BaltimoreAreaLeaders1

Baltimore area leaders are moving to address Maryland’s use and endorsement of Confederate symbols in the aftermath of the racially motivated shooting that left nine dead at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, the oldest Black AME church in the south.

On Monday (June 22), Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called on the state of Maryland to stop issuing specialty license plates with the flag, a still potent symbol of slavery and White supremacy, while Baltimore County executive Kevin Kamenetz has asked Baltimore City for permission to rename Robert E. Lee Park to Lake Roland Park (the park is owned by the city but has been operated and funded by the county since 2009).

“The mayor finds the Confederate flag to be divisive and offensive. She believes that it should not be allowed as a symbol on Maryland license plates and should be recalled,” said Howard Libit, director of strategic planning and policy for the mayor’s office, in an email to the AFRO.

In Annapolis, the mayor’s call is already generating activity among Democratic party leaders in the General Assembly. Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery County) is in the process of drafting a letter – to be signed by himself, senate majority leader Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore City), chair of the Legislative Black Caucus Del. Barbara Robinson (D-Baltimore City), and Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery County) – to the Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn on the issue.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently handed down a decision (Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans Inc.) which held, in part, that license plates constitute government, not private speech. In light of this, Raskin says, the continued appearance of the Confederate symbol on Maryland license plates constitutes the endorsement of that symbol by the state itself.

“The Confederate flag is the preeminent symbol of slavery, secession, armed rebellion against the government, White supremacy, and racial violence. It was the flag that waved during the Civil War for those forces that were attacking Union troops, and then even in the 20th century, after Brown v. Board was handed down, the Confederate battle flag was resurrected as the symbol of racism, Jim Crow, apartheid, and racial violence throughout the country. So hey, if are government speech, we should dissociate ourselves from it as quickly as possible,” said Raskin.

The name of Robert E. Lee Park in Baltimore County has been an issue for county staff going more or less back to the time the county took over operation of the park in 2009, according to County Executive Kamenetz.

The decision had been made to request the name change three months ago (the city alone has the authority to change the name under the current agreement with the county), but the formal request was not made until the events in South Carolina moved the name change up the priority list.

“Lake Roland would better describe the central amenity in the park and also be a more inclusive term that we want to represent in our increasingly diverse county,” said Kamenetz.

Kamenetz’s request to the city comes on the heels of a number of racial controversies that have occurred in Baltimore County. Back in March, a number of residents from the county’s Bowleys Quarters area posted comments to Facebook indicating that the best way to deal with unknown Blacks in the neighborhood was to shoot them. In January, Kelli Murray, a Baltimore County emergency dispatcher, left her job after comments she made on Facebook criticizing police brutality against Black men drew the ire of the local police union and others, who saw Murray’s comments as a critique of police in general and called for her removal (Murray was not removed by the county, but chose to resign when she felt the county was doing little to investigate harassment she had received after her post began to draw attention).

Kamenetz insists, however, that those incidents had no bearing on the request for the name change. “I think that the county has a good record in recent years for promoting diversity and inclusion. That being said, because we are such a large county (830,000 residents), there’s still some knuckleheads out there who choose to voice their opinion whether reasoned or not. But in terms of county leadership, our goal is to promote diversity and inclusion, and having this name change symbolically furthers that goal,” said Kamenetz.

Baltimore City councilman Brandon Scott, anticipates that the city will move to approve Kamenetz’s request. “I don’t think we’ll fight that at all,” said Scott, adding, “It’s extremely important that we change the name of the park.”

“We know what General Lee stands for, we know what that name stands for and what it means to so many people across this country. Not just those of African-American descent like myself, but other folks who understand that our country has a history that is not always a great history, and we have to try to remove that stuff from public whenever we can. We wouldn’t have a park in our city named after Hitler, so we shouldn’t have one named after Mr. Lee as well,” said Scott.

Baltimore City councilman Carl Stokes also said that he does not anticipate a fight over renaming the park, though there may be some discussion about whether ‘Lake Roland Park’ will win out as the alternative.

“I think it’s a great idea to rename the park,” said Stokes. “I’ve been thinking about it 40 years, why it’s named for Robert Lee and why we have the monuments to Robert Lee and other Confederate quote-unquote heroes. . . . I don’t see any opposition, I support it, I think almost everyone in city leadership and government will support it also.”

ralejandro@afro.com