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  July 24, 2017

Should Baltimore Adopt Mandatory Sentences For Illegal Guns?


On this episode of The Real Baltimore, Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle's Dayvon Love and advocate Kim Trueheart explain their opposition to a mandatory minimum sentence for gun possession
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Taya Graham: Zero tolerance, abated by arrest, mandatory minimums: all words that have come to define criminal justice in Baltimore. And until recently, they were also a catalyst for change. After years of putting most of its resources into policing, it appeared the city was ready to seek other solutions. Particularly after the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody it seemed the tide had turned towards community investment instead of jails, but after another record month of homicides that progress is in jeopardy. Last week the mayor and police commissioner announced plans for stricter gun laws; a measure that would include a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of a handgun near a school, church or public building. So are we headed back to the old policies, and is it possible to actually reform policing amid rising crime? Are we ignoring the underlying causes of violence, poverty, and inequity? These are the critical questions our expert panel will attempt to answer.

Kristerfer Burnett represents the city's 8th District and has been a strong advocate for mediation programs like Safe Streets. Kim Trueheart is a community activist and well-known city government watchdog. Dayvon Love, policy director of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a black activist organization, dedicated to progressive change and justice. Thank you all for joining us, but before we get started, we have a package from our reporter, Stephen Janis.

Stephen Janis: The message at City Hall was unambiguous. Carrying a gun in Baltimore would be met with sure and swift punishment.

Speaker: Gun offenders in Baltimore City know, or at least they think, they will not face a significant amount of jail time for their offense. And so we believe that it is time for us to put some stronger measures in place, especially as it relates to the possession of illegal guns and to limit judicial discretion and suspending sentences for those who illegally possess guns in Baltimore City.

Stephen Janis: On the agenda Monday, a new gun law that would include a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of a gun near a school, church or public building. The law was in response to numbers that show 600 recent gun arrests resulted in suspects receiving little or no jail time.

Speaker: In 2016, over 60% of the total years imposed for gun crimes in Baltimore City was suspended by the judiciary.

Stephen Janis: A fact Baltimore Police Commissioner, Kevin Davis, called intolerable amid another record year of violence.

Kevin Davis: It's a misdemeanor offense that more times than not results in less jail time than the jail time that a person gets for having 10 rocks of crack cocaine in his front pocket.

Stephen Janis: But there's skeptics who say laws like these are not only misguided, but don't work. Former Baltimore Police Lieutenant, Michael Wood, says the data is misleading and the law will fail.

Michael Wood: As long as you continue to use violence and punishment as your answers, you're not gonna get anywhere, because we know throughout all of the literature and throughout all of practical examples and pretty much looking at every single other developed nation in this entire world that punishment is not a deterrent. It does not solve crimes. In fact, violence and punishment sows the seeds to create recidivism, to make sure that crimes do happen again. So what the mayor is proposing when you're talking about putting a mandatory minimum, or increasing any penalty is a guarantee to make the system worse.

Stephen Janis: His opinions shared by activists, as well. Erricka Bridgeford, who is part of a group calling for a 72-hour ceasefire in August, says the law will take the city back to an inflexible approach to punishment, which the community does not want, and she says it ignores the entrenched poverty, which fuels the mayhem.

Erricka Bridgeford: Where does compassion come into that? Where does taking responsibility for the systems that create crime come in? So ... Are we putting money and time into real looking at what laws we make, what bills go in about what is criminal and what lands people in jail?

Stephen Janis: But at City Hall, the mayor remained firm that only swift and sure incarceration will work. The question remains: is she right or simply repeating mistakes of the past?

Taya Graham: Councilman Burnett, let me start with you. This bill was introduced at the City Council meeting Monday night. Can you tell us a little bit about this bill and why you opposed it?

Kris Burnett: Yeah, so it creates a mandatory minimum sentence for the possession of a handgun for one year ... pretty much anywhere. There's been language in the bill that says public space, church, school, but essentially anywhere outside of your home if you have an unregistered firearm. Or in the instance of a permitted firearm, if you were using it or carrying it in any space that you are not permitted to do so, you would also fall under this law.

Taya Graham: Okay.

Kris Burnett: I have opposed it because we have 30 years of research and data, other cities to look at; Virginia, Illinois, Florida, New York, among others that have enacted these policies. Many of which go back to the Reagan Era and the War on Drugs, and we know they don't work. The root of my opposition has been based in fact.

We know it doesn't reduce violent crime and we know that it disproportionally impacts the black community, which is pretty much every community in Baltimore City. We've seen what zero tolerance policing has done in Baltimore City.

Taya Graham: Yes.

Kris Burnett: When we have a dragnet that pulls in everyone. Frankly, it's a draconian policy that I think is too far sweeping and is very problematic and could have a desperate impact on the city ... that is looking for real solutions to violence reduction and I don't believe this is one of 'em.

Taya Graham: Dayvon, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle published online a piece that was really critical of this policy. Can you tell us what your concerns are about this policy?

Dayvon Love: Well, let me say a couple things to just put that in context. I think a lot of times when you have a phenomenon that's happening in the present, I think there's a tendency to try to correlate or develop a cause, try to discern a cause that's in the present. One of the things that's really important for people to understand is that particularly the last Administration enacted policies that were really neglectful of young people and generally, we look at policies that would have improved the quality of life for black people in Baltimore and the last Administration was particularly horrendous at that. I think what we're seeing is we're seeing the outgrowth of that, where children that in 2011, may have been 14, 15, 16 are now 20, 21, 22, right? We're socialized in a context where the types of things that they would have needed to be socialized away from engaging in criminal activity that was lost, right? We're seeing that in the present.

In terms of the actual policy itself, the problems with mandatory minimums is that you're talking about a policy that'll do two things. It'll justify police to be more intrusive in their dealings with the general public, right? So they'll have more contact with people in community. The basis for that being that if they can get someone with an illegal gun, they know that it's gonna be an automatic one-year.

The other problem with it, though, is that there are a lot folks--so there's a world of difference between the lives that are lived by many of our policymakers and the actual people in communities. There are folks in our communities that carry illegal firearms for protection from the people that are using them in the commission of violent crimes. These are folks that they can't just move somewhere else. These are folks that are working jobs that don't pay a lot of money. They're having to find and hustle to, you know, in terms of getting resources to support themselves and their families, and so exposing someone in that predicament to one year of imprisonment.

Taya Graham: Right.

Dayvon Love: All to council member Burnett's point, all the research shows that those people then are more prone to violence when they've been exposed to the criminal justice system. All this policy does is create a context where now you'll have more people that will probably be better served outside of the system now being more exposed to it, to assist them, that'll make them more prone to violence.

Taya Graham: It sounds like what you're describing is a destabilization effort. It sounds like this would actually impact communities in a really harmful way.

Dayvon Love: Exactly, and to be honest--I mean, one of the things I've said in public numerous times since this policy has been publicized, this really seems like a way to drop the murder rate from like 315 to 290, right? It's to, let's get some people off the street so that that body won't count this year so we can--

Taya Graham: Wow.

Dayvon Love: Reduce the number as opposed to actually addressing the concern of violence and that to me is the part about the policy that's most infuriating, right? If we really care about violence than a mandatory one-year minimum doesn't help us substantively address it. It's a short-term political fix at best.

Taya Graham: Kim, I wanted to know your opinion of Mayor Pugh's proposal. Who do you think this is gonna impact and do you think it will have any effect on gun violence?

Kim Trueheart: It will disproportionately affect young black men in this city. Will it have a positive impact on reducing gun violence? No. The negative consequences far outweigh the positive in my mind. We have been bamboozled into believing that the court system is not supporting our efforts to reduce gun violence, right? The only data point that has been presented to the public is-

Dayvon Love: Yes.

Kim Trueheart: Judges are suspending 60% of those convicted of an illegal gun possession charge, so are judges the problem? I can't believe that the judges of Maryland, of Baltimore, would intentionally suspend sentences, intentionally not take a violent criminal off the street, so I'm thinking there's something missing in this equation, all right? I'd like to know, from one of the worst performing police departments in the country, how good a job did you do in preparing this case against this illegal gun possessor? Did you really give the judge enough information such that he could put the hammer down?

Taya Graham: Yeah.

Kim Trueheart: You know? What did the State's Attorney do in preparing the case to go before the judge? There has been no discussion around all of the aspects of the judicial system that lead into somebody being incarcerated and as far as I'm concerned, this is a very emotional issue for me. I have lost five cousins to gun violence in this city. I'm not gonna be lenient on anybody, but I also know that throwing the trigger pullers who harm and took my cousins away wasn't the answer. These were kids who were neglected. These were kids who saw something that somebody else had and wanted it, all right? They had no guidance in their lives, right? I'm looking at well, what are our options?

Invest in our children. You can't keep investing in the police department the way we have. If this truly is a health problem then how come the mayor is never standing next to the health commissioner when she's talking about gun violence?

Taya Graham: That's an excellent point.

Dayvon Love: And if I can add to that. I mean, one other thing, I've been saying this a lot too, which is the city as a matter of public policy has never decided to invest in community based anti-violence programs as--

Taya Graham: Right.

Dayvon Love: --a public safety policy. I think too often when we say--'cause I think all of us are on the same page when we say the importance of investing in community, but I think in this debate it's been broadened to talk about after school programming and enrichment, which is important to deal with structural things, but on this particular issue, we're talking about investing in anti-violence programs that would be more effective at addressing violence and invested in them way more than we typically do. There's a $400 million, almost $500 million, that's invested in the police departments.

Taya Graham: Yes.

Dayvon Love: To ask for $20-30 million for anti-violence programs run by folks in community, that to me is something that would address this problem more meaningfully, right? Again, I think it's frustrating that that isn't the first response to this, as opposed to what has been put forward, which is throwing more people in, potentially in jail.

Taya Graham: I think that's a really cogent point. Now, after this bill was released, Commissioner Davis released a statement late Sunday night, and I'd like to read it to you and then get your reactions to it. "This is an important moment for the leaders of our city to act. It is not a time for philosophical hypothetical what-ifs. I can only imagine how comfortable it must be to be a bystander, but tough moments call for decisive leadership. This is about those convicted of illegally possessing a handgun." Now he sent this response out Sunday night around 7:30, and it seems to me he's a bit frustrated, so let me get your response to this first councilman.

Kris Burnett: Well, my question back would be we continue to put statistics that says 60% of the gun charges are dropped or adjudicated, but the other piece is that gun arrests are down 30%. And so my pushback would be, what strategy are you using to actually get violent repeat offenders off the street? Because if we're not arresting already, how does this policy impact that on-the-ground job that we need done in the city? I'm not naive. I've had friends lost to violence. I've had excessive violence in my district and the communities I represent and families that have been hurt by it so no one's a bystander here, but what we are saying is you also have a job to do.

We know who these folks are. There is a very small number of individuals that are committing most of the violent crime in the city. Into Davyon's point earlier, I mean, we know why people carry weapons and I would say we can oversimplify it and say there's three reasons. There's people who are committing violence. They are people who are robbing folks. And there's people who are protecting themselves from those other two.

Taya Graham: Right.

Kris Burnett: In no instances is the prospect of a year in jail gonna stop it, right? No one's not gonna not carry a weapon and carry a butter knife now to a gunfight because they don't want a year in jail. It's not happening. You're gonna, as they say, I'd rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.

Until we really get at the root causes of violence and what gets you to the point where you're pointing a weapon at someone, until we invest in those type of programs that we have to fight every year, frankly, right? Like even this year during the budget, we had to fight for additional funding for Safe Streets and after school programs and out-of-school time. Majority of the Health Department budget comes from the state and the Federal Government, not from the city. Until we look at these things as a public health crisis that addresses mental health issues and drug addiction issues and housing and lead paint.

Taya Graham: Yes.

Kris Burnett: I mean, it's easy to say that we need to do something right now, but the decision that we make right now will have a reverberating impact for years to come. The other point I'll make is a lot of folks say you know, we need more jobs. We need--for these guys on the corner, I get a lot of calls, can we help them get employed? Then why would I vote for a policy that would make them even more unemployable five, ten years down the road. We're adding yet another thing on your rap sheet instead of--but then, I'm now trying to ban the box. Now we're trying to do other work with universities and other businesses to get them to be [more] lenient in their hiring practices, because we've enacted policies and police procedures that have created this panacea of individuals in West Baltimore and East Baltimore that can't get a job. How can we work on both ends where I'm trying to get workforce programs and get folks in the door to support themselves, 'cause these are economic issues, right?

Taya Graham: Yes.

Kris Burnett: People actually pay for hits in this city. Let's be clear. A lot of this violence is economic. The reason that you're standing on the corner selling drugs is economic. We're in the same city that vetoed the minimum wage bill. For me, it's been incredibly frustrating because I'm trying to push on raising wages and apprenticeship programs and workforce programs, and changing youth works and trying to open the door for folks, but then being pressured to put forth policy that would set us back in the long run. I think in the sake of doing something now, and I'm just very uncomfortable with that.

Taya Graham: Thank you. Kim, let me get your response to Commissioner Davis' bystander comment.

Kim Trueheart: He's frustrated and I understand that, but so am I. He made a comment to me in a text about two weeks ago that I was demanding things of him that he thought I should not be demanding of him, and that I could probably go ahead and remove his phone number from my contact list.

Taya Graham: Really?

Kim Trueheart: My response to that is I'm gonna wear that number out, right? As a citizen, why shouldn't I be demanding of you, right? We've got a city here that is investing more in the police and the outcomes are horrendous, right?

Taya Graham: Right.

Kim Trueheart: I want investments made in the mental health programs that some of these young people need. I want the restorative practices that we know help heal some of the harm that has been done to these people. Some of these people are bitter, angry, mad, right? So how do we help them? Put 'em in the jail cell? The short-sightedness of this whole thing is around the fact that in one year, they will be back. We have one year relief, right? Is that all we're looking for? Is a slight reduction over the next 12 months and then what? Then what do we do, 'cause these same young men are gonna be right back on the street with no opportunity.

Taya Graham: Right.

Kim Trueheart: With no support system, with no help, but there's a gun, right? There are drugs that are always gonna be there, 'cause we can't figure out how to stop them from coming into this, but yet, we, you know ... We have this very flawed approach to dealing with the social ills of our society. When we improve the quality of life for our citizens all of this will change, right? But as long as people are suffering, right? How do you deal with suffering, right? Let's treat this as the health issue that it is.

Taya Graham: It seems what you said points to what Dayvon mentioned, that this will cause a temporary reduction in the number of violent crimes, but that it doesn't actually have any sort of long-term lasting benefit. Dayvon, let me get your reaction to his bystander comment.

Dayvon Love: I think--so I know what it's like to have folks be critical who haven't run things, right? I get that that's probably where he's coming from. He's thinking, I run the police department, I know how this works, and of the criticism that he's getting, yeah, I can see him taking it that way. The problem with the bystander comment is both Ms. Trueheart and Councilman Burnett both explained this.

We have experiences with people in our city that are close in proximity to the violence that we're attempting to stop, and the issue is that if the police department is an agency that we've invested millions of dollars, $400 million per year on average, right? More than that. As a customer, the service we've been getting has been bad.

Taya Graham: Right.

Dayvon Love: Right, so just from a simple customer service perspective, it's all right to say that you're giving us a product that we're not satisfied with. And so I think the bystander comment, it speaks to the attitude that I think too many folks that head up major entities like that have, which is that they're a person that's supposed to be providing a service to the community and if you're not effectively providing that service then it is our right and responsibility to say that that service isn't being properly rendered, but what animates that--and I think it's really the most important point as it relates to that statement--police commissioners are fired for having too many murders on their watch and that's what he's thinking about. He's thinking about keeping his job and that if the murder rate continues to be what it is then they'll be a public outcry to get rid of him.

Taya Graham: Right.

Dayvon Love: It's really ... so that bystander comment what it really means is I'm the one that is gonna get fired if this doesn't work. Let me do what I want to do 'cause this is my job. That's just not. We choose not to embrace that approach.

Kim Trueheart: Right, and accept the quality or lack there of of my product, right? Because I'm the expert. I've done this for 30 years and I absolutely know the right answer, right? What consumer would settle for that, right? Are we an informed consumer group? I think we are. I think we're very informed and we know that the product you're giving us is substandard, right? We want more. We want better, right? And if you don't like the fact that we're asking for more and better, please leave 'cause we don't need you here, right? They're other people who are able to deliver the product that we want.

Taya Graham: I think that's a very fair statement. Let me turn it to you, Councilman Burnett. We've had the Gun Trace Task Force; the Baltimore Seven accused of racketeering, planting guns on people. The Department of Justice investigated our department, found unconstitutional policing, illegal tactics. Can we trust our police department to take these guns off the street?

Kris Burnett: I'll say, I mean, clearly the evidence is what it is. We had seven officers arrested. In and under this law if that was to take place, the planting of guns on someone, it would be prosecuted, right? The other piece is, I mean, we know we're on a consent decree right now for a reason. We definitely have to keep a magnifying glass on the activities of our officers.

I'm not gonna paint a broad brush, much like I'm saying this policy is broad in my statement, but because I know that there are officers that do the job and do it right. I think we do need them to also speak up when they see officers and their peers who aren't doing the right thing. And that's always been my challenge to the police department, is that if you're seeing something that is not right, you also have a duty to stand up and say something and you're not, then you're culpable, too. You are part of the problem, as well, because if you're turning a blind eye to these improprieties then you're a part of the problem. You're perpetuating that problem and you're perpetuating what we're talking about here, which is we're not getting what for supposed to. You're not doing your job.

That's been my, and even back to the other piece, around like the gun arrest ... we're not arresting people for guns. These folks are way more sophisticated than just to carry a weapon that they've just used in a murder and stand there. They're not gonna do that. I've even talked folks that said ... a lot of folks who are now saying, all right, I'll just hand it off to a kid you know. I'll hand it off to my little man on the block, like he'll carry it for me or we'll do whatever we gotta do, but this isn't it. I think we do ... that is an excellent point that we have to be worried about this and that's the problem when you put forth a policy that does not take into account nuance and context, which this does not. It does not look into that scenario. It does not look into the context. We look at Marissa Alexander in Florida.

Taya Graham: Exactly.

Kris Burnett: Six years for a mandatory minimum in defending herself.

Taya Graham: Yes.

Kris Burnett: And was not given the "Stand Your Ground" law that George Zimmerman was given, which is problematic in itself. How many of those, right? How many of those instances are we willing to take? And this is something I've talked to my colleagues about, right? Is it the first time it's on The Sun paper that someone served a year sentence and they were innocent whether it was because of an officer or because of ... they were in their vehicle. Someone left the weapon in the car.

Taya Graham: Right.

Kris Burnett: Whatever the scenario is. How many of those instances are we okay with? What's the threshold, right? For me, it's none. I want contact. I want discretion, but most importantly, I don't think that the police department in itself is reactionary. You call the police when something happens. Their job is not to be preventive. That's what policy is. That's what the Health Department's supposed to be doing and community-based organizations do like Safe Streets and Community Mediation, right? They get ahead of it and that's where we need to be putting our money. Not in reaction and this is a reactionary policy to a very real challenge that we have in this city where folks are dying every day. I don't want that to get lost either, right?

I think a lot of folks who are for this have been trying to paint folks against it as not caring about violence.

Taya Graham: Right.

Kris Burnett: And that's just not true. I spend a tremendous amount of time in some of the most violent parts of my district. That's actually where I spend most of my time, right? But, I don't spend it trying to hide in the car and see what's going on. I'm out there actually talking to guys. Talking to business owners. Talking to community leaders and trying to figure out how do we leverage resources both in the community, outside the community and, which strategies do we need to really build bridges and build connections and communities that haven't had anyone asking those questions.

I was on Frederick Avenue the other day and a barber shop owner came out and said, "Look, I'd never seen an elected official here in 10 years and I've seen you here three times this week." It's like, well, I don't know how else I could do this job without actually being in my community and with these sort of policies if we're not. The comment really rubbed me the wrong way because I'm like, I'm nowhere near a bystander.

Taya Graham: Right.

Kris Burnett: In fact, I think that's where I'm coming from, because I'm not a bystander, and I've actually talked to folks who are living this lifestyle. They have even said this is not gonna change my carrying of a weapon, right?

We need that context, we need that fine tooth, and we need accountability both in the police department, the State's Attorney's Office, the judges, the community. I mean we all play a role in turning this city around. We all play a role in helping our young people. It's all hands on deck.

I was at a town hall the other night that Ms. Trueheart organized, and that was my message in that meeting, was I need to see all y'all here working in this after-school program and working with these kids, right? It's great to have a town hall meeting and a community when we talk about young people, but we don't do anything to extend the hand and say hey, come with me or hey, what would you want to come to? What do you think we need, right? No one's asking those questions, but yet, we just wanna lock 'em up. That doesn't work. It's proven not to work. It's never gonna work. It's just one of those things that it just becomes frustrating because I feel like we're kind of stuck in this loop of not really having the answers, not having the patience to invest in long-term solutions.

Taya Graham: Yes.

Kris Burnett: And really looking at sort of short-term fixes and ... this is just bad policy thatÂ’s--

Taya Graham: Yeah.

Kris Burnett: --very short focused.

Kim Trueheart: You know, I'd look at this current scenario and say, how can the mayor put her confidence on the line and in the hands of the police? There's such evidence in this city that that's not a viable solution, right? The police department. The Gun Task Force was evidence, very recent evidence, that there is corruption in this department and it wasn't confined to the Gun Task Force. We know that and they've given us no assurances that that practice, those practices that went on, in the Gun Task Force aren't also currently still existing throughout the department, but yet this mayor seems to believe the police department is the answer to this problem. I don't get that. I don't see that. I have very limited confidence that the police can lead this effort to the degree that I'm gonna be comfortable, that my fellow citizens are gonna be comfortable. They haven't given us that kind of confidence.

Taya Graham: Dayvon, Commissioner Davis made a statement that I found somewhat strange. He called possession of an illegal handgun an act of pre-murder. He said it wasn't about mass incarceration. It was about incarcerating the right people. How do you respond to that?

Dayvon Love: I mean, one of the questions that I would have to that statement--because just having a firearm doesn't mean you're using it to kill people--and the comment that I think was associated with that, the whole idea of getting bad guys with guns.

Taya Graham: Right.

Dayvon Love: So having a gun doesn't make you a bad guy, right?

Taya Graham: Right.

Dayvon Love: Just, so for me, what is it then that the police do not have a tool that they don't have at their disposal that keeps them from prosecuting people who are using guns in violent crimes? Because if you're just getting people for possession, what it sounds like is you're trying to get someone on something that's different than what you want to get them on, but you can't get them on that so you're gonna get 'em on the gun possession.

For me ... well, then, what is it that you need to get them on what you want to get them on?

Taya Graham: Right?

Dayvon Love: Right. If you want to get 'em for a violent crime, what is it that's happening that keeps you from being able to just get them for what you want to get them for. To me, what that speaks to is quite frankly, a lack of competency on the part of the police department as Ms. Trueheart said earlier, to put together the cases necessary to get them on the things that they want to get them on.

I guess that's a hard thing to say when your job's on the line.

Taya Graham: Right.

Dayvon Love: And you don't want to get fired, but I think Commissioner Davis would've done himself a huge favor if his approach would have been these are the, this is the trouble we're having, and putting these folks behind bars, we need such and such a law in order to help us do that. People would be more amenable that ... I haven't heard a single argument as to how this mandatory minimum helps them to put people in jail for violent crime. Again, I've just heard it as a way to get people off the street and those are two different things.

Taya Graham: Right. Excellent point. Now I'm gonna ask a somewhat complex question and I know it's only a few minutes to answer it so I apologize for that, but I'm getting the impression that you don't feel like this ordinance is actually gonna make Baltimore City residents safer. Let me ask you what do you think will make Baltimore City residents safer? I want to give each one of you turn to answer that.

Kris Burnett: I think I mentioned it earlier. I think when we talk about programs like Safe Streets, where you are taking folks who have come from this life come back to the neighborhoods. They live in the neighborhoods that they perform mediations in and we've seen, this an evidence-based program, right? This isn't. Just much like I've said that evidence that mandatory minimums don't work. There's evidence that proves that Safe Streets does and that Community Mediation does and that investing in wrap around services for our young people actually has a impact on violence.

I think the other piece of it when we talk about the economics of the drug trade, right? We tried to raise the minimum wage. When, it wasn't to a livable wage, which was 22, but to push people to 15 would have made a difference. A lot of these, you have to look at why people are making the decisions that they make. I've had a lot of pushback on the minimum wage was that we can't compare it to Seattle or other places that have implemented this, but I think psychology is psychology, right? If the decision to, if the mandatory minimum didn't work in Chicago, it's not gonna work in Baltimore. We're all human beings at the end of the day so let's look at what actually works. I think investing in people and investing in the prevention.

The violence is a symptom of something deeper so let's go deeper and that swimming. We have to continue to swim upstream to get to that, right? We can jump right in and start pulling people out of the street, but until the bodies are still coming until we get at the real reason why people are pulling out a weapon and firing it at another human being. The prospect of jail time, it does not measure into that equation and we know that already, right? The average sentence of murder in Maryland is 17 years. If the prospect of going to jail and facing 17 years was gonna stop a murder, we wouldn't be at 190. We've repealed the death penalty in Maryland for the exact same reason because the prospect of going to death for murder did not slow down murders and so we know ... These are facts. This is not antidotes. This is not something we're just pulling out of our hat. We know this doesn't work.

I think it's really investing in a pathway to get people into a different life and that's treating them where they are, right? If they had mental health challenges then we need to invest more in the Health Department and their ability to do direct outreach and put more health centers in communities. We need more centers like The Liberty Rack and Tack Center that provide a space for our young people to get involved in technology and really help themselves in out of school time so that they can compete academically and go on to college or an apprenticeship program or starting a business or starting anything that will put them on a pathway to sustain themselves.

People are selling drugs because they're trying to sustain themselves. There's no your average drug dealer is not driving a 745 BMW. They are barely getting by. We know that. Let's help people get by a different way and I think that's how we make communities safer. Policing this is not the answer. Locking people in prisons, which we know for fact have been, you've seen this investment in prisons. It's not a place that you can go get a college degree.

Taya Graham: Right.

Kris Burnett: Or get access to a psychologist or a mental health or drug ... in fact, people come out oftentimes more sophisticated than they came in or with a drug addiction that they didn't have when they came in.

Taya Graham: Absolutely.

Kris Burnett: And are less likely to get a job than when they came in and so pushing people back in that direction when we know it doesn't work isn't the answer.

Taya Graham: Kim, let me address this to you. What do you think will make Baltimore City safer?

Kim Trueheart: You know, we want to give our crime fighters all the tools that we can possibly give them, right? That makes sense. That are affordable, that are proven, that are data driven solutions so I'm wondering if 60% of the cases the judges adjudicated with suspended sentences, if the judge had a different tool like sentencing somebody to drug treatment, sentencing somebody to violence reduction treatment, what does that look like? Is that, did we even ask the judges, right? Do you have the right tools to sentence the people to correct the behavior?

Taya Graham: That's a good point.

Kim Trueheart: Right? I would like to see this law amended in a fashion that says jail is not the first option, all right? We want violence reduction programming to exist that the judge can make mandatory. Make it mandatory for a year that they participate in a health healing kind of program.

Coming up with this was, I'm sure, a very big relief for the mayor and the commissioner 'cause they can say, whew, we did something, right?

Taya Graham: Yes.

Kim Trueheart: But it's not gonna help. That same gun-toting kid is gonna out in a year and then what, right? Are we just gonna repeat the stupid cycle over and over again? I think we're more intelligent than that. I think this community is much more informed as a consumer base than that and we ain't buying it.

Taya Graham: I think that's really cogent points. Dayvon, let me ask you. What will actually make Baltimore safer if this ordinance won't?

Dayvon Love: I mean so ditto to both what Councilman Burnet said, what Ms. Trueheart said, particularly in terms of investing in community on the front end. We're not gonna be able to arrest our way out of the problem. I'll add to this 'cause again Councilmen Burnett mentioned Safe Streets. There lots of organizations including Safe Streets that do really great anti-violence work.

Taya Graham: Yes.

Dayvon Love: An example I actually like to use. There's a brother, [Baba Adamola 00:38:07], who with Sinai Hospital, they work together to create the [Koche Jackalia 00:38:12] Center. Basically the basis of that program was that they would go into the emergency rooms of young men who have been victims of violence. They would talk to them, provide them services and in exchange, they will be recruited to help go mediate conflicts and recruit other young people to the program.

Taya Graham: Interesting program.

Dayvon Love: What's interesting is so I have connections to [Baba 00:38:33]. We have connections through a lot of folks in community and he sent some of the brothers he recruited to the LBS Office to talk to us about work we were doing. They were really excited about being a part of that program.

Taya Graham: Great.

Dayvon Love: One of the brothers had gotten stabbed and that's how they found him and they helped him get a job, take care of his family. He had a baby, all that. He was really excited and then what happened was a few weeks later, they lost funding for the program.

Taya Graham: Oh, that's tragic.

Dayvon Love: So that same brother had to go find something else to do, right? When he was really passionate about going out 'cause he was like I know these guys, right? But he was really passionate and now a program like that was cut and see from me, that to me speaks to the problem that we're dealing with.

Taya Graham: Yes.

Dayvon Love: Like a program that was directly going to meet folks that we're being victimized by violence, recruiting them to be a part of the solution. It's amazing to me that a program like that can get cut that was right in Northwest Baltimore, right? A program like that could get cut, but we continue to increase funding for the police budget, right? It ... so for me, it's like we gotta really focus on investing in these programs that address violence that community folks lead because as we've all said, that's just greater evidence that their more successful than putting people in jail.

Taya Graham: Thank you so much for this conversation. I really appreciate it. I want to thank my guests, Councilman Burnett, Kim Trueheart, and Dayvon Love for joining me, and I want to thank you for joining me at The Real Baltimore.



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