Mayoral Democratic primary winner Brandon Scott discusses calls to cut the Baltimore police budget to fund social programs, his approach to the drug war, and economic development in a city that’s long subsidized corporations at the expense of taxpayers.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Jaisal Noor: I’m Jaisal Noor for The Real News. I’m with Brandon Scott. He is the Baltimore City Council president, recently declared winner of the June 2nd Democratic Primary for mayor of Baltimore, and since Baltimore’s overwhelmingly Democratic, widely expected to be the next mayor of Baltimore City. Thank you so much for joining us.
Brandon Scott: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Jaisal Noor: You are 36-years-old, if you are elected you will become mayor in a city with so much promise, but that faces so many issues including a declining population, a high crime rate, former mayors who have faced corruption scandals, a police force that’s been enamored with corruption and abuse allegations. It seems like voters chose you, especially last minute voters chose you as someone that could overcome these challenges, and bring a new vision to city hall, and Baltimore.
How will you bring this change?
Brandon Scott: Well, listen. I think that you’re right the voters chose me for that reason because when voters chose me they chose someone who lived through all of that, who survived all of that, who survived living in a city that had 300 homicides every year, who survived having elected officials who forgot about the neighborhood that I grew up in, did not invest in our schools, allowed our police department to have some individuals who were doing the opposite of what their job is supposed to be, and some of those individuals end up being criminals.
And who better to actually right that ship? Who better to right those wrongs than someone who lived at the bottom of those wrongs, right? And I think that what we’re going to have to do it’s going to be tough. We know that my term in there probably won’t be pretty, and I said that often throughout the campaign telling folks that what I am not afraid to do is the right thing over the popular one, making the deep changes they have to have, changing the structure of how we operate our city government from top to bottom, putting in better systems, better policies, better practices, better people so that we can have a government that’s functioning in the best interest of all Baltimoreans and not some.
Jaisal Noor: So the recent killing of George Floyd by police has sparked now three weeks of nationwide protests that have brought real change in many cities, like Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York. Protesters in Baltimore wanted the police budget cut by half. They acknowledge that’s going to be a longterm goal. You identified, you said tens of millions of dollars that could be cut in the police budget in upcoming years, but the city council only cut 22 million dollars from the police budget. What do you tell the people that wanted more cut from the police?
Brandon Scott: What I would tell you is that first things first. This I’ve always said, right? Before George Floyd, they can pull a tape, and the budget last year I said that systematically over time we’re going to have to start to reduce the city’s dependence on BPD, but we have to do that in a way that’s responsible, and when you even look, and the individuals, look at Los Angeles for example, if you actually talk to elected officials and people there about what they’re proposing they will tell you that they have no idea how they’re going to do it, right?
It’s about making sure that we’re going to be responsible, that we will do that over time, that we will do it in a way that honors that we the city council asked for a consent decree, and we have to abide by that, and meet those regulations that we also understand that we have to fund the current commission funding that are coming, and that we also have a city that is still grappling with violent crime
And what we’re going to do, this is why Jaisal that I asked the sitting mayor to join me in appointing a group of people to study how we can actually do that responsibly over the next term so that when the new mayor and council take office in December that they have that right in front of them. It’s not going to be an easy thing. It’s going to be tough decisions that have to be made. We’re going to have to make sure that we’re abiding by rules and regulations including contracts, and things that the city have already entered into that we will be very weary about breaking, but we will do it, and we will do it responsibly over time so that we can reimagine public safety in Baltimore, and as I was the first elected official to say that public safety will no longer simply be about policing, but will be a public health issue, and we will attack it from every way, and this is just the beginning of that.
This is the beginning. And I will also point out that that 22 million was in addition to the 17 that the police commissioner cut himself.
Jaisal Noor: And so, talk about what programs you want to fund instead, we know that Safe Streets, which has been credited with reducing homicides by 50% or higher. Two sources told me they still face a budget deficit of $225,000 due to a veto by Governor Larry Hogan. What is your plan? Will you increase funding to programs like Safe Streets?
Brandon Scott: Well, listen, we know that Safe Streets is a program that I favor, right? I’m the person that saved it from being eliminated it by former mayor Pugh, and we’re not only going to build to expand it, but help their program grow, to grow to not just being interceding in violence, but providing opportunities for those people to change their life around. We know that we have to invest in how we deal with trauma. We should be sending trauma clinicians out to the scene of these homicides, and shootings, to deal with, with those families.
We have to do deep invest into building better children and families, so when you think about family strength and training programs, dealing with our young people, expressly those at a younger age, identifying who are the most likely to be the victims, or perpetrator, of violence. We know that the data is there. We also have to build in our health department. We know the most important policy thing facing the state of Maryland is funding our schools through the current commission, and we will meet our half, and we will also expand things like recreational parks, job training, workforce development, true workforce development, true reentry, not waiting for those individuals to come home, but going into the prisons and working with them.
We have to reimagine everything that the city does as we move forward.
Jaisal Noor: So the NYPD just announced the disbanding of their plain clothes unit. One report found that unit was responsible for 30% of fatal shootings in the last two decades. Do you think that’s something as mayor you would consider doing in Baltimore?
Brandon Scott: Well, listen, I’m open to change, right? And what I would have to do once becoming mayor is actually having a conversation with the police commissioner, looking at the data, I’m a data guy, to see how we should move forward, but also I will also point out remember that I’m someone who’s pushing us to think about drug policy in a different way, right? Who said in my crime plan that we have to go to decriminalizing other areas of drugs, that we need to legalize marijuana in Maryland, because we have to reimagine what we’re doing, and even to how we’re doing drug treatment.
I’m the person that’s pushing overdose prevention sites and a harm reduction approach. Here in Baltimore, all of that has to be considered, and reconsidered as a package, and not just one off thing. A change in one agency’s approach is not changing the system. We have to change this total system.
Jaisal Noor: So speaking of the drug war there was a proposal to cut funding for the BPD’s drug enforcement. I understand you voted against that. Can you talk to me about why?
Brandon Scott: Yeah. You’re not going to eliminate the war on drugs by eliminating one place of the budget. Again, this is a comprehensive thing that needs to be done, right? Stopping one unit from doing it is not stopping the entire police department from doing it, and I understand what my colleagues have said, and I said to them yesterday, and I said at that hearing we have to again focus on how we’re going to change that kind of policy from top to bottom, and also understand what some citizens in Baltimore are living in due to what’s going on with drugs.
That’s why I keep saying to everyone reimagine. I think that Mayor Schmoke was way ahead of his time. Re-imagining how we deal with drug policy from top to bottom is the only way. That is not something that I believe we should take one piece of the pie. We have to take the whole pie.
Jaisal Noor: So before the election we did a whole interview on your proposals for reforming-
Brandon Scott: That was before.
Jaisal Noor: -the city government. We talked extensively on that, but I wanted to ask you specifically about an audit of the Baltimore Police Department. We know that hasn’t happened in years on other agencies. Is that something that you will commit to?
Brandon Scott: Well, actually, yes, and it’s going to happen. So this past session I helped by testifying in support of a piece of legislation by my good friend Senator Cory McCray that’s going to make the state audit, BPD, because it is a state agency, and it’s my understanding that the first one will begin in July 1st, so not only do I support it, I supported it before anyone knew what was happening. I did that without people saying it, but we absolutely have to audit it, and I’m glad that the senator and other folks have stepped up to make sure as well, and we’ll push to have another one done at the city level.
Jaisal Noor: And I wanted to ask you, you were talking about economic development, and I wanted to ask you a couple questions about that. So Baltimore has a thriving worker cooperative scene. Many other cities are directly investing in their cooperatives. From my understanding Baltimore has not spent a single dollar to uplift their own worker cooperatives right here in Baltimore. Is that something you will to commit to?
Brandon Scott: Absolutely. It’s actually in my economic development plan. We know that we have to grow worker cooperatives. I actually talked about in this budget too thinking about how we can grow other evolving economies here, doing what we did for the Emerging Technology Center, we should do that for the made in Baltimore worker’s space kind of area. Those are the kind of things that we have to do moving forward.
Jaisal Noor: So critics have said Baltimore City relies too much on an economic development plan that subsidizes wealthy developers at the cost of working people in the city. They point to deals like Port Covington, which critics say was rushed through four years ago, because backers said it had to be done fast. Do you think this was a mistake? And do you think that the city should reconsider its commitment to this? Because there’s a vote happening Wednesday. We know we don’t know all the details yet, but taxpayers could be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars as part of this deal.
Brandon Scott: Well, I think, listen, I don’t do revisionist history, right? I don’t like to go back and blame people. I know that there were a mix of opinions. You had community organizations like Build, who are well-respected in the city, very happy with the deal. You have other folks that were not, and I think that what I’m going to do is make a decision based off of the information that I’m going to be given, and actually right after your interview today we’re going to have a briefing about that moving forward.
But regardless of what happens what I’m going to do as mayor is hold them accountable, and make sure that every single dollar that the city gives them, or doesn’t give them, that they’re going to be accountable for that, right? That’s the system that we’re going to have. We know that what’s happening with the system and the Board of Estimates there’s nothing I can do to stop this from happening at this point.
It’s about how we can hold people accountable. It’s about how we make sure that they live up to the things that are in that deal, that they live up to the hiring requirements that they have, the local hiring requirements, that they live up to all the other things, and then moving forward the things that I will be in control of as the mayor will be done in a more equitable way. It’ll be done in a way of equity that we are investing in neighborhoods that have been forgotten in Baltimore, right?
That’s where we should be seeing the incentives go. That’s how we’re going to operate, and that’s how we’re going to govern under Brandon Scott.
Jaisal Noor: And finally, last question. You talked about forgotten neighborhoods. What’s your message to people that have lost faith in the government doing anything positive for them, that for decades the government policy has been used as a weapon against them instead of uplifting them, or working with them? What do you say to them today?
Brandon Scott: That that’s going to change, right? That they don’t have to believe me, but they can watch and see, right? Because we’re going to start to change the way the city operates. That’s why I passed that equity law, and now I’m going to be very excited to actually implement it, and it’s going to make a lot of people upset who are used to the status quo, and what I’m going to need from them is I’m going to need them to stand with me when I change it, when I break down the status quo, when I say, no, we’re going to invest in these neighborhoods.
There are people who are going to say, “No. We shouldn’t.” I’m going to need them to stand up by my side and say this is the right thing to do because we’ve been forgotten for far too long.
Jaisal Noor: All right. Council President Brandon Scott. Thank you so much for joining us.
Brandon Scott: Thank you.
General Assignment Reporter
Jaisal is a host, producer, and reporter for TRNN. With his expertise in education policy and systemic inequity, he focuses on Baltimore, Maryland. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent.
Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years.