Operation Relentless Pursuit is a Department of Justice initiative to combat crime through a “surge in federal resources.” We talked with Brandon Walker of the Ujima People’s Progress Party about what’s really needed to combat crime and empower neighborhoods in places like Baltimore, one of the seven cities targeted by the plan.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.
In December last year, Attorney General William P. Barr announced the launch of Operation Relentless Pursuit, an initiative aimed at quote, combating violent crime and seven of America’s most violent cities through a surge in federal resources. While the seven cities targeted by this new law enforcement initiative are near or at the bottom of the Bureau of labor statistics unemployment rate from major cities, indicating that unemployment is at the higher end of the scale. What Barr calls the surge in federal law enforcement resources to combat crime, including tens of millions of dollars for hiring more police officers, doesn’t seem to be available to get anyone a job who isn’t willing to be a cop.
What do the residents of these cities do in the face of this new effort to allegedly combat crime that doesn’t actually address the roots of crime, nor does it meet the needs of the people most effected by the crime? And when we peel back the layers of what’s really being provided in the way of resources to these cities, what will they really expect to get in this surge here?
To talk with me about this and how this operation is really expected to affect the targeted cities is Brandon Walker. Brandon is the outreach coordinator for the Ujima People’s Progress Party in Baltimore, Maryland. Brandon, thanks so much for joining me.
BRANDON WALKER: Thank you for having me.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So Brandon, Baltimore is one of the seven cities targeted by this program; along with Albuquerque, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis, and Milwaukee. They’re all said to be seven cities with violent crime levels, several times higher than the national average.
And in addition to providing an infusion of federal agents and resources immediately, Operation Relentless Pursuit claims it will provide $71 million in federal grant funding among the seven targeted cities that can be used to “hire new officers, pay overtime and benefits, finance federally deputized task force officers, and provide mission critical equipment and technology.” That’s according to the statement from the U.S. Department of Justice. Brandon, phrases like “mission critical” are uniquely military in nature, right?
BRANDON WALKER: Yes. So when I hear “mission critical,” I’m thinking that there’s a percentage or an overall objective to be obtained, specifically when they’re aiming with such active words or key words such as critical and marrying them with mission, as well. Specifically when we’re talking about U.S. populations, we’re also mean exactly targeting specific demographics who can be the mission or the objective to up to be obtained.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So in fact, “mission critical” actually does come from wartime. It’s combat jargon. And the name of this operation sounds like a military operation. So is there a reason that the DOJ is using military terminology to describe an effort to combat what they say is civilian crime?
BRANDON WALKER: Well, I’d say in order for them to use that language, they’d have to have a source of data gathering or resource to be collected. And I like to henceforth or segue into the consent decree that is here in Baltimore City. So far, we’re speaking about the populations or the guises of public safety being in question. We have to also question about the institutions and the infrastructure of local government and the police department specifically and their relationship to the community, as well as being under a federal consent decree since 2017.
Now, the reason why I thought that this would be necessary to bring it up with that language and exactly seeing how that jargon or that term is being used towards a crime fighting initiative is to say that the department of justice is making one huge contradiction along with saying they want to combat crime on one end but also they want to police the police on the other end, which is very confusing.
Because if you’re looking to sue the same police department or withdraw funding because of their unconstitutional or policing practice and tactics that violates the rights of the city of Baltimore, how did you turn around and say, “Well, hey, we have to give them more money to police their way. We have to over police and also militarize them with updated weapons, but at the same time undermine the federal consent decree which says that these same officers and police department are in question because they have done some very questionable practices, if not violated civil rights and human rights of those who are living in Baltimore City.”
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now you mentioned militarized equipment going to the police department along with the serious problems that not just Baltimore Police Department has had under this consent decree, which is why they’re under a federal consent decree, but also the other cities. Some of the other cities have the same issues with police abuse, as well as having problems with not just crime but also higher unemployment in the cities.
So it’s interesting, Brandon, that the Baltimore PD seems to be welcoming of this assistance and the money for sure, but how does the affected community members, how did they react with not just a police force but also a government that seems more open to investment in policing and especially as you said, military policing, than they are in things that we know reduce crime, like more jobs, access to healthcare, access to quality education.
Even as because the crime is such an issue, there’s also some community support for these kinds of issues. So how do you balance educating the community members about the adversarial relationship that the police and law enforcement in general, especially law enforcement, have in historically black communities and neighborhoods with also dealing with the fears about crime that community members do legitimately have?
BRANDON WALKER: That is a very well loaded and multifaceted question, so I’ll do my best to address it in a timely fashion. So I think with the educating the community part, I think it comes as a tactic of really looking at ourselves as individuals, as taxpayers, but most of all as working class folks who live in the community to be able to ask, “Where’s our tax dollars going exactly, and how do we address it in a way that does not disturb anyone’s psyche or political consciousness in a way that we do not win them over with the idea of saying, ‘Well, hey, for every dollar that we’re getting inside the general fund, do you know that at least 50% or 40 or a substantial amount and percentage is going towards policing communities where we’re speaking in the educating sense about the community that does or does not know about it, and now get into community support.’”
We have to look at those who are in the lower bracket of below the poverty line and at the poverty line to be specific where they’re always sought that is these bad neighborhoods, high and crime riddled infested communities that need policing. But the contradiction that spills over that is, well, if that is true, then why is it that in some of the most affluent neighborhoods there are no crime, but yet there are no cops around. So how do we get to dispel and demystify or should I say debunk, for a lack of a better term, the put more police, put more police equipment, put drones in the sky, put cameras in the areas where people are struggling to make it out of dire straits and economic challenges.
But yet, crime still exist at all times higher while the police are present versus being able to address the polarities or the contradictions of it being in a fluent arrogance where no polices are and still a few cameras, household ring dash cameras exist, but yet no polices are there. No crime at all. So that’s one. Being able to close those disparities with a compelling argument and as well as a political form that can aim to educate and agitate a little bit of the people. The second will also go with the community. We’ll be talking about community support where specifically we have to speak about which community is in support of it.
Because last time I checked, I don’t think anyone who does not have a car or a job will support more policing patrol in their neighborhood regardless if it makes them feel better if they know those funds can go towards a bike bag program, if those funds can go towards economic development, if they can go towards a land trust, a housing trust, anything that can put back to the community that can make it more feasible or economically feasible for those who live there to grab themselves by the opportunities that is presented between the funds that’s going towards policing and militarizing that area to actually providing economic resources or giving the community the choice to control those resources.
I personally believe that the community that does welcome these ideas tend to be those who maybe are radio stations, news, those who have a soundbite or some sort of attachment to it that if they promote it, they can also get good PR from the police department and as well as have more access interviews with the local government. So I guess to answer that question, how do we get engaged and how do we educate the people and where does the community support come from? It’s sort of a mixed bag in how we view it and our perception, but I think the reality of it all is that we are all responsible for being able to address the core of the scenario of which we see crime happen and in which we see public safety being a question and that is the economic, the social economic challenges, that is being faced in areas like Baltimore City and other urban cities across America.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So let me pivot really quickly and ask you about an issue that I think is connected to this. And I think it’s happening at a very interesting time, both the announcement of this surge and this national push now for an idea that I think that its time has really come, which is community control over the police. Now, a few years ago, a few weeks ago actually, we talk with Frank Chapman of the National Association Against Racist and Political Repression about their national effort to demand community control over the police. We also discussed Baltimore’s secret aerial surveillance planes now being made a pilot program that the Baltimore PD is supporting.
You were a panelist or at a conference that discussed all the ways law enforcement has historically surveilled and repressed black and other marginalized communities throughout the years. Is it a coincidence that all of these efforts seem to be converging? We’ve got a major organization that historically fought against police repression, relaunching and spreading the national support network, creating a national support network to educate people on community control over the police. Just as it seems, this new era in police repression is about to be unleashed in the seven cities including Baltimore. What are your thoughts on that? Is it just too convenient that all of these things are happening at once?
BRANDON WALKER: I think it’s more than just a convenience. I think it’s the harsh reality that what we’re dealing with is it’s easier to put more patrolmen on the streets than it is actually the patch up the streets and be able to provide opportunities for those who are squeegee boys, for those who are on the corner, and also men and women who are struggling to deal with low wages and low end jobs to be able to work themselves out of an economic challenge that they’re in and also to be able to address that.
We’re talking about spy planes specifically and we’re dealing with the idea that the origin or its inceptions of how do we get to the point where we’re inviting private strategies for public initiatives but yet we haven’t addressed the first epidemic of having cameras being invited to the area of Baltimore City where once before we were told that if bright city lights or those blue or red flashing lights with cameras on the top of the street polls and traffic polls is able to watch what’s going on every corner inside of every dwelling if not every community where “crime” is supposed to take place who voted for that and there is no vote call. There is no roll call or any kind of initiative that says, “This was supported by this Councilman. This was something that was rolled out on the backs of the people to say that it’s supposed to make you much safer. It’s supposed to provide transparency. It’s supposed to help the police department and also bring communities together.”
Well, again, five, 10, 15 years has passed, and we still have more and more of the same issues that we wish to address from cameras. Now we’re proposing to rule out drones or spy planes that was out once upon a time, maybe two or three years ago, give or take. That was supposed to be addressing the issues from afar by using data surveillance to hand over it to be able to record and watch crimes. Well, what good does it? What good does it does for anyone in those areas to be victims, suspects, or any of cop or any kind of sort of entity that intertwined with the public safety initiative when we’re dealing with the hard reality that no one can see where the funding is coming from, which is one to question. No one has to have opportunity to vote on it, which is two.
Third, no one has ever had a serious conversation between the local government, state government, to be able to put a petition, referendum, or any kind of resolution down as to say, “Well, how much of our tax dollars is going to fund this opportunity and whose payroll is going to be funded by our dollars to be able to say you’re keeping us safe despite the realities that crime is going to exist, whether it’s blue or white collar crime?” We just have to have a question of whose crime are we going to be addressing and who’s going to go to jail for it.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: That’s a great point that you raise, when you raise the issue of white collar crime. Now Brandon, where’s the search for white collar criminals? Where is the $71 million in federal funding for mission critical support and material to combat rampant white collar crime? And we know that white collar crime is rampant because the rich keep getting richer off of the backs of the working class and the poor, so where’s the Department of Justice rollout for combating white collar crime?
BRANDON WALKER: Well, I would say there is no political will to challenge those who grease the palms, which puts the dollar in your pocket. And we have to be honest with that here. What I see as the $71 million is not necessarily addressed to white collar crime because there is no political will to actually address white collar crimes or those whose arms are being greased, for dollars has been put in pocket, and coffers that are being bought and filled. And specifically saying that anytime we live in an era or a part of our society where it’s okay to be able to say, “Well, crime must exist or be pushed to the farer sides of uptown and the near areas where transit stops and police stations exist.” But yet we have to keep it separated from sub tourists.
Then I think that those $71 million is not going to be focused on exactly corruption, public scandal, exactly how contractors are being swayed and worked under the table with public officials to be able to have people pass certain legislation that are favorable to those who are in an upper ruling class versus those who are poor and working class just asking for control of the resources so they can be able to bring the grassroots approach to their community without any interference and using that model of self-determination to bring about results without having to use much of these undisclosed or large amounts of millions of dollars and be specific about the white collar crimes, as well.
There’s never going to be an answer or a question as to how much of these dollars is being shelled out? Where does it come from exactly, and which amount of taxpayers or sector of the tax paying class is going to be footing this bill? Same goes for the dollars that gets shifted over to other parts of the world to be able to oppress and use imperialists tactics in poor countries, as well.
What we’re seeing is just a parallel of what’s happening here at home being used by our own government to oppress people in poor and working class neighborhoods while not at the same time addressing the crimes that happen in the office, in the streets. In other words, you would use the dollars to go out to those in the streets before we use some of those dollars to address the symptoms and the core and root causes that happens in the streets while cleaning out the back doors and these sweet crimes that happens in white collar areas, in institutions all across this country, including here in Baltimore City in the state of Maryland.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I mean, it seems like working class people, poor people who live in neighborhoods who do experience a crime problem, but that crime problem is because of high unemployment, lack of job opportunities, poor public school education that’s being pushed to being privatized, poor services for people. All of the things that we know contribute to higher crime, but the money that is spent by state and local and now federal government goes into combating the symptom rather than actually curing the disease, so to speak.
And then there is the other issue that people have to deal with in relation to corruption in their local and state government and the corruption at the federal level. So Brandon, people are dealing with a lot and maybe they just don’t know how to parse all of this out. So tell us how the Ujima People’s Party can help people in Baltimore do that.
BRANDON WALKER: Yes, I’m glad you asked and excited to be able to speak on this. So when we speak about specifically those white collar crimes versus blue collar crimes, we’re talking about people who lose their homes for $1,300 water bills, $500 water bills, $2,200 water bills for that matter. 2,000. And with that we believe that community control of housing in a land trust or a housing trust will be a start, but also launching a petition to be able to address that as an independent black worker-led political party, Ujima People’s Progress Party, we would be able to say, “Hey, with a petition we could be able to make the risk calls and pay up to $2 million that they’re getting in free water,” versus the people uptown who are losing their homes who’ve been living there their whole life, dealing with the slow calls of first responding to come to their community with any issues of emergency, be that a fire or an overdose.
Something that is rarely talked about when we factor in crime. As well, where the Ujima People’s Progress Party, community control of housing will be the first step towards being able to say a unit, a community, a neighborhood itself that can represent itself, do sustainable practice and as well as being able to end disproportionate wealth. Second would be another is coming into control of education. Now we talk about housing and education.
There’s always the one two scenario or making the both mutually compatible where that number of people that live in your neighborhood provides a number of property taxes that people can move in and better schools. However, there’s never the question of what we’re going to do about the water crisis, what we’re going to do about the lead in the water. Again, people losing their homes behind short term water bills that can easily be paid off with a grant funding or with a little bit of time from a loan and other measures.
But yet we’re still dealing with other kleptocrats in series of the city that is richer in Baltimore by not paying their water bills and skimming on the tax bill. And with that, if we’re able to address that the water crisis and the housing, we’ll be able to now speak more candidly about the education and having community control of education. Well, we can have people in the community run for those local school boards while at the same time being a block captain and a housing representative if not a community association for those who are in control of the community housing and education resource, which brings me to being able to have community control of healthcare and as well as those food nutrition’s to be able to end food sovereignty.
And as an independent black worker-led political party, and just so I can slow myself down and make this point, we have to understand that with a group of people who have the responsibility of working every day, paying the taxes, going to school, dealing with transportation, dealing with the housing, dealing with education and being able to communicate an answer that says, “Yes, I will be responsible for my black and my community can do as a committee that addresses education. I’ll do the same for housing. I’ll do the same for transportation, healthcare, and also even unemployment.”
We are now removing the responsibilities from the government as an independent political party to be able to give people a chance to have some dignity and not be reduced to political mascots and at the same time get beat over their head by the same tax dollars that we’re paying the police department to get more and more new equipment while corruption and festering scandals happens from the police department headquarters down to city hall.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Well, there’s definitely a lot of work that needs to be done, not just in Baltimore, to bring the community together to educate the community and to address these longstanding issues, but also to face down this Operation Relentless Surge that we are about to see in the coming year. So Brandon, I’m sure this will not be the last conversation we will have with you. We will definitely continue to watch not only your work, but what will happen with the Baltimore PD in the coming months with this operation. But thank you so much for joining me.
BRANDON WALKER: All right. Thank you for having me.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And thank you for watching. I am Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Washington, DC.