xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

BPD should rethink approach to neighborhood canvassing

The Great-grandmother and the grandfather of a 2-year-old shot in Baltimore talk about the Baltimore police officers taking the child and his mother to the hospital rather than wait for medics and how the victims are doing now. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)

The recent news of the shootings of two toddlers in West Baltimore reignited the anger and urgency most of our residents have been expressing for years. It immediately became important to me to do whatever was in my ability to bring the perpetrators to justice.

I come from the streets of Baltimore, have lived the street life and completely understand that we cannot arrest our way of our current situation. But when a child is the victim — two children! — it is the straw that breaks the camel's back and puts us all up in arms.

Advertisement

On the Sunday after the shootings, I joined Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Police Commissioner Michael Harrison as they canvassed the site in the 1900 block of Ramsey Street and the surrounding area. The bulk of my career in community organizing has been founded in the concept that increased visibility is a reliable deterrent to crime. But it is important that this tactic takes into consideration the trauma communities have had to live with, as well as the repercussions they will have to endure when the huge visible spectacle of law enforcement has dissipated.

Newly installed as the 51st mayor of Baltimore, Jack Young joined with police commissioner Michael Harrison Sunday to ask residents for information related to Friday's mass shooting that left five injured, including two toddlers.

These people still have to live in an environment created by generational disinvestment and disregard for the neighborhoods they call home, in an environment where situations escalate to the level of violence. And those individuals who commit these violent acts see this display and which neighbors police talk to; fear is a part of life here.

Advertisement
Advertisement

There is no doubt in my mind that both the mayor and the commissioner had the best intentions, but the execution of their efforts was perceived by the residents as more aggressive policing — even at this investigatory level, when authorities were seeking cooperation.

There are actually just one or two occupied homes in the 1900 block of Ramsey, so we moved on to the surrounding blocks of Monroe, Payson and McHenry. The first thing I noticed, as the rain intensified and we turned the corner onto an occupied block, was the sound of the all-too familiar "warrant" knock of the BPD. Not really what you are looking to hear on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I decided that I would knock doors on the opposite side of the street and on the side streets to not add to the overwhelming feeling of an occupying force. As expected, people were not very receptive to the BPD effort, and the information gained was minimal.

Neighbors said a child and his mother were shot in a Cherry Hill playground Thursday afternoon while dozens of other kids played nearby. (Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun video)

The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that this situation calls for an "all hands-on deck" approach. The problem lies with our inability to actually work together — the broken relationship between residents and law enforcement and the escalating distrust between our communities and their authority figures, due to ever surfacing scandals and corruption, and the lack of credence that is given to the voices and history of the people.

Police solve crimes with information from witnesses — if they can get it. The BPD should revisit its approach to engaging the people they are soliciting help from. The belief that "someone knows something" continues to drive these types of initiatives and can occasionally border on indicting the entire neighborhood.

Advertisement

Let's try asking them politely and creating safe spaces for these conversations. Let's let our residents know we need their help and not try to strong arm information from them. When you skip the important steps of trust and relationship building, information gathering in these communities manifests as interrogations; let's be mindful of that. Let's not regress in the name of progress.

Ray Kelly is a long time advocate from West Baltimore. His email is ray.kelly@cpproject.org.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young talk to a Baltimore resident about crime that is affecting his neighborhood. (Hallie Miller, Baltimore Sun video)

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement