While Baltimore seems awash in heinous crimes and misbehaving public figures, this city still produces people bubbling with ideas for how to make it better. It takes a bit of effort, however, to sort through the noise.
Every day brings reports of multiple shootings and, so far, more than 40 homicides. A generation of men continues to be wiped out: 14 males between ages 18 and 25 are among the homicides, which include an equal number of males between 26 and 34. Every day brings a jumble of hand wringing, shifting responsibility, tolerance of new norms, numbness to the numbers, questions about whether to stay or whether to flee Baltimore.
We’re all over the place.
But with the campaign season in full swing with some two dozen candidates for mayor and oodles more for City Council seats, we’re hearing plans for addressing crime from at least half of the mayoral candidates. That’s a start. Crime fighting solutions are usually offered in conjunction with emphases on education, jobs creation and neighborhood redevelopment. Linda Keely, a longtime government reform advocate, has compared the various plans and, like me thinks that it would be a shame if the bold ideas that some candidates have offered just fall by the wayside if their candidates lose in the April primary.
In the meantime, Ms. Keely wants to know more than what the candidates have committed to in writing. “When are these candidates going to show us their leadership teams who are going to actually carry out these plans? We all know they cannot do it alone. We need to know that before the election, not after.”
Al Hathaway, the senior pastor of the storied Union Baptist Church in West Baltimore, is also paying attention. As he sees it, none of the declared candidates is actually connecting with everyday folks. One of the tenets of his month-old organization, Act Now Baltimore, is this: “We need a new leader that we can trust and believe in to inspire and motivate all of us to help make the changes necessary to move Baltimore forward.”
So is he saying that none of the candidates — including the incumbent acting mayor and the president of the City Council — is up to the job? “This is not personality-driven,” Mr. Hathaway says. “We need new leadership that thinks in a new way and functions and operates in a new way. The old way has definitely led us down the wrong path.”
Evidence? The thousands of Baltimoreans who have given up on the electoral system altogether while saying, in one-on-one interviews that Act Now Baltimore is conducting, that they want change. “Interestingly, they are saying they want a non-politician. Even though I don’t know what that means, they are saying that," Mr. Hathaway says. From the more than 1,000 people that his team has talked to so far in shopping and recreational centers, he’s concluding that “people are basically disengaged, they’re disgusted and they’re disconnected from their government.”
Convincing more Baltimoreans that there is a reason to vote, to lobby for their interests, to propose ideas for change and to hold officeholders accountable is about as daunting a task as curbing the violence that is ripping apart families and neighborhoods. But there is no dearth of people and organizations out there trying: voter registration drives, town hall meetings, messages from popular radio hosts and leafleting at dance halls, sporting events and in houses of worship. The Baltimore Ceasefire movement, which calls on us to affirm life and to convince others to lay down their weapons, is all about persuading people to become committed to remaking their communities in ways that require civic engagement.
Efforts abound. Ideas abound. Like some of the mayoral candidates, Mr. Hathaway’s Act Now Baltimore demands accountability and transparency, criminal justice reforms and a concerted strike against violence. His 10-point “people’s plan” has some noteworthy aspects, including a full-court press to divert first-time nonviolent offenders from a life of criminality; a public works jobs program for adults 18 to 25 and tools like aerial surveillance to fight crime.
With the political candidates, the non-politicians like Mr. Hathaway, the civic organizations like Baltimore Ceasefire and No Boundaries Coalition proposing solutions, not to mention the think tanks, the philanthropic organizations, the higher education institutions and the average Joe and Jalecia, Baltimore is overflowing with ideas.
Someone needs to take the bull by the horns to summon all this brilliance to one place to craft a plan for Baltimore’s future. We need a brainpower summit. Are there any takers?
E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: email@example.com.