Lt. Gov. Rutherford spoke at St. Frances Academy’s Commencement in Baltimore on June 7. (Photo Courtesy Executive Office of the Governor)
Boyd K. Rutherford, the state of Maryland’s third African-American lieutenant governor said his new role has been “interesting” and a balancing act. Not quite into his fifth month in office, Rutherford has already juggled tasks from finalizing the state’s budget to fighting drug abuse while observing the property tax debate in Prince George’s County and the crime wave in Baltimore City.
“I’ve enjoyed it but it has been an adjustment,” he told the AFRO. “It’s finding the right balance in terms of how much you can do, how much you take on.”
One challenge Rutherford said he is tackling is the “effectiveness of programs” funded by the state. He said he is trying to determine whether money is being spent in the most beneficial areas or if resources need to be reallocated.
One issue under debate is Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to allocate $30 billion towards the construction of a juvenile jail in Baltimore amongst cuts to the education system. “The juvenile justice facility that is being built is in response to the fact that the state has been in violation of federal law in terms of housing juveniles facing adult charges,” he said. “You’re supposed to have physical, site, and sound separation when juveniles charged with adult crimes. The state was in violation of this for many years.”
Even though Rutherford said the state had no choice, protestors under the leadership of the Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, pastor at Empowerment Temple Church, and other Baltimore pastors shut down Interstate 395 a month ago to protest the facility and cuts to education. Rutherford accused Bryant of “grandstanding,” noting that the reverend was “ill informed” of the intentions behind the youth facility.
The state has spent $1.7 billion in Baltimore over the last year with $400 million of that amount directed to education, Rutherford said.
Aggressive protests in Baltimore City initially started when Rutherford was just shy of three months in office. The National Guard was called when lawlessness took over parts of West Baltimore as frustration surged after Freddie Gray died while in police custody, a week after his arrest.
“We still don’t know what happened there and somewhere along the line he sustained substantial injuries. I think the trial is going to be the only opportunity to find out essentially what happened,” Rutherford said. “I’m a little concerned that the expectation level might be a little high, especially in Baltimore City. I’m not sure the state’s attorney is going to be able to prove intention on some of the charges. We just don’t know what happened.”
Since State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged six officers – three Black and three White – in Gray’s death, a record spike in murders hit Baltimore City last month with plummeting arrest numbers attributed to fearful police officers.
Rutherford said the state is open to supporting the mayor and city council by providing intelligence, but in terms of repairing trust between police and the community, he said the state is only able to offer suggestions. However, he is in favor of body cameras. “The governor signed the body camera legislation,” Rutherford said. “I think body cameras help.”
A battle Rutherford personally stepped up to fight is ridding the state of heroin and prescription drug abuse. Across the state, he said more people are dying of heroin than murder and cites 800 deaths alone from heroin in 2014. He has aimed to increase awareness of the growing concern by scheduling regional meetings for different communities – Caroline County, Eastern Shore, Frederick County, Baltimore and others – to discuss how they are dealing with heroin and prescription drugs such as Percocet and oxycodone.
“We’ve been hearing some real heart-wrenching stories,” Rutherford said. “We’re taking a holistic approach, meaning that we want to stop the pipeline of new users. So it’s prevention and also looking at treatment of those already addicted. There’s a law enforcement element, trying to prevent these cartels from bringing into the state.”
Describing himself as a man who has always been “willing to challenge the status quo,” Rutherford said he and Hogan hope to help citizens of Maryland live more fruitfully.
“As a result of our leadership, I’d like to see our business climate improve, generate employment opportunities for Marylanders, and I’d like to see some real solutions and suggestions that are working,” he said. “We want productive citizens.”