Krystal Gonzalez held her phone to the microphone in the middle of a packed Baltimore City Council chambers and played a video she has come to hate.
The wails of an agonized mother cut through the room. The video, captured by a bystander in the early morning of July 2, shows Gonzalez reacting to the lifeless body of her daughter in Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood. No visual was necessary.
Council members and city police broke into tears as Gonzalez testified about her daughter, Aaliyah, 18, one of two young lives lost in what is likely the largest shooting in Baltimore history. Twenty-eight more were injured, many children.
“Knowing that there were calls, endless calls for help and no one showed up,” Gonzalez said, pressing on amid her own tears. “Knowing that Foxtrot, I now know the name of a helicopter ... will tell you as they look down from hundreds of feet in the air that ‘everything looks normal.’”
“I challenge you: What is your normal? Let them take each other out? Is that your normal?”
Gonzalez’s powerful testimony brought to a standstill a hearing before the City Council on Wednesday, the second the council has held to probe the July 2 shooting.
Councilman Mark Conway, who chaired the hearing, quickly recessed the already hourslong session following Gonzalez’s remarks. Officials remained stunned, some embracing each other. A deputy police commissioner clutched the hand of a colleague. Conway then postponed the meeting entirely.
“My charge to the folks in this room: take that, ingest it, appreciate how important our responsibility is,” Conway said. “We have a lot of power right here in this room to fix a lot of these issues.”
Wednesday’s hearing came about two weeks after the delivery of a detailed after-action report, compiled by police and other agencies, investigating the city’s preparation for the Brooklyn Day celebration and response to the shooting. The report found “officer indifference” played a role in police failing to properly flag the growing gathering to commanders or take steps to disperse the crowd before it grew violent.
Baltimore Police wrote in their assessment that that shift’s sergeants and lieutenant gave “very little consideration” to possible public safety concerns inherent in a crowd of up to 900 people, and failed to share the information quickly. Commanders additionally failed to provide officers with direction on how to intervene in the large crowd or how to immediately request additional resources, which the department insists were available.
On Wednesday, the council further probed the report’s findings, asking for the next steps police as an organization will take and what will be done about the officers who were involved in the tepid response.
Police, led by Acting Commissioner Richard Worley, who is due for a council confirmation hearing next week, said the investigation is ongoing, now moving to a phase in which the department’s Public Integrity Bureau will investigate potential violations of policy.
Police said a social media post, found in advance of the Brooklyn Day festival, is at the center of one part of the internal affairs investigations. The post, which was found by police intelligence, was forwarded to the patrol division managing the Southern District where the shooting happened. However, patrol officers have refused to say who received the information, said Eric Melancon, deputy commissioner.
“We know somebody told somebody, so internal affairs now has to look at that,” Worley said.
Internal affairs also is investigating supervisors who failed to call for assistance in response to the shooting, some of whom produced no body camera footage of their actions ahead of the incident.
Police officials refused to say Wednesday how many police personnel had been referred to internal affairs for investigation. Only one has been reassigned so far, Worley said: the major for the Southern district.
Internal affairs also is investigating at least one “microaggression” noted Wednesday by Leslie Parker Blyther, director of the police department’s equity office, who was asked to assist with the report. As police noted the growing crowd on July 1, someone could be heard on the police radio saying: “You might have to redirect that call to the National Guard.”
“That comment has been referred to public integrity for internal affairs investigation, for inappropriate comment,” Melancon told the council.
Police have made five arrests in connection with the shooting, the most recent of which was announced on Wednesday just before council’s hearing. Charges to be filed against the unnamed 15-year-old arrested Wednesday include attempted first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder and reckless endangerment.
None of the individuals arrested thus far have been charged with killing Gonzalez or 20-year-old Kylis Fagbemi, a spokesperson for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed on Wednesday.
During a previous hearing on the shooting in July, council demanded answers not just about the lack of police response, but about how Brooklyn, an isolated neighborhood in South Baltimore, is treated in comparison to other more economically advantaged areas of the city.
Council President Nick Mosby, who led that line of questioning during the last hearing, said Wednesday the after-action report failed to adequately address the equity issue of the shooting response.
“We can go over the recommendations about more police officers, about working with the sheriff, about working with other agencies, about more protocols, about more operation,” Mosby said. “But it’s just noise until we change the culture associated with interactions of the Baltimore Police Department and the citizens of Baltimore.”
Dana Moore, Baltimore’s chief equity officer, said the police department has work to do in adjusting its approach to the job.
“There needs to be a move away from getting to know the community you’re policing and getting to know the community you’re protecting,” she said.
Worley and Melancon agreed, conceding that the response to Brooklyn Day and the shooting was a failure of community policing, a requirement that officers spend more time in the neighborhoods they patrol, getting to know the residents and the goings-on there.
“We have officers who should have reached out to ask and not waited for that information to come to us,” Melancon said.
Worley noted that 900 people showed up to Brooklyn Day this year. Obviously, there was word of mouth knowledge in the community, he said.
“Us not knowing is not an excuse,” he said.
Maryland Policy & Politics
In addition to police actions, the after-action report also analyzed the response of the city’s Housing Authority to the Brooklyn Day shooting as well as the actions of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, which oversees the city’s Safe Streets violence interruption program. Wednesday’s hearing was cut short before either of the organizations had a chance to make presentations.
Conway said Wednesday a third hearing on the shooting will be called to continue the discussion. That hearing will be scheduled on a later date.
“This work, this hearing, what we learn from this: it’s real,” Conway said at the close of Wednesday’s session. “Real people, real families, real children. We have to get this right.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Darcy Costello contributed to this article.