Despite Protests, Baltimore Turns Back the Clock on Criminal Justice Reform
A bill that would impose mandatory minimums on gun possession cleared a key legislative hurdle as activists urge the council to seek more humane solutions to violence
Stephen Janis: This is Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. There is much conflict at City Hall tonight over two different bills. One about Confederate statues, the other about guns.
Like the rest of the country, Baltimore is in the throes of conflict. Homelessness and poverty exemplified by tents placed in front of city hall. The remnants of racism found in Confederate statues which the council voted to remove.
Speaker: All those in favor of adopting Resolution 17-0041R say “aye”.
Speaker: This resolution is adopted.
Stephen Janis: Most important to many, the future of the city’s punitive criminal justice complex.
Speaker: We are 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’re here today against legislation that doesn’t move us forward but only takes us back, against elected officials who believe the only way to keep us safe is by putting our people in jail cells.
Stephen Janis: The system, many say, has been too quick to punish, and resistant to change.
Father Ty Hollinger: In many cases, the offender fulfills his punishment objectively, serving his sentence, but without changing inside, or healing his wounded heart.
Stephen Janis: Which is why advocates gathered outside City Hall, to urge the Council not to pass a bill which would impose mandatory sentences for possession of guns near a church, school or public building.
Pastor Steve Turner: So what we’re saying here is not another poor person, not another Latino, not another Black person, not another LBGT, not another person … amen … who is being just boxed into a shell, into a situation where if the police come and they’re targeting certain races, they will search incidental to arrest, seize the property, they will also plant.
Stephen Janis: Inside, after a heated debate, Council moved the bill forward by a vote of eight to seven.
Councilman Ryan Dorsey: For generations, we have failed to invest in root level solutions to the problems our own apartheid policies and deference to wealth and status quo powers have created. When the same class of people who created these conditions don’t like the results of their own actions, they pass the buck and blame somebody real, literally blaming the voiceless.
Councilman John Bullock: I know people, friends, family, who sold crack to eat, who used drugs because of their addiction, and some who went to jail for it. However, guns, which are often the tool of the trade, are a different subject. They are inherently tools of violence that result in the loss of life. Growing up in a violent neighborhood during the crack era of the ’80s and ’90s provides some context. Walking through many neighborhoods, including my own, was sometimes terrifying. I know people who were shot, who shot other people, who went to jail, who got killed, so I’m quite sensitive to the issue. In that environment though, my family stressed to me that I had three options. Run, which is how I found out I was fast; fight, which provides another level of danger; or give it up, which could save my life. None of these options included carrying a gun. No other country has anywhere hear the number of shootings and gun-related deaths per capita than the United States.
Councilman Kristerfer Burnett: I look forward to working with my colleagues to come up with comprehensive solutions to gun violence that are rooted in a public health perspective that make investments in educating our young people, in creating jobs and livable wages for families across the city of Baltimore. That work on removing lead paint and other things that people live in, all of our neighborhoods. I can go on and on. We have complex problems in this city that have been longstanding, and they require complex solutions that this bill is not, so I vote “no”.
Stephen Janis: But later, residents said the move was misguided. Like the Confederate statues, a nod to the past which they say ignores the needs of the present.
Christopher Irvin: So that’s the worry. That’s how we got to mass incarceration. They no longer had to prove that someone had the intent to commit a crime.
Stephen Janis: This is Stephen Janis and Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.