Lack of Accountability Has Made Baltimore an Overpoliced Panopticon
Baltimore's Green Party Mayoral candidate says that as long as progressivism takes hold in US politics, he's not wedded to any political party
Baltimore's Green Party Mayoral candidate says that as long as progressivism takes hold in US politics, he's not wedded to any political party
DHARNA NOOR: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor joining you from Baltimore, Maryland.
And Baltimore is again in the national spotlight. Most recently with the news that the city has been secretly spying on all of its residents with a number of cameras. This came after the release of the DOJ report, the federal DOJ report, filled with shocking details about unchecked police abuse in this city. This all comes in a city that’s firmly in the grip of the Democratic Party. A grip that our next guest wants to help loosen.
Now joining us in our Baltimore studio is Joshua Harris. Josh is running for Mayor of Baltimore in the 2016 election on the Green Party ticket. He’s also the cofounder of the [Holland’s] Creative Place Making which leads initiatives for urban revitalization. Thanks for joining us today again Josh.
JOSHUA HARRIS: Thank you for having me.
NOOR: Josh let’s start by talking about this most recent news that’s been putting Baltimore in the national spotlight yet again. So it’s just broken that the Baltimore City Police Department has been using cameras all over the city to secretly spy on all of its residents. Thesis technology that actually came out of the Iraq War but it’s being used here and nobody knew about it. There was no public knowledge of this. What’s just sort of your initial reactions and should we be concerned?
HARRIS: I think that this most recent discovery because that’s what it is because no one knew it was happening other than a small group of individuals, is more evidence of the lack of transparency within Baltimore City Hall and the Baltimore City Police Department which of course was uncovered in the Department of Justice which we’ll go into later. But it’s problematic for multiple reasons. One that very few people knew about it. Two that we don’t know what mechanisms or constraints have been put in place to ensure that this isn’t a violation of people’s civil liberties and their constitutional rights to privacy.
And we also don’t know who has access to this footage. Where is it going? We know that or at least we’ve been told that it’s being financed by someone else. So that the city isn’t paying for it at this point. But the question is if they’re paying for it what are the contractual obligations? What’s the memorandum of understanding of where this footage goes? What the footage is of? And exactly anyone one of us in the city could be on that footage and we don’t know where it’s being housed, how it’s being used, and who has access to it and that’s even more threatening to someone who’s worked on actually the body camera legislation for the state of Maryland under delegate [Charleston Moore] when I was his legislative aid. Knowing what we had to go to just to amend the wiretap law just to make it legal for police officers to even wear body cameras in the state of Maryland.
So now we have this footage that’s being taken, aerial footage, of all citizens. So what laws or legality issues could this possibly run into is a major question here.
NOOR: And you mentioned here the hoops that you had to go through to pass that sort of legislation. But it was also released in this recent reporting that this was a private donor who just donated the money to Baltimore City’s Community Foundation. Where is the oversight here and how is a private donor able to do this without any public knowledge at all?
HARRIS: Yea it’s extremely interesting and we know that this is a capitalist society. So there’s very few just out of the kindness of my hearts kind of contribution specifically for something like this. There’s usually ulterior motives and something that is wanted in return. Is that access to the footage? Is that the ability to keep the footage? So we don’t know what these agreements were that were made in order for this to happen. And furthermore we don’t know more about the track record of the company organization that is actually controlling the technology being used to essentially spy on Baltimore City citizens. Its spy technology.
So we don’t have any of these questions answered and that’s problematic. Particularly when you look at several city council members didn’t know about it and even the mayor’s staff and the mayor herself even knew about it. So these are questions that have to be answered for sure.
NOOR: And this was going on in a police department that was under federal investigation. One kind of does have to wonder why this was absent in the DOJ report, how they never found this. But let’s kind of get into that. Let’s talk about the DOJ report a bit. Specifically, I want to ask you about solutions to over policing. The Department of Justice did release some solutions of their own but they mostly included collecting more data, being aware of the sort of gross violations that take place in the police department every day. But there’s nothing of firing police officers, let alone putting anyone who violates these laws in jail. Where does accountability come from and in your platform how can we solve the problem of over policing and police violence in Baltimore?
HARRIS: Well absolutely accountability is the word that you said right there. That’s what we’re looking for. Accountability, responsibility, and transparency. And none of the offerings in the Department of Justice included accountability and officers being held accountable for their actions. And that’s something that we need to see if we’re going to see a change in the culture of the police department.
You can track and monitor all day long but if there’s no consequences for actions that are taken, officers will continue to make the same mistakes or take the same actions. Unless we put metrics in place that they’ll either be fired or if the city has to settle a lawsuit that that officer pays for it. If they’re the officer or those officers that were involved in that situation have to come out of pocket that will cause them to think twice. Versus you and I the citizens of Baltimore having to foot the bill for mistakes that some else has repeatedly made. It really changes the narrative of accountability on whether or not officers would think twice when they’re going to be the ones footing the bill versus the citizens.
That’s something that we haven’t seen. We’re actually working with a couple different community organizations right now to put in place what really could be considered reparations for the citizens of Baltimore because the DOJ report also cited 30 years at least, worth of constitutional violations. So now how are we going to make up for this that this has been allowed to happen in this city for that long and that citizens have been dealing with it. And the reality is that if you are black and brown in Baltimore, you knew this was going on and it only confirmed what you already knew. And it’s really unfortunate that it took this, the DOJ report, to actually document it and add some validity to what people have been saying for years and filing reports and complaints against officers for years over situations like this.
And even some of our elected officials. If this is what it took for them to understand that this is the reality for black and brown Baltimoreans every single day, then that’s really unfortunate. We need to make sure that we’re working to get others in office who are going to be more accountable, responsible, and transparent, and ensure that this doesn’t continue to happen.
NOOR: One could even argue that it was actually the people’s movement in the streets of Baltimore that allowed for the space for the DOJ report and the investigation to even take place. But I mean you’ve done some work in the neighborhoods where this did become an issue last April during the uprising. And it’s not only over policing that citizens of Baltimore are facing. There’s also conditions of chronic poverty. I know that today when we’re doing this interview you’re taking presidential Green Party ticket Jill Stein on a tour of some of the neighborhoods that are facing the intersections of all these different issues in Baltimore. Can you talk a little bit about that and about the work that we can do with the community even if you are in city hall?
HARRIS: I think that it’s extremely important to acknowledge the conditions which allow and particularly conditions of poverty which allow something like the DOJ report to be a reality. This doesn’t just happen where people just decide to devalue people and communities. We have to understand that in these neighborhoods where this over policing has occurred and the hyper militarization of police has occurred in Baltimore City is directly related to poverty and economic acts of injustice.
Knowing that before a young African American man is killed in his own neighborhood either by his peer or by the police then in most cases he attended a school that didn’t have heat in the winter time. He attended a school where he couldn’t drink the water because it was lead. He lived in a neighborhood where the recreation centers were closed and he had no access for programs to go and expose him to the world of possibilities and opportunity. Which then allows someone else to come into his neighborhood and say these people aren’t valuable enough to have rights so we’re going to violate the rights that they do have.
So understanding the direct connection and so today we’re going to take Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential nominee on a tour what we’re calling a poverty to really discuss the conditions of poverty in Baltimore City. To discuss the conditions of public housing Baltimore City which is a federal issue. Because our public housing is actually federally funded and financed. And knowing that in Baltimore we just had 6 million dollars disappear from the Department of Public Housing. And it’s problematic. We also know that there have been millions of dollars emit for public housing that have been funneled to the Baltimore Development Corporation for private entities and private developments and no one’s been held accountable. No one’s been held accountable for that either.
So we need accountability, responsibility and transparency across the board in Baltimore City. Whether we’re talking about the police department. Whether we’re talking about the Department of Housing and Community Development. Or Department of Public Housing which are all under the auspices of one person Mr. Paul Graziano who’s had his own scandals in the last year. And yet he still has job. He has 6 million dollars disappear under his watch. And so we need accountability. So we want to take Dr. Stein on a tour.
We’ll be going on that tour led by long time activists Reverend Annie Chambers. And she lives in Douglas Homes and has been a huge advocate for social justice and the anti-poverty movement for years. So she’s going to just talk to us about the conditions and how she sees Baltimore. Someone who’s been here for years and her family sees Baltimore. The experience of living in poverty in Baltimore. So that people, not people but more so Dr. Stein can really understand the conditions and what’s happening here in Baltimore.
NOOR: But if you are elected mayor, how can you use your position of power in city hall? And how can you create public policy that actually responds to the work that’s actually being done at a grassroots level? And it’s not, I mean it’s anti-poverty in a very broad sense right? As we’re speaking there’s also a fight that’s been started by councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke to raise the minimum wage in Baltimore to $15 an hour. We had a very prevalent labor struggle here where healthcare workers in Chase Brexton were attempting to unionize and facing all sorts of union busting activities. What can you do from a policy level to uplift the struggles of working people?
HARRIS: I think that the first step is to really whip city hall into shape and put metrics in place to really hold people accountable. We haven’t seen that. In a city where money disappears far too often. Money disappears far too often in Baltimore City. 56 million from education. 6 million from the Health Department. 6 million from the Department of Housing. There have not been any metrics put in place to really make sure that people are doing their job and to minimize loss for the city. And so putting in regulations and policies to ensure that we’re tracking and being responsible with the money that we have as a city is the first step.
The second step is really looking at our economic investment opportunities and how we are investing in places in the city. What places get resources what places have not gotten resources and what has been the reason behind the rationale behind that? And really shifting the way we invest in communities and begin to invest in people. So when you’re talking about the $15 an hour minimum wage, it’s key. We won’t really begin to see changes in Baltimore City until we work to raising the median family household income.
And that’s going to take ensuring that people are earning a living wage. Not a minimum wage but a living wage. And we know that that is not $8.75 an hour. So we have lots of work to do that my platform of Banking for Baltimore Undivided of course is the first release was our economic development platform. Which was built on how we can leverage the city’s budget by putting things in place to create wealth and then invest in Baltimore beyond the Harbor. Which understand that investing on the community level is integral to ensure in the grassroots organizations can continue to grow and continue to thrive have resources. And if the communities have resources necessary and knowing that providing those resources exposes our young people to a world of possibilities. Something as simple as ensuring recreation centers are funded and opened can change the future of so many of our young people.
For me it was a recreation center that was open and funded that allowed me to go play basketball every single day. And because of that I decided I wanted to keep play. I went on to play college basketball which then opened another window of possibilities for me. And I ended up going overseas and living in Norway and then coming back and traveling the country because of that an exposed me to so many different things. For me it was sports. For someone else it may be art, it may be music. And so something as simple as ensuring that we’re no longer cutting that budget and we’re putting the resources in place so that the community has access to them can really change the future of our city.
NOOR: And if you don’t win the mayoral race, how do you intend to still affect some of these policies and affect change within Baltimore?
HARRIS: I think that it’s clear at this point that the solutions that I’m offering to the table are the most progressive solutions and things that have not been discussed in Baltimore City before now. I think that regardless of this race that there are many people in city hall and outside city hall who’ve already approached me in some cases that are already beginning to pilot and want to see what it looks like to put some of these policies in place and how the long term impact can really build the city. So I’ll be here on the ground as usual doing work in the community and I’ll continue to work to build Baltimore City beyond this. This isn’t just about this race. This is really about the future of a city that needs leadership. And whether that leadership comes from the seat of the mayor’s office or from the grassroots and the community level, we need leadership who’s willing to stand up for people and put people first in this city to ensure that we’re moving forward and investing in those that made the city great.
NOOR: Does this require in some ways working with folks that are in the Democratic Party establishment here? Does it require working with the woman who will be mayor if you don’t win? Catherine Pugh who’s the democratic nominee?
HARRIS: Absolutely. It requires working with all sorts of folks. It could be across all sorts of party lines. But if you are committed to the betterment of Baltimore and committed to the people of Baltimore then I’m willing to work with you. We just have to make sure that those are people who are in it for the right reasons and not in it for what I call poverty pimping and to try to see what they can get their organization can get out of it. But really to create real sustainable change in this city. I’m willing to work with anyone who’s committed to doing that.
NOOR: On a national stage, yesterday Bernie Sanders released what he’s calling Our Revolution. This essentially a new platform. It was live streamed at over 26 hundred houses last night in meetings. Essentially he’s using this platform to uplift the races of people who are running in local elections, down ticket races, state senate seats, for city council in some cases. But all of them are running within Democratic Party. Do you think that you’re sort of speaking to the same folks here and you use this momentum in some way to uplift your campaign and the Green Party? Or is this something that’s working against you? Does this sort of pose a threat to your campaign?
HARRIS: You know I think that Malcolm X said it a long time ago. There’s no such thing as democrats or republicans. There’s only conservatives and progressives. And I do believe that there are some progressives that exist within the democratic party. And so anyone who’s really in the progressive movement and for progressive policy change. I’m willing to work with and I’m willing to throw my weight behind them to ensure that it happens.
I think that it’s really up to though the people to do their research and really see where the candidates are from to see are these really candidates that align with your values and your views. Are these candidates that are willing to refuse corporate dollars for their campaign because they want to work for the people. Are these candidates that are committed to putting people and planet before profit? And really do that research and become educated voters.
And I think that the opportunity we have right now is that more people are paying attention than ever before to politics because of what we’ve seen on the national level and here in Baltimore locally with last spring. People are paying attention so we have to really use that to educate our left to ensure that we know what to look for and where to find people’s background information and how we can connect with them and really find out where they stand.
So I’m interested in perusing through the list. And if Senator Sanders is out there watching I’d love to be included in that list as someone who supported him to be the democratic nominee for President of the United States. I’d be interested in having that conversation if he wants to talk about real progressive policy change beyond just a democratic party.
NOOR: So does this new attention to sort of progressive causes, the new attention to poverty and raising the minimum wage does that uplift your cause or is it sort of a threat to those who are more willing to work within the democratic party, especially in a city which has such a stronghold by the democratic party?
HARRIS: I think that for me it’s not necessarily where the work gets done as long as the work gets done. And so there may be other parties or other movements that have ulterior motives but if they are doing the work and it’s getting accomplished then I’m all for it. And so I’m not tied to necessarily, I’m running as a Green Party candidate but I’m not tied to a party affiliation or to a corporate entity. This is about the work and who’s really willing to roll up their sleeves, get out there and get their hands dirty and do the work necessary to really give disadvantaged poor people of color all across this country an opportunity to be successful. That’s all we’re asking for is an equal playing field for them to have a chance to be successful. Be able to provide for their families just like the rest of us want to do. So if you’re committed to doing that work then I’m down. I’m with you. And so it doesn’t matter which side of the aisle that it occurs on as long as the work’s getting done.
NOOR: Joshua Harris is running for Mayor of Baltimore on the Green Party ticket for the 2106 election. I want to thank you again for joining us and we hope to talk to you again soon.
HARRIS: Thank you.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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