The Real Baltimore: Communities, Not Police Hold the Key to Halting Violence
Only stable communities empowered with the necessary resources can stop Baltimore’s out of control violence, say Retired Deputy Police Commissioner Tony Barksdale, law enforcement veteran Neill Franklin, Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, Rose Street Community Center’s Clayton Guyton, and clinical psychologist Kevin McCamant
Jaisal Noor: This is The Real Baltimore, and I’m your host Jaisal Noor. Bodies are piling up in Baltimore with a soaring homicide and violent crime rate that’s leaving broken families and shattered communities in its wake. Some of called for increase in more aggressive policing. But others say it’s time to take a more careful look at programs like Safe Streets that hires ex-offenders to interrupt violence before it starts. In a moment we’ll be joined by our expert panel, but first here’s a quick report.
Baltimore’s reputation as one of the country’s most violent cities has been difficult to change. Despite spending nearly 30% of its discretionary budget on safety, including almost half a billion annually on policing alone, cops, and courts. There’s been little successes in budging the city’s perch atop the list of the country’s most violent. Which is why city leaders have started turning to programs like Safe Streets, an alternative approach to reducing violence.
Gary Mashburn: We’re not armed with weapons, we armed with knowledge. You’re awful street-wise.
Jaisal Noor: Which enlists people from the community, not cops, to act as peacemakers.
Gary Mashburn: We are trainers also. The training’s cultivated what we already knew and learned. What I was groomed for in the street. When I first came out, I was telling my friend, I was like, “I don’t have no resume.” He said, “You are your resume.”
Jaisal Noor: Safe Streets’ Gregory Mashburn talks about his unique qualifications.
Gary Mashburn: Since the age of 15 to the age of 34 I’ve been shot 14 times. Four separate occasions. Stabbed 20 times. Throat cut with a strait-razor my chin to my ear. 17 and a half years in prison. Had attempted murders, armed robberies, drugs.
Jaisal Noor: The program is administered by the city’s health department. Agency Director Leana Wen says, “The idea is to tackle violence the problem of public health, not criminal justice.”
Leana Wen: Because we know that violence is something that spreads. We know that it’s infectious. We know that it creates fear and havoc among people and communities, and just like infectious diseases, it’s something that can be prevented.
Speaker 2: And according to studies, including one in 2012 by Johns Hopkins University, it has done just that.
Leana Wen: And not only is it stopping violence, but it’s also giving an opportunity to individuals who otherwise would have trouble finding employment. Many of the individuals we hire as the violence interrupters, they also do have criminal records themselves, but we really think it’s important to find people who’ve walked in their shoes, but also we think it’s important to give people another chance.
Jaisal Noor: But despite the appearance of success, funding is a challenge. The city employs just 18 violence interrupters, a deficiency that is raising questions about why programs like Safe Streets are chronically underfunded. And why there isn’t a larger emphasis on creating jobs in disinvested neighborhoods, while decreasing policies like the War on Drugs that drive mass incarceration.
This year Safe Streets lost its $1.5 million budget, but was saved after last-minute negotiations by the City Council. Meanwhile, police overtime was expanded by $18 million on top of the $17 million already set aside for overtime and nearly half a billion operating budget. What could programs like Safe Streets do if they received that money instead? Could they help stop the city’s soaring violence before it happens? I invited Safe Streets to join the discussion, but they declined.
Now joining us in our studio is Tony Barksdale. He’s a retired deputy commissioner of Baltimore police from ’07 to ’12. He designed a violence model that reduced arrests and lowered homicides and shootings. We have retired Major Neill Franklin, 33-year law enforcement veteran. Current head of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership. Councilwoman Shannon Sneed serving her first term representing the 13th district. Clayton Guyton who is the director of the Rose Street Community Center, which provides shelter, housing, mentoring, and violence prevention, and intervention between gangs. And Kevin McCamant, a clinical psychologist with the Black Diamond Project that works with gunshot victims in Baltimore, as well as the Rose Street Community Center.
I wanted to start with you, Tony. The city has spent almost, something like $7 billion on policing in the last two decades. The level of violence, the number of homicides … We’re in the same place as we were 20 years ago. Is it time to look more carefully at violence reduction models, programs, like Rose Street, like Safe Streets?
Tony Barksdale: Absolutely. If anyone is willing to participate to drop violence in Baltimore city, you have to have an open mind to it. I’m hearing the success on Rose Street. I know that Safe Streets’ can claim success in various locations across the city. And also, you have other community members that want to help, but aren’t plugged in. It’s time to be open and honest about what works, and what doesn’t work. I’m willing to hear any options at this time.
Jaisal Noor: And Mr. C, you run a violence prevention program, you help stop youths that turn deadly. Talk about how that happens, and you’ve seen some success in Row Street, which is on the 13th district, which is councilman Shannon Sneed’s district. How does it work? And what can the rest of the city learn from what you’re doing?
Clayton Guyton: It works with communication. Communicating with the teenagers. Having activities with them. Sitting down and talking to them. They’re sharing with you, you’re sharing with them. Partner-shipping with older people in the community, ’cause their sons, or their grandsons, or granddaughters is out in the street. Every relationship is valued. And there is no such thing as dis-relationship. It is only 50% of our community. Every relationship is worth 100, and so that gives everybody an opportunity to buy-in, and encourage other other ones to be a part of this. And when grandmother call her sons in and said, “Hey, you shouldn’t do this,” we said, “Grandmamma thank you.”
And rarely do anybody else thank grandmother for what she’s done. She just saved two people lives. And we acknowledge that. “Grandmother, what is it that you want us to do? You want a cookout on your block? You got that.” And so the takeaway lesson from what we do, in terms of prevention, is communication. There is, it’s very difficult to say to somebody, “Look, don’t do that if you don’t know their mother. You don’t know somebody in their family, their uncle, somebody.” Well, yesterday we just had an uncle and a nephew came up. Situation that was getting ready to go to the maximum point about it. It’s about that communication, valuing each person. Not looking down on anyone, even if they out there selling drugs. It doesn’t matter. You’re all a part of our community. May not condone what you’re doing, but at the end of the day, why? We all came out alive, and we all go home alive.
Jaisal Noor: Now we’re experiencing a record homicide rate. Safe Streets’ funding was almost completely lost this year, and as a result of the increase in homicides, increase in violence, the city police department has stepped up patrols, 12 hour shifts. Increased policing. Is that a good solution?
Tony Barksdale: It’s part of a solution. But here we are, again, putting resources at the back end of the problem. We have to continue with our efforts to move resources to the front-end of the problem. You heard Mr. C talk about family. That is the front-end of the problem. If we don’t support organizations that support families, that do the work with family units. He talked about talking and communicating with the teenagers. And it goes beyond that. It goes down to early childhood development and support. But we continue to build our resources on the back-end of the problem. The police can’t solve this crime issue, this violent crime issue in our city.
The community is the only one that can solve it. Community is family. We need to put those resources there. Decade, after decade, after decade, we’ve been dumping more and more resources, more overtime funding, more federal grands, more state grants, into public safety. Into our police departments. And what we have learned is that it doesn’t work. If you really want to be effective in reducing violent crime in the city, long term, not for one year, not for two years, but long term, from here forward, you have to put those resources into the community, into our kids. Things for our kids to do. Healthcare, education, housing, nutrition, it’s multifaceted. And maybe we’re finally seeing this, but I don’t know. With this recent budget, and overtime money grant to the police budget, I’m not sure.
Shannon Sneed: We should have had you at some of our hearings.
Tony Barksdale: I’m still available.
Jaisal Noor: Councilwoman Sneed, you really ran on a platform, you won on a platform about prioritizing families and rebuilding communities in the 13th district, which has been hit hard by the drug war, and by violence. And you helped, you were part of an effort that saved funding for Safe Streets, and requested the Mayor re-prioritize some of the other funding towards education. Violence is unabated in this city. How do you evaluate our current policies?
Shannon Sneed: Just based on us being able to stand together so we could get the money, so it could go to Safe Streets, so it could go to after-school program, yeah, I feel we are on the right track. We just need more of what you’re talking about. More funding to go into some of their pipelines of education, and job training. All the things that happen before getting shot, before getting murdered. To me, that’s where we come in, again, as a community, to really speak out to what we want to see in Baltimore city. And so, hopefully, we saw parents coming out and saying, “No, education is a priority to me. It’s a priority to my family. Hey, I don’t get off work until five and six o’ clock, and these after-school programmings, they help my family because they feed my children, they help-
Jaisal Noor: That was also on the chopping block.
Shannon Sneed: Yeah, they help with, you know, homework. My kids learn how to play chess. We talk about raising, it takes a village to raise a child. That’s where the village comes in, and that’s a lot of times, the first part is the education piece. That school safety part. I believe that we’re on our right track, I just believe that we have to put more money where our mouth is. If we say families are important to us, education is important to us, let’s put our resources and money there.
Jaisal Noor: Kevin, you’re a clinical psychologist. Talk about the trauma in communities that you work with. And does that, does the existing trauma that people experience, what role does that play in perpetuating the ongoing violence? And does that also need to be addressed as a public health issue?
Kevin McCamant: Well, it definitely, it does need to be addressed, and it’s profound and ubiquitous. I mean, my personal experience was that … When I started just coming down and spending time in the community, walking around, getting to know people. That the atmosphere was absolutely toxic. I became depressed, it’s like a vicarious traumatization. So you have lead pipes, you have lead paint, that’s a, I mean you guys reported on that.
Jaisal Noor: Lead poisoning is a huge problem.
Kevin McCamant: Yeah, a huge problem, and the cognitive and developmental impairment that comes from that. Then living in an atmosphere that on the one hand carries the constant threat of being abused by law enforcement officers, on the one hand. And being threatened by peers on the other hand. That’s extraordinarily traumatic. And it’s a chronic problem that creates, I mean, it has a physiological impact on brain development, which impairs the ability to attend, and concentrate. And so then you add in to that other issues that have to do with single parenthood. Particularly mothers who are … Well, fathers who are incarcerated. Mothers who have responsibility for, sometimes, several children, but also to work. The lack of supervision that comes from that, which then translates into indiscipline in kids, so that they can’t get places they need to be on time. Simple things like that. The ability to concentrate and direct your attention. The ability to get where you need to be in a timely fashion, and stick to a challenge, to overcome it. These are the kinds of impact that this sort of environment has.
Jaisal Noor: Tony you’ve been a lifelong Baltimore resident. We know that Baltimore is ground-zero for mass incarceration of mostly black people. We’ve seen it, we’ve seen the schools here underfunded. Many of them are crumbling. How do we break the cycle of violence when the city leaders … I mean, the council is on the page, but it doesn’t seem like many people are talking about addressing what we’re talking about here, which is the underlying, the root problems, and not just the homicides and the crime, which seems to be as a result of all these underlying factors.
Tony Barksdale: Well first let me, I need to go back with Safe Streets. What I’m saying is I support that there are people willing to try to help. But when we look at a crime where a guy shoots and kills another guy, and you have information about it, and the detectives need to close this case to break a cycle of violence in that community. I wish that they would talk to the police department. And in certain neighborhoods where I know there’s ongoing violence, the police cannot talk to them. And I understand they need their street cred to even be productive, but there are times where the police department could really use that information, that intelligence. Me personally, I like seeing individual citizens that have grown up right there in that community running the show. That’s just me, and it’s no offense to anyone, but I would much rather see people like Mr. C running that neighborhood. Just me. As far as arrests, I’ve seen contests between squads to see who could arrest the first hundred people that day. You talk mass arrest, that’s what I’ve seen.
Jaisal Noor: Zero tolerance.
Tony Barksdale: I don’t even know if they called it that. It was a competition. I don’t even think they thought that far. I mean, I was around for this, and during that time I said that this was the wrong way to go, and you don’t understand, it’s not only internal pressure. The pressure from those in City Hall who thought this was the way to go. I’m at a point where I’m willing to risk being demoted, fired, whatever, but that couldn’t go on. What it’s going to take is somebody internally to be honest and say, “Are we wrong, or are we right? Are we treating the citizens fairly?”
There’s a street term, play fair. If you play fair as a cop, they understand if you make the arrest. They understand if you tell them, “Go in the house. Stop fighting,” all of that. That’s where you want to be as a police officer, known to play fair. And when you start just locking everybody up, or you pull up and you can put the whole block down, “Everybody get on the ground.” That’s not what you do. You really have to be willing to look, and say, “What have we done right? Are we treating the citizen right? Are we focused on the right criminals? And are we getting the job done?”
Kevin McCamant: You know, many of the families in the communities that we’re talking about have had multiple members who have gone through incarceration in the state of Maryland. I worked in the prison system for 22 years as a psychologist, and I can tell you nothing good comes out of that. There are some remarkable people who have managed to use that time to develop themselves and grow, and as they say, better themselves, you know. But it really is against the flow of … I mean, there aren’t jobs, there aren’t treatment programs. If you go on the public safety website it will say that there is all of this stuff, but I’ve been in most of the prisons in Maryland. I’ve known most of the people who would be providing those services, and I can tell you that they are not there, and to the extent that they are there, they aren’t of the quality that they need to be. I think there’s a feeling on the part of the public that, you know, “The last thing I want to have happen to anybody, really, is that they get arrested and put into this meat grinder.”
Clayton Guyton: I like the concept of playing fair. The police, it sounds like they don’t have a clue about playing. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not all of them. You got maybe one out of ten that will play fair. Then you got the rest of them play dumb, right? For instance, we clean up our neighborhood. Been doing it for over ten years. The other day, an officer came this close to arresting me. He said, “Why is you putting all that garbage right there?” I said, “Officer,” I almost called his name, I’m not gonna say it, “We’ve been doing this for 12 years. We’ve been putting this garbage right here for 12 years.”
He said, “Well, it doesn’t look good.” We get it out of the allies. We actually assisting the city in doing that job. The city provides a roll-off to us twice a week as any kind of contribution. And when they come, rows [inaudible 00:21:24] put this garbage in the roll-off. He went through his questions and all that and then he didn’t understand. You have police that’s just plain dumb. All right? And until we get to that point where the fairness come in, and they treat us like they would treat anybody in any other community-
Jaisal Noor: And you’re someone that’s in the community helping stop violence, helping stop murders. I know you want to get-
Clayton Guyton: Doesn’t mean nothing to them.
Jaisal Noor: I know you want to get a response in to that.
Tony Barksdale: Yes I do. With all of the violence going on in this city, there’s no time for that. That shows me, what’s the focus? We have a community member putting out trash. What’s the problem? When you have homicides, and shootings, and robberies, and rapes. The focus is not there. That’s a prime example. You get a grip on the crime, talk to the man about his trash. “Sir, what you doing out here? What’s going on? Can I help you?” It’s that simple. That example shows me that there is a problem with the focus right now. And although he is doing very well in his area, there are plenty of areas that aren’t in that district.
Shannon Sneed: Yes.
Tony Barksdale: Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m sorry.
Clayton Guyton: Yeah, in her district.
Shannon Sneed: Yes, especially when he’s talking about drug markets. What did he say? Open-air drug markets. And that all happens in our district. Yeah, their worried about trash when we want folks to worry about-
Jaisal Noor: And Neill, I wanted to get you in because this is something we have been talking about for years now. We’ve been talking about the Department of Justice report. We’ve been talking about the case and the six officers charged with Freddie Gray’s death. You testified in that case. And we’re talking about open-air drug markets. These are all symptoms of this same problem.
Neill Franklin: Absolutely. I mean, I hope people who are listening to this, I hope they’re capable of putting all this together. And it’s not very difficult to do. And we’ve talked about the war on drugs, which has led to these very, very minor possession arrests by the tens of thousands, by the millions over the years in Baltimore city. And, which feeds this problem that we’re talking about here regarding police and community. But let’s just put that aside for a second, the war on drugs, and go back to what we hear about the families and the police-community relations and that type of communication that’s not happening the way it should on a positive level. And I know Tony will back me on this, again, the community is the only entity that can solve the violent crime.
Jaisal Noor: And what we haven’t talked about yet, which is obviously really important, is the fact that, in cities like Baltimore, black communities have been denied the wealth that white communities have. With, going back a hundred years to the fair housing act, to the New Deal, poverty has been concentrated, people have been forced into slums, denied access to the same public housing that white families have been. Black schools have been underfunded for decades. I know the City Council tried to do a $15 minimum wage, which the Mayor vetoed, but wages are really low in this city. Is that a big reason why people are being a part of the drug trade, committing crimes, do you think. Because you can’t really live with dignity working two or three jobs on a minimum wage salary to feed a family.
Clayton Guyton: Let’s understand this, even people who had jobs, even people who made good money venture into the drug-selling business. Why? Because policies have made these simple drugs more valuable that gold, by weight. Okay, so imagine what someone’s gonna do who has no access to employment. Imagine what someone is going to do who has been arrested, who has been convicted, who has a record, who can’t get a job even if jobs were available? People who lose their jobs because of these, I was about to cuss on your show.
Jaisal Noor: You can cuss, it’s fine.
Clayton Guyton: These types of arrests that are unwarranted, and they lose a job. And now what are they going to do? The drug trade will hire anyone. And you can make as much money as you want, as quickly as you want, if you’re willing to put in the work. Dangerous work, which, again, is a foundation for a lot of the shootings, the homicides that we have, and then the retaliation that follows that, day after day, week after week, month after month. Again, the criminal justice system, and I hate that term, criminal justice system. It should be justice system, but unfortunately it’s not really about justice, is responsible for much of what we’re seeing in the disintegration of the family unit in this city.
Tony Barksdale: That’s what I’ve been talking about. I’ve been talking about communities of families. The first thing we need to do is stop these arrests that we’re talking about. Stop these constitutional stops that we’re talking about, and go back, getting our intelligence for the shooters by working with the community, instead of locking people up, placing them under arrest, and then you try to squeeze them for information. It doesn’t work.
Jaisal Noor: Councilwoman Sneed, let’s talk about what specific policies should be implemented today to help address this problem. We know you wanted to pass the minimum wage. What else can be done on a city level that will help address these issues.
Shannon Sneed: Again, it still goes back to making sure that we have the school system under our watch, and I feel like having the police department under our watch as well.
Jaisal Noor: So those are two biggest institutions are under state control-
Shannon Sneed: Yeah. That will make a different, that will have an impact right away. We can increase the minimum wage, and we know that would make a huge difference for families taking care of their children. Being home to make sure that Bobby gets off to practice, and that he’s back home. That would make a huge difference. But right now I feel like it’s chaos. I’m staying councilman Brandon Scott to see that those policies change. I mean, they rejected them all, but ultimately I felt like that was a good think, and those were two type of policies that could happen right away that would make an impact.
Neill Franklin: On the long-term side, it’s what we’ve been talking about here all evening about those services and resources that are needed for the communities and the families and the kids and so on. Those many, many, many things. And what we’re talking about there is a 15-year plan, minimum. A 15-year plan. That’s where we’re missing it. It’s all been election cycle plans. Two years. Four years. Two years. Four years. They don’t work for long-term, and it’s usually one or two programs. It needs to be multifaceted.
All these things we’re talking about on this show. Minimum 15 year plan, done in a way that when new people get into office, they can’t change the plan. And it needs to be a very comprehensive plan that’s managed appropriately, with the proper resources. Money resources, people resources, clinicians, teachers, police, whatever it takes, dovetailed together, 15 year minimum, probably more like 20 years. Councilwoman Sneed, you’re right, we need control of the police department back here in the city, not at the state level, and then we can move to community-led policing. Community-led policing.
Jaisal Noor: We’re almost out of time, but Mr. C, maybe we can end with you. What policies, what solutions do you want to see that can help impact the entire city, and help prevent crimes and homicides before they happen.
Clayton Guyton: Again, I have to go back to communication and strengthening partnerships with grandmother, aunt, uncle, grandfather. The elderly part of the community that right now doesn’t know what to do. They’re so afraid, and they had a grip, but because there was no partnership, they had threw up they hands and said, “Hey look, I’m tired.” Because they can’t get a response. They can’t get resources. They wanna do a cook-out on the block. They probably on social security, whatever, but they know that a cook-out will make the difference because he’s beefing with him, and before it gets to that point-
Jaisal Noor: The city budget is $2.3 billion, they just increased the police overtime by $17 million.
Clayton Guyton: Right.
Jaisal Noor: I’m saying, if you could put money behind this, what would it look like?
Clayton Guyton: What would it look like? We have 50 teenagers going out Monday nights and Wednesday nights, from seven to eight, cleaning the community with VASTA. They get ten dollars. And they look forward to Wednesday night. And they look forward to Saturday morning. A little bit of money. If we had $3 million we could put every teenager in Baltimore city to work for one hour. They got ten dollars. They can go see All Eyes On Me. They can do whatever they wanted to. But there is, there isn’t a minimum amount. We’re not even doing the minimum that we can do to build relationships and crime prevention.
Kevin McCamant: That little bit of money, it take the pressure off.
Neill Franklin: It doesn’t even have to be a little bit amount of money, right? So what kind of money would it need to do this? I’m just saying. I’m just saying it’s like, we’re talking about pennies.
Jaisal Noor: Thank you all for joining us for this discussion. Obviously there’s a lot more to talk about, so I want to have you all back on the show. Neil Franklin, thank you so much. Tony Barksdale. Mr. C. Kevin McCamant.
Kevin McCamant: Thank you.
Jaisal Noor: Councilwoman Sneed. Thank you all for joining us.
Kevin McCamant: Thank you.
Tony Barksdale: Thanks.
Neill Franklin: Thanks.
Jaisal Noor: Thank you for joining us on The Real Baltimore.