A missing voice in the squeegee debate: the worker’s
News of the fatal shooting of a man who swung a bat at squeegee workers in Baltimore has captured national headlines. On the surface, this is like another increasingly familiar story in America: escalation of an altercation ending in deadly fire.
But what has caught the public’s and media attention is that the man with the bat was a motorist and the shooter a squeegee worker. Known more commonly as “squeegee boys,” these mostly Black men and boys who clean windshields at intersections for cash are a fixture of Baltimore street life. They have also long been a source of local debate. Whether cast as hooligans or entrepreneurs, everyone in Baltimore seems to have an opinion about the squeegee boys. The only voice missing is that of the squeegee boys themselves.
In 2019 we made a documentary film about the Baltimore squeegee boys (khalidalifilms.com/squeegeedoc), accompanied by a photo book created by photographer and art educator Brad Ziegler. Our goal was to give these young men a platform to tell their stories. But during filming we also received a lot of commentary from passing motorists. Their attitudes towards the squeegee boys bounced from sympathy to anger, approval to fear. What became clear to us was that for most Baltimoreans, our understanding of the reality of Black poverty is confined to what we see from our car windows.
The circumstances surrounding this shooting are still under investigation. But as reporting continues, most news consumers will likely relate to the motorist in this story. Our hope is that the lives and circumstances of these young men also become a part of how this story is told.
— Khalid Ali, Balimore
What about shifting to the back windows?
I may have a solution to help. Not many of us who drive need to have our front car windows cleaned. A built-in water spray and the wipers handle this nicely. However our back window is seldom cleaned. I would tip a dollar to have my back window cleaned by a squeegee person! Is this service available or promoted?
— Bill Boland, Towson
What do the gubernatorial candidates say?
Do the candidates for governor have an opinion on the squeegee controversy? If so I would like to hear it. It would influence my vote.
— Anne Heaton, Baltimore
‘Ode to the Squeegee Kids’
A scraping tool with a rubber-edged blade
Makes car glass gleam in the Charm City sun.
Our youngsters on the curb, tool in hand, wade
Into, traffic — working, not on the run.
Unknown, resented, they offer their work
Seeking mere change for an honest day’s pay.
So, lock your doors, scoff them, resent them, shirk
Your humanity, go on with your day.
OK for Google, Microsoft, YouTube
To offer fine service, enter our space.
How dare our young men presume to intrude
Our sacred spot at the corner rat race.
Can a scraping tool with a soft-edged blade
Be catalyst for compassion to fade?
— Arion Alston, Baltimore
Change is long overdue
It’s a real shame that a man lost his life over an incident that should have never happened. The law against soliciting business in traffic has been on the books for many years. Why haven’t the politicians and the commissioner demanded enforcement of this law effectively eliminating squeegee kids in the city of Baltimore? The family of a citizen is now left financially and emotionally devastated. Change is way overdue.
— Bill Hennick, Baltimore
Why is emphasis on squeegee youth?
It is odd that the emphasis is on the kids with squeegees. Until now, they may have been annoying but no violence. The fellow with the baseball bat instigated the violence. It’s not OK that he was killed, but it is definitely sure that had he just driven on, he’d be home right now.
— Angela Callahan, Baltimore
Pacifism and patience, not impulsivity and gun violence
I go into Baltimore, to museums, restaurants and health appointments often, and I’ve never, until now, thought of the squeegee kids as armed and dangerous. Your editorial, “Conway and Light: Deadly squeegee encounter” (July 8) makes me wonder if the squeegee kids are just trying to make a living to feed their families and themselves, or if they are doing that, while also being armed with guns in order to protect themselves from hostile and unwilling customers, as well as their fellow squeegee kids. When 48-year-old Timothy Reynolds, got out of his car to confront the squeegee kids he encountered, with a metal baseball bat after an exchange of words, I am sure he was not thinking that one of the squeegee kids he faced would kill him with a bullet.
This lends an entirely new meaning to the innocent plying of the squeegee trade. It appears Mr. Reynolds displayed childish hostility and anger toward the squeegee kids. But the squeegee kids in question could have run away from Mr. Reynolds and disappeared. Instead, one of them chose to kill him, even though, from the account in The Sun, Mr. Reynolds didn’t attack them physically.
The message that the squeegee kids could be armed and dangerous will only diminish and extinguish sympathy and support for them. In the wake of this tragedy, people will hesitate to roll down their car windows, engage them or reward them for work well done. The Supreme Court of the U.S. may not agree with me, but they should not come to work armed with guns.
The squeegee kids can only win over the public with pacifism and patience, not with impulsivity and gun violence. The squeegee trade should not sink to the level of the drug trade with rival armed gangs, fighting turf wars, for opportunities and survival. If it devolves into that scenario, the squeegee business itself should be banned to save visitors and native Baltimoreans from the breakout of unexpected and unpredictable violence.
— Usha Nellore, Bel Air
Argue with words, put the weapons down
Those who should read or hear these words will likely never do so, yet I must write them in hopes they are indeed heard: Life is precious. A life is not mine to take away from another. Yet too often, I awake to hear of another shooting, stabbing, beating, suicide or overdose taking a life from this earth. That is a member of a family, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbor who is no longer with those who cared and loved them.
I am aware there are times when anger overcomes the peaceful mind and heart. I too suffer this condition at times. Does that mean I should wave a fist at someone else? What about a bat, a knife or a gun? All are simply objects until used aggressively by one human toward another — they are then deadly weapons. Have a disagreement with each other, use your words (preferably in a reasonable manner), but put the objects down! Two people disagreeing, arguing can become two living souls going about the rest of their own lives after exchanging different points of view.
If ever you felt, or feel the need to attempt taking a life, STOP! Stop for a moment and consider how losing your life would change things. Obviously, you would be gone, but who is left behind? Who will mourn you? What could you have become if you had lived another day, another month, another decade? For one moment, if you imagined that your survival might mean that you become a mentor to a child, a hero to a neighbor, the caring companion to a dying relative, you might want to live just a bit longer. Then, after thinking about your potential lengthened lifetime, consider what the life you are threatening to take could become, should you decide to lower your object before it is used as a weapon.
Keep this in mind as well: If you take one person’s life, forever your life will be changed.
My life, your life, and the lives of people all around us, are too precious to lose.
— Steven J. Smith, Reisterstown
Encountering squeegees at multiple intersections
I am writing regarding the Dan Rodricks column “Reducing tensions, creating jobs for squeegee workers,” I think his four suggestions of how to solve this problem by offering better lifestyle options for these workers are excellent.
I confess that I am one of those people who lives in the suburbs hesitant to travel into Baltimore City. My conundrum deals with how to handle the issue of having my windshield cleaned at one intersection and offering a tip, as I did numerous times when I worked downtown, and then traveling a few blocks only to be confronted by more squeegee workers who don’t want to hear that I’ve already participated in this endeavor without some of them getting angry and verbally abusive.
Until a solution comes to fruition, as much as I miss visiting the excellent restaurants and cultural experiences offered in the city, I will remain in the suburbs where I feel relatively safe.
— Paula Katz, Ellicott City
Window washers aren’t the problem; people who pay them are
Baltimore, the window washers on the Baltimore Street corners are not the enemy; it is those persons who give them money. The money givers keep these young men from seeking help from Baltimore City and others who offer them jobs. There will be trouble when we all stop giving them money for their service. However, the disturbances become short-lived when no money is on the street corners. I watched the car in front of me giving money to the window washer who pulled out of his pocket a wad of cash bigger than my fist — self-employment with no taxes to pay. The immediate solution: Every Baltimorean, including our media, to bring this message to the money givers. A sense of charity from the money givers is commendable, but it is causing the street corner problems to exist.
— John Holter, Baltimore
Questions go beyond youth employment
A teenager from Baltimore County stands on a Baltimore street corner with his buddies, offering to clean motorists’ windshields. Though he is only 15, and it is illegal for people under 21 to own a handgun in Baltimore, he has been able to procure one. Maybe he had been threatened before by motorists, annoyed at being approached once too often by kids offering their services?
Certainly one such person let his annoyance boil over, stopped and parked his car and started threatening the kids with a metal baseball bat, then chased them with it when one of the kids, in self-defense, threw a rock at him. At this point the teenager drew his gun and shot the motorist multiple times, killing him. Why did a white motorist feel threatened by Black kids approaching his car offering a service, to the extent of carrying a weapon with him, if that’s why he had it? What would have happened had he caught up with kids? Might he then have been the one charged with assault or worse?
What fear for his safety made a Black teenager feel that he needed a weapon in broad daylight on a downtown Baltimore street? And why is he being charged with first-degree murder, which implies not only intent, but premeditation, when at least his initial pulling of the trigger appears to be self-defense?
These are questions that go far beyond a need to find employment for underserved youth. Hate and fear beget violence and violence begets more violence. How can we stop this vicious cycle?
— Sabine Oishi, Baltimore
Words matter. What you call someone or something matters.
This is alarming. A violent confrontation right at the Inner Harbor during rush hour and just before an Orioles game. (Motorist shot to death after pulling baseball bat in confrontation with downtown Baltimore squeegee workers,” July 7.) That’s going to deter folks from going downtown.
The article refers to the people who stand on the corner with squeegee as “squeegee workers.” That implies that they are performing a valid occupational activity. They’re not. They’re panhandlers with squeegees. That’s what they are, and that’s what we should call them. Having said that, we come to two other points. We need to decide what we should call the incident that was committed at the intersection of Light and E. Conway streets.
First, no matter what the panhandlers did to the motorist’s car, there appears to be no justification for him to go after them with a baseball bat, whether he hit anyone or not. A baseball bat is a deadly weapon. Second, because a baseball bat is a deadly weapon, shooting the man might be considered self-defense. The squeegee panhandlers likely ran away because they knew the police wouldn’t see it that way, but here’s a thought experiment: Imagine that the man with the baseball ball was Black and the person who shot him was white. A clearer case of self-defense, right?
What you call something really does matter.
— Henry Farkas, Pikesville