Former City Council President Lawrence Bell, attorney A. Dwight Petit and TRNN Senior Editor Paul Jay discuss what public policy might address the underlying the crisis facing Baltimore
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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore, coming to you from our Baltimore studio. In our first segment we talked about these ongoing protests and the systemic issues that are really at the heart of these protests. But in this segment we want to talk about solutions, and break it down into sort of three parts. What can the community do now, what can the community do with their existing reality, and third would be if policy was in the interests of everyday people, what would it really look like? So to get to those issues, let’s turn to our panel. First we have Paul Jay, he’s the CEO and senior editor of The Real News. Also we have A. Dwight Pettit, he’s a civil rights attorney and constitutional attorney here in Baltimore. And Lawrence Bell, he’s a former City Council president. Thank you all for joining us. A. DWIGHT PETTIT, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Thanks for having us, Jessica. DESVARIEUX: So Lawrence, let’s start off with you. What can the community do now to address some of these systemic issues that we talked about earlier? LAWRENCE BELL, FMR. CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT: Well, the community has to develop an agenda. You know, that’s something that probably frankly has not happened enough, and I think–I put some of the blame on leadership. You know, we–an agenda simply saying, what is it that we want? Specifically, what do we want? And what are things that we can sell to the entire community, everybody can get behind? For example, right now when we look at the major issues that are facing the community, and we were just talking about this in the earlier segment, unemployment. I mean, tremendous unemployment in Baltimore City, and other cities like Baltimore around the country. So that ought to be at the top of our agenda. What can we do to create jobs? What can we do to create economic development in the community? How can we begin to take the resources from downtown and bring them uptown? These are kinds of things that we need to be very specific about, and we need to have demands related to those kinds of things. DESVARIEUX: What would be one of those demands? Give me a specific example. BELL: Well, I tell you what I’d like to see right now. I’d like to see, look, it’s the, we’re coming up on summer. That’s coming very soon. A lot of people are gonna be idle. There are people who have had issues in the past who want to get their lives together and so forth. We need a job program in Baltimore. We could do it. You know, it’s been done in other places. We need to keep rec centers open. Rec centers have been closed in recent years. There are businesses that we give tax benefits to, and land benefits to, and when I was on the Board of Estimates of Baltimore City years ago, one of my kind of contentions with the mayor at that time was, I said you know, any time we give land or money, tax benefits to businesses that locate into the city, industry that locates in the city, we should say that at least 50 percent of the jobs, of the hiring should be in that geographic area. Whether it be black, white, or whatever. The people who live in that area should benefit from that being there. Now, case in point right now. I’m not a big fan of gambling. I wasn’t a fan of gambling. But now it’s here in Baltimore, you have to look, what percentage of the jobs the new casino downtown are headed by people that live in the community? And if you don’t do that kind of thing you have a situation like Atlantic City, where there’s this wealth here on the boardwalk, but you go a few blocks away and the poverty’s just as bad as it’s ever been. So those are the kinds of things that we can start to talk about right now. DESVARIEUX: Okay. Dwight, what about you? What are some things the community can do now? PETTIT: Well if you’re asking about the community, I think right now the stars are probably in line for the community to assert itself in terms of the political situation in Baltimore City. The reason I say that is what makes 2016 different than any other year is because, whatever happened in Annapolis and what have you, but it aligned the mayoralty and city council elections with the presidential election. And so as a result we should have, historically, a tremendous turnout. And I think what we have to do right now in 2015 is begin to beat that drum, especially in light of what is happening in Baltimore City, as to what Lawrence is saying as to organizing, and making those demands on the basis that we are going to have where we normally have low turnout and what have you, we are going to be significant in the 2016 elections. And so we need to begin to formulate that agenda. And those persons who are going to adopt that agenda. And so I think he’s right on point, that this is the opportunity for the community to assert itself. And there’s no other way that I can think of at this point in time ’cause we don’t have the dollars. And so the only way to do that is politically. DESVARIEUX: Okay. Paul, what about you? PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Well, a few things. We have to start dealing with some of this prevailing idea that every solution has to come through the private sector. There’s been lots of jobs programs, summer programs where you kind of give some inducements to private businesses to do some employing. And it happens a little bit and for the summer, and then it goes away. You’re not going to make companies hire that it doesn’t make sense for them to hire. Even when it’s subsidized usually it’s only a partial subsidy. It’s clearly going to have to be done through the public sector. So we’re going to get over this craziness that denigrates the public sector, and make the public sector stronger, more vibrant. Yes, more efficient, less bureaucratic. So we got to start thinking about–like, an obvious no-brainer would be train young people how to renovate houses. Renovate boarded-up houses, and make them available to low-income families. It’s a no-brainer. You could have hundreds, perhaps even thousands of jobs, given the number of boarded-up houses in this city. Of course, that would be a fight. Real estate speculators don’t want low-income housing. They want what I said in the earlier segment, they want gentrification. But we’ve got to be willing to take on that fight. It’s the kind of demand the community should make. And I, again, it’s certainly a political thing. You know, and protests, even if they’re enormous, even if it’s in the tens of thousands, which one would hope one sees here sooner than later, in the final analysis it has to translate to who’s governing. So you have to start thinking about changing who’s governing. Because right now who’s governing, and even some who are there with the best of intentions, they’re caught up in this kind of system that’s beholden to real estate speculators and banking and the prevailing more powerful interests. When it comes to policing there’s short and long-term demands. Very short thing the community can do right now, I mean, one of the reasons the Freddie Gray story broke through is ’cause someone happened to take video of it. Well, on The Real News we’re gonna create a place where people should start sending videos. Like the whole place, city. Like, have even community patrols with cameras. Not just policing, too. I mean, there’s another issue here. It’s touchy, nobody really wants to talk about it in this situation. But people are also fed up with drug dealing. They are fed up with the criminality that makes it difficult to walk to a corner store and back. The underlying solution to that is the underlying social conditions, obviously, that have to be addressed. But they’re also short-term needs of just wanting to have your safer area. There’s a row, an area in Baltimore called [row] Street where they’ve had a violence interdiction of the community members. And they negotiated a deal amongst gangs not to fight over corners, and they’ve reduced murders from I think it was as much as 40 or 50 a year down to one. So the community–there’s things the community can do right now on its own to reduce violence and not request onerous policing. Because the over- and more strong policing is actually making the situation worse in most of the communities. It’s not really making it any safer. Mid-term demand, civilian review board, but not a review board. Something closer to the Toronto model that we aired on The Real News, which is an actual civilian management board. Where you elect a board, and that board hires and fires the police chief, that board negotiates with the union, and it has the power to really enforce community interests. And that’s an important mid-term, midway demand when it comes to policing. A longer–what we’re gonna try to do with The Real News, and I hope we’re a part of the solution–number one, we’re gonna try to create a media platform where you can have these kinds of conversations amongst thousands of people. Because you know, we’re talking off-camera, I was asking, well, why weren’t there 25,000 or 50,000 people at last Saturday’s protest? It was about 1,500. And 1,500’s considered good. But I don’t think, you know, a city this size, 1,500 ain’t that good. DESVARIEUX: It is a city of 600,000-plus people. JAY: But when you have a barrage of local television news and it’s constantly, like, thug, thug, thug, and they’re not talking about the need to make demands that actually change the underlying social conditions, well, you can understand why people think, well maybe I’ll just stay home. Because that protest really isn’t addressing the issues. So we have to–you know, we’re hoping we’re gonna help address the media problem. And then the other thing we’re gonna do is, we want to work with the community through town halls, investigative journalism, working with policy experts, people from the community, and answer this question you raised in the beginning. If you did have a government in Annapolis and in Baltimore whose only interest was effective policy in the interest of the majority of the people, what does that policy look like? Because I actually think if we elected, say, a very progressive slate of candidates, I’m not sure they’d know what to do. It’s not so easy. They’re very complicated problems, how to reform the school system, how to deal with policing and all that. So we’ve got to start working on a vision to fight for. So it’s not just we, you know, what’s wrong. Because kind of, people know what’s wrong. And we need to really develop policy. And just one final point. Maryland’s rich. Maryland is one of the richest states in the country. I think it actually has more multi-millionaires in Maryland than any state in the country. And this phobia about not paying taxes–this has to be addressed straight on. Wealthy people, people better off, you know, people have to start paying taxes willingly to deal with some of these issues and strengthen a public sector that can address the problems. Because you don’t want to threaten violence in all this, but there is a point where people get desperate, they act out. And if you don’t address the underlying issues, you reap what you sow. DESVARIEUX: Yeah. And here on The Real News we’re going to address those underlying issues. But gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us on this panel. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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