Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said Monday that he’s concerned about a City Council bill to create a monument for victims of police violence that would be near a memorial to fallen officers.
The council still voted 10-4 at its Monday night meeting to approve the legislation, though it still needs another vote and the mayor’s signature before going into effect.
“Having the proposed monument be in such close proximity to a police memorial, honoring officers who have died in the line of duty, diminishes the sacrifices made by those officers and does a disservice to them and their families,” Harrison wrote in a statement. “Both memorials are important and should be places of reflection and remembrance for loved ones, and those that visit should be able to do so in a setting without disruption or divisiveness.”
City Councilman Ryan Dorsey introduced the legislation that would rename the Columbus Obelisk monument in Herring Run Park to the “Victims of Police Violence Monument.” The bill comes amid a national reckoning both over Christopher Columbus' place in history and police brutality against Black people.
But Harrison questioned the location of the proposed monument, which is in the same section of the park as a memorial for five Northeast District police officers who died on the job.
That monument was placed there in 2004. There is also a memorial downtown for fallen city police officers, near the department headquarters on Fayette Street.
Dorsey rejected the commissioner’s concerns.
“Think of how much contempt you have to have for the recognition of police violence that recognition of police violence would render you incapable of remembering your own family and friends,” he said.
Before the council’s vote, he said one tribute is not prohibitive of the other.
“Now is not the time for an ‘us versus them’ approach to who we pay tribute to,” Dorsey said.
There was some opposition on the council, due to both the proximity of the two memorials and the idea of repurposing a Columbus monument.
City Councilman Leon Pinkett said the reason that cities are taking down Columbus statues is the monstrous acts attributed to him. The 15th-century Italian explorer long has been credited in classrooms as a hero who discovered America, but he violently enslaved native people.
Baltimore should absolutely have a memorial for the victims of police violence, Pinkett argued, but repurposing this one is not right. He voted no.
The bill now moves to third reader for final approval by the council; its next full meeting is Oct. 5. Should the legislation pass, it will head to the mayor’s desk.