Executive Producer Eddie Conway attends the NAACP Criminal Justice Town Hall and speaks with Baltimore NAACP President Tessa Hill-Aston and Former Baltimore City Mayor Sheila Dixon about solutions to violence, poverty and unemployment
Eddie Conway: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway, coming to you from Baltimore. Baltimore is on pace for another record year of violence. Sheila Dixon: What happened to settling beefs by putting your fists up and fighting, like we did back in the day? Eddie Conway: It also continues ongoing police corruption, including a recent surfaced video from the public defenders office that shows officers planting drugs. It is these two problems that loom over the NAACP criminal justice reform town hall. Hassan Giordano: And just wanted to welcome you to our criminal justice town hall. A little sad and unfortunate, with the murder rate that we’re having in the city right now, and the crisis which we face, you would think this place would be packed, standing room only while we deal with solutions. Talking about our city of Baltimore. Eddie Conway: On the agenda is the Justice Department consent decree, and agreement that came after a report found that the Baltimore City Police Department engaged in racist and unconstitutional tactics. Sheila Dixon: Things are going all over the country, but here in Baltimore, I believe is the result of the federal government coming in and the city creating this consent decree that we’re going to see a difference, but we’ve got to deal with some basic fundamental issues that are affecting people. People are in pain in this city. Eddie Conway: Another topic is how to find solutions to make the system better and how to make the community safer. Hassan Giordano: We’re here tonight to deal with solutions, the solutions to many problems that not only do we just face in the city but what we face all across the country. Eddie Conway: We spoke to the president of Baltimore’s NAACP, Tessa Hill Aston, who has an innovative program to provide jobs. Tessa Hill Aston: Well we need to make things available and I know when you were in school and I was in school, there was apprenticeship. There was home ec. There was carpentry. Everybody is not cut out to go to college, even though we want them to, and if they do go to college, and they don’t get the job or they don’t finish, they need to have some other skills. Now one of the things that I am working on right now that I feel it’s the perfect time to ask me this question, are the gentleman that I know very well stopped in the office to see me and he is a licensed electrician. He just got certified to be an apprenticeship, to start an apprenticeship program. So within the next couple of weeks, by September, the NAACP of Baltimore City is going to sponsor him with bringing in whatever amount he wants for the first class. I don’t care if it’s ten or a dozen. I will ask people to sponsor the young men or women and we will put up money to get them an apprenticeship program and it’s going to be a NAACP apprenticeship program. We’re going to kick it off, a pilot program. That’s one way, and if someone comes in and say I would like to sign up, but I have a criminal record, then we’re going to say sit down. We’re going to do your expungement. We’re going to make that person eligible and qualified to get that skill. We start with this, and then we might do some more. It’s all about being proactive. I don’t mind being in the street and fighting for anything, but what we need to do is try to come up with solutions to fix the problem and help people. Eddie Conway: We also spoke to former Baltimore City mayor, Sheila Dixon. Dixon was the mayor of Baltimore from 2008 to 2010, when she pleaded guilty to an embezzlement charge involving stolen retail gift cards. Under her leadership, the city homicide rate dropped to a two decade low. It was the first drop the city had seen in 30 years. But the tactics of the Baltimore police department also came with criticism. Sprawling millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements for brutality. Sheila Dixon: Well first I was asked to be a part of a panel to talk about those areas that I focused on when I was there, and how I was able to reduce crime. As a citizen of this city, I think it’s important that we, one, hear from citizens, that we bring our ideas together, but that we come up with a comprehensive plan because we got to get out of the situation that we’re in and it seems like there’s no really good plan that’s really effective and we need to have that. I think I had a very effective holistic plan that could help. We can legislate our way out of this, or we can look at what we currently have on the books and enforce what we have. You know, this is just a point and fix because now the pressure is on city council and the mayor because there’s no plan, to come up with something and to eliminate what happens. We got to get out there in the street and talk to those individuals. That’s why Safe Streets was successful. We need to build on Safe Streets. Eddie Conway: Well let me ask you this though, because I don’t know what the statistics are about unemployment, but I understand that the unemployment rate in the black community in particular is very high and probably among teenagers it’s even higher but I don’t see any money being put toward getting jobs, making jobs available. Is this one of the factors that’s leading people to break the law? Sheila Dixon: It is a factor and I think that’s why we have to begin to work with our kids when they’re in school, before high school, in middle school, where we assess those individuals to determine whether or not they might be more suited for a particular trade or industry versus necessarily going on to college and connect them with those jobs early on, for internships, for training. Training is a big factor why people don’t have jobs, and the skills. I believe the jobs are out there, but we have to start sooner. We have to begin to work on a plan for individuals who have committed crimes and not hold that against them but give them a second change, to have an opportunity to be able to take care of themselves and their family. I guarantee you, most people who committing crimes don’t necessarily want to do that. They want to have a better life, but they need support and they need assistance in how to do that. I mean getting back to basic fundamental things. Eddie Conway: Tell me, what do you think of the consent decree? Sheila Dixon: Well I haven’t read all of it. I read the summary. It’s a mandate based on things that they found in our police department, with discrimination, brutality, a whole host of management issues. It’s here. Let’s deal with it, but while we’re dealing with that, there are other things that we can do. Yes, we have to do extra training for our police department. Management is an issue. We have to deal with sensitivity issues with police as relates to the community. We’ve got to gain their trust back. We can’t get rid of it, but it doesn’t necessarily have to dictate what we do as a city moving forward with police working in communities, giving back, bringing back that trust, so the citizens will trust our police and vice versa. Eddie Conway: I’m Eddie Conway. Thank you for joining The Real News.