Submitted to the AFRO by Del. Cory McCray
Whether you are talking to city residents, students, or business owners, one topic continues to dominate the conversation: public safety. The past few decades of disinvestment in our communities, inequities in education and recreation, and an inability of past elected officials to ensure real accountability in government has brought us to our current predicament.
In recent years, we have seen some examples of public officials reckoning with our challenges and attempting a course correction for our city. The 21st Century Schools Initiative, increased investments in recreation centers and parks, the Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative, and free tuition at Baltimore City Community College each stand out as another step in the right direction.
While I am the first to acknowledge that some of these programs have their flaws, it is also important to realize that initiatives such as these have an ability to reshape the trajectory of Baltimore when they are adequately funded and are implemented with an eye towards equity.
We know that investments like these pay dividends in the long run. Still, whenever proactive solutions are introduced, it is all too common for some in the public forum to use the old smoke screen of “tough on crime” rather than zero in on long-term policy objectives.
The solution, they argue, lies not in investing in communities but in pursuing an agenda of charging more juveniles as adults and increasing mandatory minimum sentences.
Of course, these are just reactive measures that distract from the underlying issues faced in neighborhoods throughout Baltimore. Reactive measures like this appeal to some because they cost little on the front end and provide a sense of short-term satisfaction. The problem is that these so-called solutions have been empirically shown to result in more problems down the road.
Prosecuting minors as adults does not reduce crime; this approach only introduces them to a broken adult prison system that has been woefully inadequate in rehabilitating offenders.
Similarly, creating new mandatory minimums does not prevent crimes from happening; rather it takes away discretion from independent judges who are in a unique position to evaluate an offender’s individual circumstances and impose the most appropriate and proportional sentence.
These reactive approaches aren’t results-oriented. They are distractive policy measures that do little to effect meaningful change.
To be clear, there is no short-term solution to a pattern and practice of disinvestment towards education, recreation, and neighborhood revitalization in communities like Darley Park, South Clifton Park, Berea, and so many others. The problems in these communities were not created overnight nor will they be fixed overnight. Producing real change requires a comprehensive vision and leaders who are committed, focused and unapologetic about pursuing the resources necessary from our City and State.
This vision – that we must urgently turn into reality – is a balanced approach to public safety that combines investments in our youth, a continued commitment to our seniors, and upgrading technological resources for law enforcement.
Youth. In 2018, we had 11,370 young adults who completed applications to work a summer job. Only 8,654 received an offer. While securing employment for that many individuals is no small feat, imagine the message that our City would be sending if every applicant were offered employment. That’s another 2,700 youth who would be off the streets and in the workforce learning valuable skills under the supervision of employers who can serve as professional mentors. Not only should we expand the operations of programs like YouthWorks, we ought to establish a pilot program that will look at partnering youth with companies that are able to provide year-round employment.
Seniors. Many of our seniors find themselves in the position of having devoted 30+ years to their occupation and now live off a fixed-income and reside in some of our City’s most vulnerable communities. This is a population that needs our assistance. The benefits of focusing Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors (HUBS) on providing structural/aging repairs in high-priority neighborhoods would be paramount.
Technology for Law Enforcement. We also need to invest in law enforcement technology upgrades, which will allow for the type of policing that modern realities demand. Initiatives such as creating 21st Century Call Centers for 911 operators, redistricting existing police districts, and increasing capabilities for high-tech forensic analysis of ballistics each deserve to be prioritized.
As a newly elected leader who will be sworn into a new office in January, I feel optimistic about the partnerships that can be formed and strengthened between state legislators, the Mayor, and City Council. The new Baltimore City Delegation will be active in shaping the public safety agenda–including through the ideas listed above–for our city. We will not be distracted by failed policies of the past that have never delivered real results.
Cory McCray is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, representing the 45th District, which encompasses Northeast and East Baltimore City.
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