Reflecting on the two years that passed since Freddie Gray's arrest, Mayor Catherine Pugh said fundamental changes have been made to the way the police department operates but the city needs to get a handle on the drug trade to fully transform certain communities.
Pugh was asked Wednesday about the changes made since Gray, 25, was arrested and died. Gray's death after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody sparked widespread rioting and looting.
"The CVS has been rebuilt, but has the community changed dramatically?" Pugh said, speaking about the pharmacy in West Baltimore that was burnt down during the unrest. "While I see some things transforming in those neighborhoods … we can't develop these neighborhoods with so much drug [trafficking] in one area.
"It just doesn't work and we have to figure out how do we dismantle some of that."
As evidence of change, the mayor pointed to the newly approved consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice that will change the way the police department functions. She also noted that police vans, like the one that transported Gray, are now equipped with new straps and cameras.
Pugh said she is still pushing to add civilians to police trials boards. Legislation before the General Assembly did not pass before the session ended this week, but the mayor said she is pushing for the board additions as part of ongoing negotiations with the police union on a new contract. Those talks could be complete by the end of this month.
"We need to build that confidence," Pugh said. "What Freddie Gray represented to many folks in the community was a distrust of our police department. Yet we know that every day the majority of police officers go to work to do their jobs, to protect and serve."
Other work is underway in high-poverty areas of West Baltimore. For instance, she said she is looking for a private investor to repair bowling lanes at the Shake and Bake Family Fun Center and to add lights and bleachers to a nearby ball field. A dilapidated church on Fulton Street has been torn down and the Pennsylvania Avenue library branch has recently been renovated with a large job resource center.
"The other thing that troubles me more than anything in that area is the amount of drug [trafficking] and the amount of folks who are just on the streets every single day, who look like they're not moving toward anything or anywhere."