Mayor Brandon M. Scott (Courtesy Photo/https://mayor.baltimorecity.gov/)
By Jessica Dortch
AFRO News Editor
The City of Baltimore is an ensemble of neighborhoods whose residents take pride in their communities but are no strangers to the devastation caused by violent crime. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique set of challenges for cities across the country, for Baltimore, it seemed to only add fuel to the fire.
Mayor Brandon Scott believes building a better and brighter Baltimore requires a new approach, especially in tackling the city’s top threats. In an exclusive interview with the AFRO, Mayor Scott and Shantay Jackson, director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, detailed their partnerships with residents and community organizations to create the city’s new first-ever holistic public safety plan.
The Baltimore City Comprehensive Violence Prevention Program is a five year plan that offers a sustainable solution to gun violence by treating it as a matter of public health. By strategically addressing the needs of the individuals pulling the trigger, the city could see a 50% reduction in shootings, which would be a welcomed change for residents.
Since the death of Freddie Gray in 2015, the city has seen an alarming increase in gun violence, with numbers over 1,000 shootings and a subsequent 300-plus homicides each year. At the time of this writing there have been 172 murders and 351 non-fatal shootings, both increased in comparison to what they were this time last year. To make matters worse, Baltimore City has landed in the top 10 list of the Most Dangerous Cities in the U.S. for decades. The problem is clear, yet, in the past, solutions have been either ineffective or poorly executed.
An incredible amount of consideration went into crafting this plan and community members were at the forefront, actively working with the mayor’s office to come up with effective strategies to restore safety and provide residents with support. “What we see Mayor Scott doing is being innovative and thoughtful about what the reimagination of our city is going to take,” Jackson said. “We are facing adaptive challenges, not technical ones as it relates to violence prevention.”
This program, however, is a collaborative effort that divides the “work” into three key pillars: public health approach to violence; community engagement and interagency collaboration; and evaluation and accountability.
“For many years we thought about violence as something only for police and law enforcement to deal with. We know that when you look at where violence happens in the city, it’s the same places that were redlined when redlining legislation was created,” Mayor Scott said. “It’s the same places that have health disparities, and that’s why it’s important for me to think about this in not just a policing standpoint, but in a total standpoint to make sure we are dealing with every single issue.”
Gun violence has to be addressed at its root. The city has formed strategic partnerships with national organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety, to target gun trafficking which often ends in deadly violence. Mayor Scott is also soliciting the help of other mayors in piloting the guaranteed income strategy to provide residents with an income to deter them from engaging in illegal activity for a quick payday.
Many residents face obstacles that stem from a lack of resources and economic stability is important. “Sometimes there are instances of violence in our communities because of desires for resources that aren’t readily available to folks,” Jackson explained.
There is also the need for community healing between residents and law enforcement. The community’s relationship is rocky with the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) because of their historical abuse of power and use of excessive force.
Law enforcement officers are sworn to serve and protect the community. In many cases, they have done more harm than good, especially in marginalized communities. In order to restore the trust in the delicate relationship between the community and law enforcement, the Baltimore City Police Department (BPD) has to be accountable for their actions. This plan highlights the retraining of police officers, but also acknowledges that they receive an overwhelming number of 911 calls, all of which are not emergencies that a police officer is trained to handle. The 911 Diversion program will lessen the burden on BPD and ensure that the appropriate officers are responding to the calls they are best equipped to handle.
Too many Baltimoreans are used to seeing the “yellow tape,” that sections off an area because it has become a crime scene. There is a strong need for community members to feel supported in the aftermath of a shooting or violent crime in their neighborhood. This program includes the implementation of a shooting response protocol that will directly support the residents and the community. There are also several other services outlined in the plan that will provide an opportunity for healing, including the dispatch of crisis responders to actively reach out to community members when tragedy strikes.
As a native son of the city, Mayor Scott understands that Baltimoreans are resilient and our communities have been afflicted by crime that he describes as a deadly disease. “It’s really a cancer spreading throughout the neighborhoods and generations of families throughout our city. In order to make our city the best version of itself, we have to comprehensively deal with this cancer.”
The Baltimore City Comprehensive Violence Prevention Program is a step in the right direction in the fight to curtail gun violence. The elements detailed in the plan represent an evidence-based approach to the benefit of empowering residents to take accountability for their communities and equipping them with the resources to do so. “We are losing the lives of those who can contribute to the promise of Baltimore City if given the opportunity to do so,” Jackson said. Gun violence has claimed the lives and livelihoods of too many Baltimoreans and now it is time to heal and do the work to become a better Baltimore.
Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members! Join here!