I want to share a couple of thoughts surrounding Billy Murphy’s recent remarks published in the Sun regarding incumbent Pat Jessamy’s candidacy for state’s attorney. Frankly, it’s not Murphy’s “silence” that has been a “failure in leadership” as he suggests, but rather his vocal innuendos that fail and hinder the progress of the Black community as a whole.
What is clear is that Murphy, along with his side-kick, are disconnected from the Black community and other marginalized communities, and have added to the many ills facing Blacks in Baltimore.
Further, Murphy’s comments are a recipe for disaster.
The first mistake was Murphy’s mention that he gave Jessamy a so-called “15-year pass just because she is a black woman,” which metaphorically reinforces the perceived notion that the moral and political failures of the Black community (specifically Black youths) is a direct result of Black women –given that Jessamy effects change in the lives of families and children regularly. Further, when have Black women (i.e. political leaders) ever been given a pass?
Moreover, his comment distorts the Black female political image, and their active participation in a political process that has been historically dominated by White men. The damaging effects of such a comment do not promote change, or racial solidarity, but limit the possibly of a much needed dialogue about race, public policy, opportunity and the future of Baltimore City and its residents.
The second mistake is that Murphy criticized the idea that Jessamy launched a campaign that appeals to “race” rather than the “issues.”—when, in fact, both are one in the same. I resent the idea that “when leadership is attacked from the White community, Black people get very defensive and close the wagons.”
This is NOT true. In addition, it discredits the efforts of White leadership to evoke change and eradicate Black suffering in Baltimore City; specifically, leaders such as Hathaway Ferebee (Executive Director of the Safe and Sound campaign), who has publicly criticized both White and Black leadership. The Black community’s criticism of leadership, of any kind, is not based on “race” but “results.”
We all share a common concern about the structure and effects of public safety; we also recognize that some people should be charged with serious crimes and deserve to be locked up. However, a new communal discussion about race and the role of race in defining the structure of Baltimore City’s criminal justice system must be top priority in order for any elected official to yield positive results in the community.
Ultimately, I believe, along with others, that Jessamy was on the right track in discussing race and the current status of African Americans who make up overwhelming percentages in prison facilities, not just in Baltimore, but in large American cities around the country.
Greg Bernstein must work collaboratively with public officials, school administrators, churches and non-profit organizations in order to negate economic conditions, and the racial dimensions in Baltimore’s justice system, that consistently stigmatize Black men, women and children.
Equally important is Bernstein’s decision to choose opportunity over the mass incarceration of troubled Baltimore city youths. Currently, we spend millions of dollars on jails, assuming that Baltimore City youths—particularly African Americans who comprise 99 percent of the youth in the Baltimore City’s Juvenile Justice Center—are going to break the law or commit a drug crime.
Traditionally, elected officials often believe that the risk factors in some neighborhoods (vacant lots, drug markets, shootings and the absence of opportunities) are too much to overcome. But in reality, 92 percent of the youth given opportunity rather than confinement succeed at a cost of $10, 000 per youth; compared to a 25 percent success rate for youth who were locked up at a cost of $43, 000 per youth—every year.
When race is a major concern, the current states attorney must believe that opportunity allows a person to be productive, which makes our city more vital. Finally, Murphy’s comments are out of touch with the community, and the problems facing Blacks in Baltimore City.
Chris Jack Hill is a scholar and divides his time teaching at Sandy Spring Friends School and the Sojourner Douglass College. To learn more, please log on to criminaljustice.change.org.