By Sean Yoes
AFRO Baltimore Editor

“Without a doubt I believe in this city, without a doubt. This is my birthright. This city is my birthright,” said a woman we are calling “Etheldora” to protect her identity.

The reason the AFRO is protecting her identity is because she has witnessed two murders and a few shootings in the span of months along the very short block where she lives in the 21217 zip code. And her presence on that block represents a resistance to the deadly drug culture that continues to choke the life out of much of the city.

“The neighborhood is becoming more cohesive and they (drug dealers) don’t want it,” she said during a phone conversation. “They look for places that have vacant properties that look run down. When you are in a city laden with drug addicts, then it’s game on.”

This billboard atop a building at the corner of North and Charles is a sentiment being echoed throughout Baltimore and other cities around the country. The Baltimore Police Department had $22 million slashed from its budget beginning July 1. (Photo :Sean Yoes)

And the drug milieu, perhaps more than any other of the city’s pathologies, has the most negative impact on quality of life, mostly for Black people, Brown people and poor people.

“There is a reluctance to sit on your porch. There’s a reluctance to cut your grass. There’s a reluctance to do the daily things any normal person would want to do in their home. It’s a reluctance to walk to the store. You almost feel like a prisoner in your home,” she said.

Yet, despite the peril, Etheldora feels compelled by what she calls her “birthright,” to make her stand in the city her grandmother first came to in the early 20th century.

“My grandmother came here with her sister. They came here for the purpose of leaving the south, leaving Jim Crow,” she said. “They worked, she catered, she cleaned houses for White people, a Jewish family. They scrubbed, they took care of what they felt like was going to be a better way.”

Unfortunately, Eltheldora’s family lost her grandmother’s house. However, she decided to invest in a neighborhood “on the fringes of gentrification.”

“So, I decided to…look at indicators that would highlight areas that would possibly be gentrified. I decided to…get to an area they haven’t looked at, but it’s on the radar. Meaning, the prices were still going to be affordable,” she said.

“It has been extremely challenging.”

Because of the onslaught of murder and mayhem the challenge of living in Baltimore City is very real, some would argue untenable for thousands of city residents. Now, the call to “defund police” in the wake of the murder of George Floyd is being confronted in a city like Baltimore paralyzed by crime and fear.

“If we are going to restructure or defund, we’ve got to just stop saying the words and do the work,” said Etheldora.

“Defunding or getting rid of the police, Baltimore will burn…people do not care. I think there needs to be a transitional period.”

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison is the man charged with making the transition in this burgeoning era of law enforcement defunding, within a department already implementing $22 million in budget cuts, with promises of more to come.And the department Harrison leads continues to grapple with the reputation of an agency infamous for misconduct.

“I think we’re making great strides to reform our department. There’s a lot that has already been done that many people don’t know about. We’re changing the culture of the agency, we’ve changed the management style,” said Harrison during a conversation with the AFRO from his offices at BPD headquarters.

“Here’s the thing, I am leading this department by a concept called accountability driven leadership. Everything rises and falls on leadership and everything falls on accountability. And accountability without transparency is not accountability at all. Because it is not how well you do a thing, but rather how many people know you did a thing well,” Harrison added.

Unfortunately, there are still high profile scenarios being played out before the public (which may be a nod to the transparency Harrison speaks of) of BPD members not, “doing a thing well.”

The latest chapter of BPD corruption revealed itself when James Lloyd, 45, a veteran homicide sergeant was charged recently with extortion and kidnapping. Lloyd is being held without bail.

The charges against Lloyd allegedly stem from a dispute over patio remodeling being done at his home in the Gwynn Oak community. According to a report by veteran investigative reporter Jayne Miller of WBAL TV11, Lloyd and three other detectives, Manuel Larbi, Troy Taylor and Juan Diaz wielding guns, badges and threatening arrests, allegedly strong armed contractors working on Lloyd’s patio to give him money and workers were detained until they agreed to do so.

According to the BPD, the police powers of Diaz, Taylor and Larbi have been suspended and they are confined to administrative duties, while Lloyd remains locked up in Baltimore County.

The recent instances of brazen corruption, including the Gun Trace Task Force and the murder of Detective Sean Suiter, as well the BPD brutalizing generations of Black Baltimoreans begs the seemingly eternal question: Who are the men and women on the streets of our city charged to “serve and protect,” the citizens of Baltimore?

“I think the role of the police in Baltimore is very complex. Understanding the history of this city and how policing has become, I would dare say a trillion dollar business,” said Etheldora.

“And understanding the evolution of capitalism and slavery. I think the police, what I see, I see on the street I see young men take a job that pays the bills, that gives them a home and health insurance. The main business in the city is healthcare. The second is the criminal justice system,” she added.

“We have on the street people that don’t want to be there, police officers. I just can’t believe that if they were given the opportunity to follow their dreams….if they had the privilege and opportunity to do that, would they be police officers?”

Perhaps ideally, Harrison would want men and women who see a career in law enforcement as, “the opportunity to follow their dreams.”

The commissioner who has led the BPD for about a year and half does concede his agency like others around the country is, “Moving from a warrior mentality to more of a guardian mentality,” he said.

Moving from warrior mentality to more of a guardian mentality…that goes for departments across the country.

“We’re changing the department from the inside out, the way we think, the way we perform. The way we handle the citizens’ concerns. And I suspect that will change greatly in the near future again,” he said.

“But, we still will be the first responders to the people’s needs and to prevent crime and to apprehend people who commit these horrific crimes against other people and themselves. We’ll be there to do that and in three years I think we’ll be judged by, did we change the culture of the agency to come into compliance with the Consent Decree?” Harrison added.

“Are we doing a better job at achieving compliance, which is really culture change. Number two, in doing that are we performing so much better that we are bringing the crime rate down, which is down right now, and the murder rate because we implemented programmatic solutions and not just relied on how many cops we can put out there. And number three, did that translate into higher citizen satisfaction? How do the people view the police?”

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor