Beyond Toppling Statues: Dismantling White Supremacy in Baltimore
As Baltimore removes its Confederate statues, The Real Baltimore holds an extended discussion with labor activists Ricarra Jones and Melissa Wells, Councilman Ryan Dorsey, and Ideal City’s Ben Smith, who say public policy must be aimed at reversing the impacts of white supremacy
Jaisal Noor: Welcome to the Real Baltimore. I’m your host, Jaisal Noor. The death of Heather Heyer at the hands of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, has thrust the nation into mourning, but the symbols at the heart of the conflict, confederate statues, remain firmly in place throughout the country. In Baltimore, there are at least four, two of which the mayor has promised to remove. To many, the statues are more than monuments to racism, they’re symbols of entrenched inequality, especially in Baltimore, where the plight of low income people is appalling. Here, unemployment, poverty, educational outcomes, and even life expectancy are far worse for African Americans. The victims of the historic murder rate in this city are disproportionately black, meanwhile the city continues to offer major tax breaks to mostly white developers and recently approved a law that would impose mandatory minimum sentences for gun possession.
Speaker: Standing in solidarity against mandatory minimums, against the failed policies of the past, against mass incarceration, against breaking up families and tearing up communities, we are here today against legislation that doesn’t move us forward but only takes us back.
Jaisal Noor: To discuss how all of these issues are related, I’m joined by a panel of experts who understand it in depth. Ryan Dorsey is a Baltimore City Council member. Ricarra Jones is a political organizer with 11-99 SCIU. She headed the Fight for $15 movement here in Baltimore. Melissa Wells is with C.H.O.I.C.E the Baltimore Building Trades, and Ben Smith is an editor at the Ideal City blog and podcast. Thank you all for joining me.
Ryan Dorsey: Thanks for having us.
Ricarra Jones: Good to be here.
Jaisal Noor: So Ryan, let’s start with you. Under Armour CEO Kevin plank announced he’s leaving Donald Trump’s CEO committee. He’s one of many CEOs to drop out of that. You had some choice words for him earlier this year about his development, Port Covington, which received something like half a billion dollars in tax breaks from the city. You said that plan upholds white supremacy in Baltimore. Are you satisfied by this move, for him to withdraw himself from this council of advisors for the president?
Ryan Dorsey: Is it pleasing? Sure. Like these confederate monuments around the city, the man himself and his personal dealings, his personal actions are really just the movements of symbols. They’re the movements of, kind of monuments to white supremacy. Just as it is a huge undertaking to do what I aspire to do as a member of the city council, is to dismantle the systems of white supremacy and structural racism. Really what matters is the dealings of his company, not just Under Armour, but really we have to talk about Sagamore Development and the dealings as a whole of Plank Industries. People come back to me and say, this guy hates Kevin Plank, you’re always talking about Kevin Plank, which is not really true. I kind of said one thing once, but people portray it however they want. I could say, there’s this really … Walt Disney could be mining blood diamonds out back of the parks and I would be like, we should have a serious talk about this, and the headline would probably be, “Dorsey Hates Fun and Mickey Mouse”, and that’s what they would talk about for years after, is Mickey Mouse.
Jaisal Noor: For some background for some of our viewers that might not be familiar with Port Covington, it’s this planned city within a city in South Baltimore that has the promise of bringing in jobs and businesses and spurring development, and for that reason it got a massive tax break, a record tax break for the city. It’s been promised hundreds of millions of dollars in money from the city. It’s also … Supporters say it has the best community development plan, the best deal that anyone’s ever gotten in this city. What’s so bad about that?
Ryan Dorsey: Well, that’s not even true. Proportional to the size of the subsidy, the community benefits agreement doesn’t add up even in comparison to the last tax break benefits agreement that was done for Baltimore City. It’s like a third of the size, relative. Where … What are we talking about, 39 million on a 550, sorry 660 million dollar tiff, plus another 400 some million in enterprise zone breaks? This is massive. 39 million is a pittance in comparison. On top of that Sagamore hasn’t even said, we’re personally going to pony up for that amount. They’re basically saying we’ll come up with a third of it, we think over the time of the course of the development of the project, we’ll be able to get others to do it. They’re going to make enormous amounts of money just on the selling off of the parcels of this land to others to develop. If they can secure a basic level of financing, they’re just going to start making money hand over fist from the jump.
Jaisal Noor: Melissa, you work with the building trades, the workers that are building these developments and other structures, and working in these structures across the city. Is there a model of development giving tax breaks to the wealthy … Is it a failed policy or is it working exactly like it’s intended? The rich seem to be doing better than ever and the poor only seem to be living in more difficult circumstance and facing increasing numbers and figures of inequality.
Melissa Wells: I think … Well, we do know that it is predicated on a model that is not working. That model does definitely weigh heavier in favor of developers. We don’t believe that development in and of itself is bad but we know that oftentimes the benefits of development are for the owners. We really want to see development, especially in construction and other industries where the profit margin is not based on perpetuating poverty. Especially, a huge concern is wage stuff. So we see that in construction, the service industry, also in home health care. Aid workers a lot of times … There’s recourse for getting your wages back, but unfortunately the penalty to business that use that model repeatedly is not great enough. It’s unfortunate.
It’s important and it’s good to see businesses take interest in development in the city in many ways, around education, around safety. I do think that we really have to have a very strong conversation around solutions that businesses can play a part when it comes to reducing poverty, and directly through the jobs that they’re bringing to the city. Also, when the investments they’re asking for, the tax breaks they’re asking for … They predicate that on it’s going to create economic development, and spur economic development. We know in Maryland we see growth in some regard in terms of jobs. We don’t actually see positive economic growth, and a lot of that is because of a low wage work model, job model that we have in this state, and locally.
Jaisal Noor: In places like Port Covington, they’re talking about getting workers from outside of the city. The number of actual local people even working in construction is pretty low.
Melissa Wells: In construction, there’s a … The thing I tend to notice is the inability to really connect training and jobs. Also, part of that model does, the construction model … Unfortunately there are a lot of players that use, that exploit workers. Exploitation happens oftentimes in Baltimore. Folks, returning citizens from incarceration, they’re among a lot of the exploited workers, where they’re not paid their proper wages, they’re not paid overtime, and because of their fear of losing employment they keep their mouths shut.
There’s tons of data nationally about the amount of wage stuff taking place, but we know that the number is greater because a lot of folks don’t report it. Undocumented workers, their legal status is used against them, and their not able to or feel safe enough coming forward to talk about the wage stuff. A lot of opportunity does exist around unions to protect those workers, but there are still a lot of efforts to push down wages. It has a tremendous negative impact on local communities, because we know what the cost of living is in Baltimore. If you have workers that are willing, because they need the money, to work for a much lower wage than the local area living is, then it creates a disincentive for folks to work. We think about safety, we think about the conversation around violence and poverty … You have to even consider how working individuals, there’s a disincentive for them to work, because they know they’re going to work hard, a full eight hours, 10-12 hours in some cases, and still not be able to take care of their families.
Jaisal Noor: We’ll talk about transportation as well, because just getting to work is just a huge challenge in this city if you’re relying on public transportation. You mentioned incarceration, and I wanted to turn to you Ricarra. The same city council meeting where there was a unanimous vote to take down confederate statues thy also advanced a measure that would institute a new mandatory minimum for gun offenses in this city. It seems like the city is taking one step forward and then one step back. You were out there speaking against this proposal. City is facing a record homicide rate. Talk about why you’re opposed to this new proposal for new mandatory minimums.
Ricarra Jones: Yes, I’ll say I think we took one step forward and like 39,000 steps back. I think that it’s easy to tear down structures or statues, but when we are talking about mandatory minimums we’re talking about failed policies of the past. I think there’s so much data and so much research that shows that this is a failed policy, that it affects communities of color, that it doesn’t help folks at all, at least in mass incarceration. I think just for the same people, to have all of this data in front of them and still decide to support something like this, it just takes us leaps and bounds backwards and not forward at all. I think it’s a good thing they are tearing down these structures, but we need to think about the real issues that we’re facing in this city, and they are bigger than statues.
Jaisal Noor: Michelle Alexander famously compared mass incarceration … She called it the new Jim Crow, because it’s the same system where you’re putting people in chains essentially, that’s existed for hundreds of years. It really hasn’t gone away, but it’s taken a new form. Can you talk a little bit about that as well?
Ricarra Jones: No, absolutely. If you look at the numbers, Baltimore incarcerates a huge percentage of its population, and if that actually was keeping us safe we would be the safest city in the country because we have to many of our population that’s incarcerated right now. What we find is that it leaves … It’s breaking up homes. There are no fathers, there are no mothers. It also leads to … If you have a parent in jail you’re more likely to be incarcerated yourself. We have whole communities … You look at the numbers … their populations is incarcerated. It’s affecting us very negatively. We think about ex-offenders, when you come back and you have a record, how are you going to be able to get a job in order to support yourself and support your family? It just leaves big holes I think that people who are looking at this legislation haven’t even thought about, and they want to rubber stamp it and say I did something, but that it’s clearly not a solution, and it doesn’t involve the community at all.
Jaisal Noor: Ben, I wanted to turn to you. Business leaders in Baltimore like to tap economic growth and say that there’s been advances made in the last several years. In a recent blog post, you looked at level of inequality and the rise in wages for white workers and for black workers over the last 17 years. What did you find and what does that tell us about the level of growing inequality in Baltimore today?
Ben Smith: So when business leaders tout those kind of statistics, they’re right that there has been a wealth growth, there has been some wage growth, there has been some home property value growth. The problem with their analysis is that it focuses on an aggregate of the city as a whole, so just like any other population, if you have a significant growth in the upper 1%, or 2%, or 3%, it’s going to increase the level for the entirety of that population if you spread it out, as if each person of that population is actually getting a benefit from it or having access to it in some way. The problem is, you break it down in terms of the actually populations, demographically that comprise the city, and you see the extent to which that wealth share hasn’t been shared across racial lines and across existing class lines in the city.
Far from just not being shared, it’s actually exacerbated existing inequalities so that they’ve become even more ingrained, you have even more disparities now than you had a decade or two decades ago. What we looked at is census data from 2000 and compared that to a study that the Baltimore Sun published recently early in 2017, and looked at the difference in household income for black families in 2000 versus today, and for white families in 2000 versus today. In 2000, you had about an 11,000 dollar gap between the average household income for black families and white families. Today you have about a 30,000 dollar gap between the average household income for white families and black families.
What people like to do, is that they take that statistic at face value and say, well, there’s always been a big gap there, but they don’t break down the extent to which that gap has changed. When you break down the extent to which that gap has changed, you see what was a 70.7% average household income of what the white households were making, for black families in 2000, has just become just 53% for black families of what white families are making in 2017. Far from just being an inherited broken system, it’s a system we’ve made worse and it’s hard to get around culpability on the part of policy makers for hat greater exacerbation we see now.
Jaisal Noor: Ricarra, I want to turn to you, because you helped champion this bill that would give Baltimore a 15 dollar minimum wage. The City Council, including Councilman Dorsey backed it. It passed. The mayor campaigned on passing this and signing into law, but she vetoed it after intense lobbying by the business lobby here in this city. We know that would have lifted wages of some 80,000 workers in this city. It was a pretty stunning defeat I think for a lot of people. How do you move forward now? We know that, that would have been a definitive way to address this inequality. What are the steps forward now?
Ricarra Jones: I do want to thank Councilman Dorsey and the rest of the Baltimore City Council who are supportive of the legislation. I think that we … In my opinion “$15” wasn’t going to cure everything, it’s not going to address all the issues that I think Ben pointed out in his research.
Jaisal Noor: Do you think that’s why there wasn’t as much of a grassroots support as maybe it needed to really pressure …
Ricarra Jones: We had an overwhelming vote in the City Council, I don’t think you get … It doesn’t get much better.
Jaisal Noor: But there weren’t hundred’s of people on the streets, right?
Ricarra Jones: No, of course. I think it has to do with the little bit of what we’re dealing with in this city. We have our members who are healthcare workers, they don’t work one job, they work two jobs, sometimes three jobs. That is just to pay normal bills and try to make it from Monday to Monday. It is a little difficult sometimes to come out too a rally when you’re racing between picking your kids up from school and trying to get to your next job because you only make 10 dollars an hour. I just think that everything that Ben pointed out in his research, it’s very thoughtful and it shows a very problem that we have in this city, but if you open your eyes and look, you don’t even have to read the research.
The mayor, when she first started, she said she took her staff on tour around the city. Well, what were they looking at? I just think that would have been a great step in the right direction to try to address some of the issues we’re facing today. I think in Ben’s research it showed that most of the violence is happening in certain neighborhoods. It’s not happening in the White L, it’s happening in the Black Butterfly. 96% of that is happening in certain neighborhoods, so why wouldn’t we want to address those issues by increasing wealth for those neighborhoods? I think that … It’s just very telling for me why you would veto a piece of legislation like that.
Jaisal Noor: Now that that’s sort of dead for now, what are the next steps going to be?
Ricarra Jones: So we’re moving on to the state-wide fight. I chaired the Effort, the 10-10 Effort. It didn’t get as far and as wide-reaching as we wanted it to, but we’re going to try it again for the Fight for $15. We are going to introduce a legislation again in this upcoming session, and we’re also making it an election issue. There are a lot of folks who are running for election and we want to know where you stand on this. Do you support it? Are you not only going to say you support it but are you going to work towards it? What are you going to do to actually make it come?
Jaisal Noor: When the mayor did veto “$15” on the city level, she said she would support it on a state-wide level?
Ricarra Jones: Well, it would be great to see what that support looks like.
Jaisal Noor: The city seems to love giving tax breaks for developers, but an idea that more and more cities are putting forward is taxing the rich, taxing the wealthiest. In New York there’s a proposal that would increase income tax on the wealthiest 30,000 New Yorkers, it would raise 700 million dollars a year to fund repairs for the crumbling subway, to give subsidized fares for the lowest income New Yorkers, 800,000 of them, and some of the extra money might even get spent in investing in schools. We know Baltimore has really high property tax rate, which is a regressive tax. Do you think the city should put forward a wealth tax, a millionaire’s tax?
Ryan Dorsey: Can I talk about a slightly different idea for a second?
Jaisal Noor: Sure.
Ryan Dorsey: I brought this up at the beginning of the budget process this year at the end of the first, in the 12th hour of the first day of our budget hearings. I drew attention to the structure of the city’s budget, which is an outcome based budget. We have these income disparities along racial lines that Ben highlights. We have this outcome based budget that basically says, we have these things that we want to, we want to put some money here, we want to put some money here, here and here, and collectively they’re going to make this, this, this, and this happen. We talk about all these different things that the community wants to see happen and the pushback is always, well, we don’t have money for that. The budget bureau lays out these priorities on behalf of the mayor and then everything else is, we don’t have money for that.
What if one of those priorities were increasing black wealth? That would serve the needs of the community and it would address this, we don’t have money for that. If you look at income levels in the city, black families or black households are bringing in over a billion dollars more annually than white households, so black households are really the breadwinner in the city to begin with, yet the communities are left unresourced. If the black income lever were the same as the white income level, in income tax alone, Baltimore city would bring in an additional 140 million dollars annually. That’s income tax alone. That doesn’t account for all of the money that would then be circulating, be available throughout the city.
The other policy area that I think we have a lot of room to make improvements is in transportation, and you brought this up before. If we were able to invest … Baltimore City has the 6th worst commute time in the country. There is statistically the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance says there’s no greater disparity that we face as a city as transportation. This has ramifications all along the spectrum of rising up out of poverty. If we were able to invest in transportation, moving us away from moving cars and into moving people, and we were able to effect mode shift, the decision for people to stop driving cars, if we were able to get all the multi-car households in Baltimore City to decide to have just one car in their household, this would free up an additional 800 million dollars in disposable income in Baltimore City annually. Again, this would be a boon for our ability to circulate money in our local economy, grow jobs, grow businesses in neighborhoods. Money that people are sinking into car notes, gas, parking, citations, insurance … Insurance in Baltimore City is astronomically higher-
Jaisal Noor: It’s much higher than if you were to own in the county.
Ryan Dorsey: Baltimore City and PG County are the only two majority black jurisdictions in the state. We make up about 20% of the population of the state of Maryland, but we pay more or less 80% of the car insurance premiums. We could have our car … This is a whole other discussion …
Jaisal Noor: I think a great symbol of transportation in equity, inequality is the circulator. That’s a free bus service, it runs pretty much on time, and it goes right through the White L. What about expanding … It goes from Johns Hopkins down to Federal Hill, down to Fell’s point … What about expanding something like that across the city?
Ryan Dorsey: Absolutely, we should be expanding that. We should be expanding all modes of transportation opportunity beyond just cars. Free sounds great to me. I think that we have the money, we’re just failing to invest it. It’s going into the police department. Every city agency that I talk to says, we would love to be able to do this, we would love to be able to do that. You talk to DOD, we would love to be able to expand the circulator. They’ll tell you flat out, we just don’t have the money for it because it’s going to the police department.
The finance department knows that we have a greater debt capacity than we are utilizing as a city. Right now we’re borrowing like 60, 65 million dollars annually, but Baltimore City actually has the debt capacity. We’re very well rated as a borrower. We have the debt capacity to borrow between 80 and 85 million a year but the finance department won’t allow us to do that because they don’t believe they can do it responsibly because our police overtime budget is so unchecked and so astronomical, year after year. They just don’t know whether they’re going to be able to service the debt once they take it on.
Jaisal Noor: The elephant in the room is the business lobby and their close ties with politicians, lobbying the mayor to veto the minimum wage, lobbying the mayor to not cut police overtime, to find safe streets and educational programs, the list goes on. If the goal is to increase black wealth, there is going to be a huge fight with the business lobby because they are profiting on the suppressed wages in this city on the workers that have to work minimum wage, multiple jobs to scrape by. They’re benefiting from that, they’re thriving off that. How do we … Is that the next fight then?
Melissa Wells: Definitely. Really getting at having a more equitable development model where businesses can bring in their resources, where people bring their resources as human capital and labor. I know for us, a big focus of the work that I’ve been doing is, how do we increase the skin and the game that businesses bring, especially in regard to training? I think that there was really interesting … I didn’t agree with this narrative around the Fight for $15, but the idea, the conversation about low skill. I think that there needs to be … Obviously people need livable wages, but there has to also be a push towards providing folks, individuals, families, households with the skilled training, and connecting that to jobs.
For the building trades and construction, and even other industries, the apprenticeship model, the on the job training model is a key component of someone not just sitting in a classroom and getting a certification. There’s a history of folks getting certified, and certified, and certified in Baltimore and not having actual jobs on the end of it. That’s kind of train and pray model, but really connecting folks to the on the job training, having businesses, having contractors, employers that actually put money into training. Even the shared piece around employees paying a small 2, 3 cents per hour into the training fund, it’s being done. It’s been done for hundreds of years, or hundred plus years, and it’s possible. I think that there’s truly a need for that in the City of Baltimore.
Jaisal Noor: I wanted to follow up on that, because the conversation so far has centered around businesses. We’ve tried … Businesses haven’t stepped up. What about a jobs program that is funded by the city, it’s funded by taxpayers, something like out of The New Deal? Put people to work, give them a living wage. We have some tens of thousands of boarded up homes in this city, put people to work. There’s the 20/20 housing plan that’s been put forward. The mayor said she’d approve that, but that’s just something like 40 million dollars a year. Why not invest some of that money that could go into revitalizing this city, make it a city where people want to live and into those neighborhoods?
Melissa Wells: I think that type of model is something that we’ve seen in Detroit, we’re seeing in Los Angeles and Oakland, be it a city funded model or be it this public private model. I think the key to it is having a clear agreement around the standards, around the way that training is connected directly to jobs, around the wages and benefits. Its possible. The resources are here, both public and private resources, but there has to be a commitment to a robust work force development model.
That’s not where we are yet. I think it’s possible we’re moving in that direction. There’s a lot of folks interested in this that are working on doing this, but we have to make sure if we have something like that, that The New Deal work because of the wages that was provided, that they connected it to their apprenticeship model, it wasn’t just because they poured money into building dams, and highways and bridges. It has to be livable wages, prevailing wage, especially in construction. We’ve seen project labor agreements around the country be used in this way. In Los Angeles hey just did it with a huge investment in L.A. County around transportation, where a lot of folks came together to develop how training and career looks in construction, in engineering, in the bus operators, and the maintenance of the transportation system as well.
Ryan Dorsey: There’s this phrase that got used throughout the Fight for $15 campaign, and you hear it again, and again, and again, and again in city hall, where somebody says, well, we all know … As if it’s a matter of face … We all know that small businesses are the backbone of our economy … I come from a small business background but I thought that people were the backbone of our economy. I think that’s where we should be putting our emphasis. In people, not how do we support business growth. How do we support people growth?
Ben Smith: To speak to your point about big businesses, because that’s who GBC actually represents, is big businesses not mom-and-pop shops.
Ryan Dorsey: That is the Greater Baltimore … Right.
Ben Smith: This notion that small businesses are the backbone of our economy, we want to hold them up for a talking point, but then go to bat for something that’s utterly ajar with what small businesses represent. The vast majority of small businesses nationwide already pay over a 15 dollar minimum wage. When we’re looking at the employers that actually pay below a living wage, the vast majority of those are big businesses where it truly is just a matter of those businesses not wanting to pay out a fair wealth share to the worker, it’s not them not having access to that wealth share the way a mom-and-pop might simply not be able to make the books work.
Historically when you look at the United States, you go back to the 1970s and you see this massive break start to happen right after Richard Nixon came in office, nationally, where the amount of value created by industry by the United States continues to explode. Value is simply the worth on the marker by the goods created by a given industry. The wage stagnated relative to that disproportion increase in the value of the goods created, whereas you go back to basically The New Deal up into the 1970s. Those increased in conjunction with one another because we had regular wage increases relative to that increase in the value of goods produced.
I’m going to say something fairly radical I think, in that those big businesses do need to be comfortable with taking less home, because they’ve taken a disproportionately larger and larger share of the pie over the last several decades. It’s not a matter of them having to lay people off because they can’t afford to pay those people more, it’s a matter of them laying people off because they’re not willing to cut back on what they’re paying their CEOs or their upper level management. They’ve decided that they deserve a disproportionate share relative to the worker, whereas historically in the United States, there’s been some kind of synchronicity between those two.
Jaisal Noor: You also looked at some of the data when that Fight for $15 was happening, some of the claims the city was making that they couldn’t afford … going back to your point … They couldn’t afford raising the wage because it would cost the city some 20 million dollars to pay their workers more. Obviously it’s a scandal that city employees aren’t making 15 dollars an hour in this city.
Ryan Dorsey: The city is paying the workers for the city, the municipal work force, who lives in the city is making 50% less than the municipal work force of Baltimore city who does not live … Sorry, the municipal work force in the counties or outside of Baltimore City is making 50% more than the workers who actually live in the city.
Jaisal Noor: There’s a lot of workers, especially police officers who don’t live in the city.
Ryan Dorsey: Almost 80% of our police force does not live in Baltimore City.
Ricarra Jones: That report didn’t look at any of the benefits of raising the wage at all, so it didn’t look at how we would increase income taxes, it didn’t look at how we would increase graduation rates, it didn’t look at how more people would be able to afford homes in the city. That report was very problematic. Just to go back to talking about some of the businesses, and I’m going to name drop … We have Johns Hopkins, one of the biggest hospitals in the country, not just in our state but in the country, where you had people who were working there for 15 years and were not making 15 dollars. Then you have Amazon, who brings all these great jobs to the city, but are they really great jobs? Are there benefits, are there full time hours? We want to bring jobs to the city but we want to make sure they’re quality jobs. We want to make sure that you can afford to take care of your family on these jobs and not just say we’re bringing these jobs to the city.
Ben Smith: Ricarra makes a really good point with respect to these massive stakeholders like Hopkins in the actual revenue that’s coming into the city itself, because Hopkins doesn’t pay property tax. We have a tremendous amount of very large, very wealthy institutions in the city that are tax exempt when it comes to the property that they actually have value. If you look at the amount of property tax that Baltimore is missing out on, because we have so many tremendous non-profit institutions here, be they hospitals, large universities, churches, so one. Relative to the surrounding counties, Baltimore’s missing out on over 30% of it’s potential income taxes because those are tax except institutions, whereas places like Baltimore County or Anne Arundel county are only missing out on around 10% on a given year of the property taxes that they could be making from those tax except institutions.
We already shift a tremendous amount of the tax burden away from somebody who has the money to give, like a Hopkins, who can’t just leave the city overnight, so we should quit pretending like they can, and who by the way would be a massive morality scandal if they were to up and leave Baltimore over having to pay their share. We need to quit pretending that we don’t have that bludgeon in the city’s arsenal of negotiation tools. I believe a tremendous contributor to the inequity in the city’s revenue relative to the people who are actually kicking into the revenue that don’t have the money to give.
Jaisal Noor: Ryan. I wanted to end with you perhaps because you have, as a City Council member, you have called out these institutions and you’ve been vilified and demonized by the press for doing it.
Ryan Dorsey: Come on man, it’s not that bad.
Jaisal Noor: My question is, to really take on these entrenched interests, the FOP, Johns Hopkins, the people and the businesses that are frankly profiting off the violence and the poverty in this city. It’s going to take a popular movement to really make those demands. What do you think it’s going to take to actually get that political capital behind these calls for a more fair, a more just city?
Ryan Dorsey: It is going to take the City Council acting much more like a progressive legislative body saying, we’re the rule makers here, we set the ground rules for people’s participation in the economy and the social welfare of Baltimore City. A huge part of me just being motivated to run for City Council … Coming from a guy with a degree in music composition, a background in the arts and having worked for little over a decade in a family-owned business selling stereos and home theater systems and installing them in peoples homes … Just to get up off the couch and go, oh you know what, I could make a difference, was because the bar was pretty low. Part of that bar is understanding very simply the branches of government and going, yeah, everybody likes to blame the mayor about everything under the sun, but they’re just the executive branch. The legislative branch has the power to legislate.
Let’s start acting like a legislative body. I came in day one, ready to, with a litany of legislative priorities and I’ve spent the last 7 months building a huge coalition of strange bedfellows to support one piece of legislation around transportation that completes the street’s ordinance for the city. We have partners everywhere from the AARP and the Maryland Building Industry Association, signed on a signatory supporter’s legislation at the same time as the No Boundaries Coalition of Central West Baltimore who’s advocating for public safety and police accountability, and food and health justice and accessibility … As well as white neighborhoods in the White L, all jumping on board to say, we can transform this city through transportation. Hopefully that level of coalition building around good solid supportable public policy is a coalition we can carry into the next fight, and the next fight after that.
I think the City Council acting as legislators and as community organizers is really what it’s going to take, but it’s got to be policy focused. Programming, either exists either to fix damages that bad public policy created in the first place or it’s just kind of stop gaps or something that just can never go far enough. Public policy in Baltimore City is rooted in racism, it created the city that we have today and the only thing that is going to dismantle our structural racism in Baltimore City is public policy that is directly aimed at dismantling the racism that public policy created in the first place at a systemic level.
Jaisal Noor: Seems like a great place to end this conversation. I want to thank you all for joining us. Ryan Dorsey, Baltimore City Council member, Ricarra Jones from 11-99 SCIU, Melissa Wells from C.H.O.I.C.E. Building Trades and Ben Smith, Ideal City podcast and blog, you should check it out. Thank you all for joining us.
Ricarra Jones: Thank you.
Melissa Wells: Thank you.
Jaisal Noor: Thank you for joining us on the Real Baltimore.