison said. “Our strategy was to protect those kids and the people who live and work downtown. They are free to go anywhere they want and we want them to have a good time, but we are going to protect them.”
Now it’s time for the city — and parents — to engage the youth. The Inner Harbor should certainly welcome all residents of the city, but teenagers are susceptible to mischief, particularly when many of them are in the same place at the same time. We have some suggestions on how to do this:
» Parents need to be more aware of what their kids are doing. We realize there are complex dynamics with some family situations, such as parents who work the night shift. But at the end of the day, parents have huge influence on their children’s behavior.
» Businesses and business leaders who complained about how the crowds of youth at the Inner Harbor stop people from coming downtown and spending money need to provide more job opportunities for young people. The YouthWorks program run out of the mayor’s office doesn’t have enough job opportunities for kids who want to work. The business community should step up and make that happen. The city will also soon launch a pilot to expand YouthWorks to a year-round program. We applaud an expansion that would give young people jobs, needed skills and a way to be productive.
» The Harbor Project was a program that once worked to build bridges between city youth and Inner Harbor’s businesses through the use of youth “peace ambassadors.” The program shut down because of funding issues; the city should launch a similar effort.
» Provide entertainment for the youth when they do come downtown. It is their city too, and they have the right to enjoy the waterfront just like anybody else. If they are going to come anyway, why not provide a free concert or other activities that give them more to do than run around in chaos?
Commissioner Harrison said that it’s not the police force’s job to come up with such programs, but the department is willing to act as a partner in any such efforts. We need community groups, businesses and city officials to take him up on that offer.