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Solutions, not excuses, for Baltimore post Freddie Gray

As the world looked on in horror Monday, many of us in Baltimore resisted the initial shock and headed straight for the streets to help quell the violence and restore order to our great city. What awaited us in those tense moments, as afternoon gave way to an uncertain darkness, was far from pretty.

Bands of looters emptied stores and left fires in their wake. A much-needed senior center under construction was burned to the ground, and first responders were attacked with rocks, bottles, bricks and other debris as they responded to calls throughout the city. Vehicles were torched, and some citizens were attacked.

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These acts, while reprehensible, counterproductive and criminal are part of a larger cry for help that some of our citizens have sounded for a long time. They are in part a response to decades of neglect, disinvestment and abuse.

As City Council president, I've spent the past five years successfully fighting for a landmark local hiring bill that's increased employment, advocating for additional recreational opportunities for our young people, speaking out on the need to reform the Baltimore City Police Department and supporting a number of other initiatives designed to help improve the lives of average Baltimoreans.

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I wrote about the need for police reform last October in an opinion piece published in The Baltimore Sun.

"As I view the constant protesting by residents of Ferguson, Mo.," I wrote in October, "I know that it's only a matter of time before the streets of Baltimore are filled with the same sustained clarion call for justice."

I went on to detail the long list of complaints and documented abuses against some African Americans: illegal arrests, millions of dollars paid to citizens resulting from allegations of abuse and "record numbers of African Americans arrested for quality of life infractions."

The Department of Justice is currently investigating the circumstances surrounding Gray's death.

I am, however, still pushing for a full civil-rights investigation into the practices and procedures of the entire city police department. I plan to make the case to the office of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the coming days.

But this conversation has to be about more than just the police.

As I walked the streets of Baltimore Monday night and into early Tuesday morning begging, pleading and ultimately failing to calm a rioting city set ablaze, the young people I encountered all recommended the same prescription to help strengthen their communities: jobs, jobs, jobs!

Since the beginning of the year, nearly 10,000 young people signed up for employment through the summer YouthWorks program. The program connects city youth with available employers for a five-week internship that includes a $1,500 stipend and invaluable on-the-job training.

Unfortunately, with limited funding, the program was only able to accept 5,000 applicants, leaving thousands of young people without employment during the summer months.

In the coming weeks, as the City Council prepares to review the mayor's proposed fiscal year 2016 budget, I will work with the administration to try to identify targeted cuts that could help fund a portion of the additional summer jobs needed.

I also ask that Baltimore's corporate community join the campaign to employ 3,000 additional young people by visiting baltimorecityfoundation.org and selecting "Mayor's Office of Employment Development – YouthWorks 855-00" to make a tax-deductible contribution to help fund this effort.

The roughly $4.5 million needed to fully fund these 3,000 slots should not be viewed as an expense but as a down-payment on a better Baltimore for all citizens.

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Studies have shown high school student employment to be a catalyst for higher education. A paper by the University of Minnesota concluded that steady and occasional student workers were more likely to attend four-year colleges and obtain a bachelor's degree. They also found that students who were employed in high school moved quickly to career jobs while those who were inconsistently employed during these years were more likely to be unemployed and not enrolled in a higher education institution after graduation.

Our children have been crying out, and the source of their pain is clear.

Are we prepared to provide them with more excuses, double-talk and inaction, or are we ready to put our money where our mouths are and properly invest in programming beneficial to the most vulnerable among us?

Bernard C. "Jack" Young is president of the Baltimore City Council. His email is councilpresident@baltimorecity.gov. Twitter: PrezJackYoung.

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