Baltimore City is not interested in making the necessary, community-focused changes to the Baltimore Police Department. While most of that is due to a lack of political will, some of it is because police reform is designed to empower and enrich the very department many have called to defund. Supporting changes to police means ensuring nothing drastically changes when it comes to policing—but so many things need to drastically change.
Just this week, Johns Hopkins University announced it was continuing with its years-long plan to form its own armed private police force to patrol its campuses, nearby areas, and the numerous areas of the city under control of the university, including majority-Black neighborhoods the university has had a hand in redeveloping and gentrifying.
In response to this plan, introduced in early 2018, Hopkins students and residents in the area that would be policed by Hopkins began organizing against the private police force. The bill to allow Hopkins to establish its own police force was approved by the Maryland Senate in April 2019. In response, students occupied a Hopkins building, Garland Hall, for more than a month in protest—until Baltimore Police were called in to break down the doors, pull the remaining activists out, and arrest them. Plans for the university’s police force continued moving forward until June 12, 2020, when the university, in response to the police murder of George Floyd on May 25, announced that said plans would be put on a two-year pause.
Well, those plans have been unpaused—and the university even hired Branville Bard, Jr., the police commissioner for the Cambridge Police Department in Massachusetts, as the “vice president for safety.” Last year, around the same time that Hopkins announced it was pausing its police force, Bard told the citizens of Cambridge that his department did not have any “military equipment.” In August of the same year, the Boston Globe revealed that, in fact, Cambridge Police was in possession of 64 M4 assault rifles, sniper rifles, and an armored vehicle.
The Coalition Against Policing at Hopkins (CAPH) criticized renewed plans to form the armed private police force.
“This is clearly an abuse of the [two]-year ‘pause’ and the dismantled community advisory board,” CAPH told the JHU Newsletter. “To create a special internal board for this hire while eliminating mechanisms for accountability is a direct attack on the community members who have stood up in opposition of the creation of [the] JHPD.”
The return of Hopkins’ private police force arrives a month or so after the Baltimore City Council voted to increase the Baltimore Police Department budget. As Battleground Baltimore has reported, this year’s Taxpayer’s Nights saw over 100 citizens telling the city not to increase the BPD budget by $28 million. The City Council, however, didn’t listen to residents, voting unanimously to provide that budget increase. Even if the council had voted to reduce the police budget, the federal consent decree the city has been under as a result of the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in 2015 could force them to maintain the planned police budget. It’s something members of the council have told organizers and activists privately (often after they’ve been publicly criticized for not defunding) and was recently echoed by Councilperson Zeke Cohen in the press.
“The court can levy fines against your city,” Cohen told Baltimore Magazine. “And you’re forced to pay.”
Judge James K. Bredar, who oversees the implementation of the consent decree, has become especially vocal lately, criticizing Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s decarceral policies. Earlier this year, Mosby’s announced that her office will not be prosecuting drug possession, sex work, trespassing, and a number of other low-level crimes. The implication by Bredar, who has claimed that these policies reduce police “authority,” is that progressive policies are bad for police which is bad for the consent decree.
At the same time, the city has asked for federal agents to assist the BPD in its policing operations, and the department has continued with its plan to encrypt the police scanner—reducing the public’s ability to see how its frequently out-of-control department operates.
The department’s storied history of corruption, meanwhile, continues. In June, a police officer who has not yet been named ran over a 16 year-old teen with a police vehicle, and earlier this month, Baltimore police officer Eric Banks was charged with the murder of his teenage son, whose body the officer also hid in the wall of his home.
On July 16, BPD officer Maxwell Dundore was indicted for assaulting a 17 year-old by throwing him to the ground, choking, and kicking him.
“I will choke you. I will kill you,” Dundore told the teen.
Sergeant Brendan O’Leary was also charged for lying about the incident involving Dundore.
The mayor’s violence prevention plan
Mayor Brandon Scott held a series of press events last Friday related to the release of his violence prevention plan.
“Never before has Baltimore developed a holistic public safety strategy, one that aims to treat gun violence as a public health crisis,” the plan reads.
At the same time, the plan states that “policing, prosecution, and prisons cannot stem the tide of violence on their own,” nodding to Scott’s understanding of gun violence as a public health crisis. The plan lays out so-called social determinants of health: economic stability; education; health and healthcare; neighborhood and built environment; and social and community context.
These are all things that Black people in Baltimore have been systematically denied for generations.
There are details in the plan about community building, providing additional support for victims of violence, developing effective community-based approaches to public safety such as violence intervention programs (Scott plans to triple the number of violence intervention programs from 10 to 30), and the like. According to the mayor’s office, the plan’s success will be measured by (1) the percentage of 911 calls diverted away from the police, (2) the number of Black youth diverted to alternatives to the prison-industrial machine, (3) the number of Black youth given additional social supports, and (4) the number of mediations performed by violence interrupters.
Scott has given himself roughly five years to achieve some measures of success—including a promised 15% reduction of violence each year: “The Mayor undertakes this work with a sense of urgency and commitment to making improvements along the way,” the plan states, “while building the systems, structures, and relationships necessary for the successful implementation of this 5-year plan. While this work will not be complete by Year 5, we expect that instances of violence will be rarer and non-recurring, relative to today.”
It would be easier for us to believe that this could happen (and we do want this to happen) if we had not already seen evidence that this administration remains committed to dancing around the need to substantively address policing rooted in anti-Blackness.
The plan ignores the fact that violence committed by the police and the State’s Attorney’s Office still counts as violence. When the police hit a suspect they are pursuing with a car, that is violence. When young people are held without bail, that is violence. And that violence extends beyond the individual who is victimized by the violence—it reaches into their families and communities.
The plan does give a nod to the fact that police can be problematic, but provides the same limp solutions that have been tried again and again. There is, of course, no mention of taking funds away from police to put toward other things that could help stop violence in more tangible ways. According to the report, much of the funding for the measures suggested would come from American Rescue Plan funding, the state, and philanthropy. Here’s a list of all the mechanisms that are planned to keep police accountable:
“Integrity test report outs, audit findings, community engagement on matters of accountability and transparency, diversity numbers in employees that are working on the consent decree, caseload numbers for the Public Integrity Bureau (PIB), status of investigations within the established timelines, categories of investigations, tallies of how complaints are being made, timely responses to community members, training all officers in internal affairs, top 50 officers with complaints, internal responses to frequently complained-of officers, frequency of early intervention systems (EIS), rate of mediations offered/accepted, and the number of internal affairs cases that missed investigation deadline 90-day, 180-day, and one-year cut-offs.”
As abolitionist and organizer Mariame Kaba has written, there are no mechanisms that can end the kind of policing that harms Black people. There is no Officer Friendly.
“I know that indictments won’t and can’t end oppressive policing, which is rooted in anti-Blackness, social control, and containment,” Kaba wrote in her blistering 2014 In These Times essay “Whether Darren Wilson is Indicted or Not, the Entire System is Guilty. “Policing is derivative of broader social justice. It’s impossible for non-oppressive policing to exist in a fundamentally oppressive and unjust society.”
Baltimore’s State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby was front and center at the first press event held to announce the launch of the plan. The online version of the plan includes cheerful visuals of Police Commissioner Michael Harrison fist-bumping citizens. Much like a toxic family relationship, Scott’s plan asks citizens to embrace the very entities that have harmed them.
Baltimore’s plastic recycling rate is abysmal, new report finds.
Baltimore burns more than 20 times the plastic it recycles, according to a new report by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). Using publicly available data, researchers found the city recycles just 2.1% of plastic waste and incinerates nearly 50%, while the rest is landfilled.
The oil industry scammed and misled the public into believing more plastic can be recycled than is actually possible, but the rate at which Baltimore is able to recycle its plastics is far lower than the national average or the four other cities researchers surveyed: Detroit, MI; Long Beach, CA; Minneapolis, MN; and Newark, NJ. The #BreakFreeFromPlastic campaign has launched a petition that calls for non-recyclable plastic to be banned, the banning of waste incineration, and for plastic manufacturers to be held responsible for disposing of their products.
“While residents’ and workers’ call for Zero Waste has never been louder, we also face an unprecedented challenge in the plastics production boom that imposes toxics into our daily lives from the moment we are born,” Shashawnda Campbell of the South Baltimore Community Land Trust (SBCLT), which help release the report, told Battleground Baltimore.
SBCLT tweeted “Look forward to reviewing the findings of the new report on plastic waste pollution with @BaltimoreDPW, @MayorBMScott and City Council. Burning and burying 96% of plastics in Baltimore is a major problem for all of us. #ZeroWaste.”
In response to a request for comment, the city shared the overall recycling rate, but did not respond directly to the findings of the report.
James Bentley, Director of Communications Department of Public Works, said via email that “21.55% is the 2019 recycling rate as measured by the Maryland Recycling Act (MRA). Our data on private recycling is dependent on voluntary reporting from private entities, so this is not a very accurate measurement and actual numbers may be higher.”
Bentley also claimed the report falsely asserts Baltimore does not have a citywide recycling collection program. It doesn’t quite say that, though. Page 33 of the report criticizes the efficacy of the plan, stressing that the program does not “guarantee access” for all of Baltimore:
“Baltimore does not have a citywide recycling collection program that guarantees access to all residents and results in more plastic that could be recycled going to the incinerator.”
But Greg Sawtell of SBCLT noted that “many public housing residents do not have the option to participate in the city’s recycling program and many renters are excluded due lack of enforcement of city requirements for landlords to provide recycling at their units.”
According to the report, more than a third of non-recyclable plastic in Baltimore is plastic “film,” primarily plastic wrap and plastic bags. The city has a ban on plastic bags on the books, but earlier this year, Mayor Brandon Scott delayed the city’s plastic bag ban until October, citing the economic hardships resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and stating that more time was needed to educate the public.
In June, in the hopes of increasing the percentage of plastic and other materials that are recycled, Baltimore launched a $9.5 million dollar public-private partnership to modernize the city’s recycling program, to educate the public about what can be recycled, and to provide households with free recycling carts. But activists say that’s not enough—they want the city to stop burning plastic and end its contract with the BRESCO incinerator.
Producing and burning plastic contributes the equivalent pollution of 189 new coal-burning power plants every year, a 2019 study by the Center of International and Environmental law found. The U.S. is a leader in generating and burning plastic waste, according to a 2020 study published in ScienceAdvances.
“When [plastics] are burned, residues go into the air just like the exhaust from cars, trucks, and smokestacks. Besides contributing to climate change, this leads to a range of health issues from asthma to heart disease to cancer to developmental disorders in children,” Dan Morhaim of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility said in a press conference launching the report. “Is it any wonder that these diseases are all on the rise?”
Incinerating plastics poses an environmental hazard, especially to the South Baltimore neighborhoods that border Baltimore’s BRESCO incinerator, which activists have long campaigned to close down, citing disproportionate public health impacts on Black and working-class residents. One in five Baltimore school students have asthma, twice the national average.
The SBELT’s Campbell called for an end to burning plastics.
“With new information coming to light on the particular public health harms caused by the burning of high volumes of single use plastics, now is the time to end this reckless practice,” Campbell said in a press release. “In Baltimore, we are calling for a ban on burning plastic at the BRESCO incinerator as we work alongside a global movement of communities, workers and governments to end the production of single use plastics that pose unacceptable risks to our ecosystems and the planet future generations have a right to call home.”