A key Baltimore official who has long advocated for ending the war on drugs says we need to continue to divert funds from policing to reduce violence in the city by Taya Graham and Stephen Janis
Taya Graham: This is Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. For years, policing has been considered the solution to all of Baltimore’s problems, but today we spoke to a key official who says it’s time for a change. Woman 1: Taking money from policing to fund social programs has long been a policy change advocated by some members of the Baltimore City Council. But, until now, there weren’t enough votes to make it happen. But last week, the Council voted unanimously to cut $2 million from the $497 million police budget on top of cuts already made by the mayor. And while some of the money was restored, it marked a first in the history of the city that has done little to curb its appetite for law enforcement. But the debate over de-emphasizing policing occurs as the city is facing another historically high year of violence. Last night, six people were murdered, putting the city on a record pace for homicide, which is why we sat down with City Council President, Jack Young, who has advocated for this change in funding priorities for over a decade, and to explore how the city transitions from less policing during a crisis of ongoing crime, and what can be done to give community more control over a department that soaks up more money than any other agency. Man 1: When you said we’re spending all this money on policing, but are we really getting value for what we’re investing in policing? Jack Young: I said that because I believe in being proactive. I believe that we put more money into preventive programs for our young people, our youth, in terms of recreation, after school programs, and entrepreneurship for our young people. Because, to be honest with you, most of them are great entrepreneurs. You see them running their little drug markets. Hey, let’s channel that energy into something positive. Maybe you can run a company selling your own line of shirts, your own line of clothing. So, I want to look at how we can change that dynamic from giving more money to the police department and giving it to productive programs for our youth, because we can’t police our way out of this. We have to think outside of the box and come up with some creative ways of thinking to get these young people into programs and show them that there’s hope. Right now, they think there’s no hope. Man 1: After a couple of years of record violence, what do you think is driving the violence right now? From your perspective, as a person who talks to people, not just from where the police come in. Jack Young: Drugs and beefs. Man 1: Beefs? Jack Young: You disrespect me. Or, you robbed my guy, you know, from his drugs. A lot of it stems from you messing with my lady. It’s a whole host of factors that’s driving the murder rate. But, if you look at the murder rate and what’s happening, it’s targeted. It’s like pre-meditated. “I’m going to go out and kill Steve tonight because he done set up shop in my area where I control.” So, that’s what I think is fueling all these killings and I don’t think we can police our way out of it. We need the whole community to come up and say, “Hey, enough is enough. We can’t police our way out of this. We, as a community, are going to take charge of this. We’re gonna start talking to our sons and daughters about the effects that you’re having on the city of Baltimore economically as well as socially.” Because people don’t want to come here! Because they think we’re a deadly city! But, I always ask the question: Why isn’t there murders, drug related murders, in Gilford, Rolland Park, Canton, and all these foreign areas? They’re just mostly in African American communities. Blacks killing blacks, and I have a problem with that. I cannot hold the police department accountable for targeted murders. We, as a community, have to step up to the plate. When we see things and know things, we need to report it. People say, “Well, if I report it, there’s no protection for me or my family.” I had a conversation with a couple of my friends offline, some judges, and I said, “Why can’t we have people to testify like they did in federal court without anybody knowing who they are?” They said, “Because the defendant have a right to know who their accusers are.” I think that’s the worst thing you could ever do. I think you need to protect people, because we can’t protect them. We can’t protect their family. I think that our federal government should find a way to be creative to let these folks who want to testify, who have seen murders, do it anonymously. That’s the only way we’re gonna solve the murder rate in the city of Baltimore. We have to make sure that witnesses are protected and that their families are protected. People want to come forth, but they’re worried about, “Hey, am I going to be the next one killed?” Or, “Are they gonna kill my mother or my sister or my brother because I snitched?” The stop-snitching culture has to stop in the city of Baltimore. A whole generation of young black men and women are being wiped off the face of the Earth. It’s worse than anything in Vietnam, or anything in these foreign countries- Afghanistan, Iraq. The murder rate in here, in Baltimore, is unacceptable. And they say, “Well, let the officials not speaking out.” I speak out all the time about it! Because I know that if the community comes together, if the grandmas, the grandfathers, the aunts and uncles, the mothers start talking to their children, tell them to put down the gun, that there’s a better way to solve our differences. Man 1: You have just filed a report that said the police department systemically practiced strategies that were targeting African Americans illegally. You had this gun trace task force that was going around robbing innocent people- all African American. You talk to people who have been locked up illegally. The city does nothing for them. I mean, isn’t the police department part of the problem, I mean if you look at it? Jack Young: I can’t say the police department is responsible for the murders. I’m not going to let you tell me that. Whether they have done some illegal things, to Commissioner Davis’ credit, he has been going after the cops who are dirty, and even some of the police who don’t want to be in that environment. We have a lot of honest, hard-working men and women in the police department, that don’t want to be a part of that little, small portion of the police department that’s doing things illegally. But they just like we are, afraid, too. What if I’m in a gun battle and I just told on somebody, and his friend that he’s my partner, and know that I’m the one that told on him. Is he gonna watch my back, keep me from getting gunned down? Man 1: So you think that people, the dirty part of the police department, will actually let people die in the police department? Like, they’re that dirty? Jack Young: I didn’t say that. Remember the guy, the police officer, who had the red on his car? I’m just using those kinds of things as examples. I’m not saying that they would actually do that. But that’s running in the minds of these officers, just like it’s running in the mind of myself. People know that people call my office about drugs and stuff. I’ve been threatened more than once throughout the years. Man 1: What kinds of threats? Jack Young: All kinds of threats. “We’re gonna get you.” They knocked on my door. You remember the story with Jay Miller tried to say that I was never threatened. You remember that? Man 1: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Jack Young: And Major [Shawry] recalled me because at the time Bill [Fell] said he had no record of that. And [Shawry] said, “Well get him to call me.” I remember the day that it happened. I remember you, I’m telling you we’re gonna put a police car in front of your door, and you told me, “No, I want that patrol car patrolling the community, not sitting in front of my door, ’cause I’m not afraid.” Man 1: You’ve had threats from drug dealers? Jack Young: I have gotten threats from them. That was awhile back. We all get threatened, not just me. If drug dealers know a certain person is disrupting their business, they’re going to come after you, because they feel as though, “You cutting off my income.” But my thing is, you don’t have to kill people over drugs. OK? You can have conflict resolution, and you can sit down and talk it over. “Hey man, look I’m sorry man. I took your stash, but look, I’m gonna make it up to you.” That kind of stuff. Because when you kill somebody, if affects a whole family. And the thing is they have to think, “What if I get killed? What effect would it have on my mother and my family.” They’d be devastated. So we need to find another route- maybe call a summit between the warring factions, and setting them down and saying, “Hey guys, you don’t have to do all these murders.” Not that I’m condoning drug dealing, but to stem the killings, I’m willing to sit down with the warring factions, and say, “Guys, put down the guns. Settle your dispute some other kind of way.” ‘Cause we’re not going to stop them from selling drugs. I don’t care what we do, we’re not going to stop it. The only way we’re going to stop it, if we do something about the failed war on drugs. There’s a failed war on drugs. Now, people said during Prohibition, “We can’t legalize alcohol ’cause everyone’s going to be a drunk.” So my whole take is, and I got some backlash for this a while back, I don’t know if you remember, I had a hearing on legalizing the drugs, right? Or decriminalizing the drugs. So the people, because we have to look at it from a health perspective, not from a criminal perspective, but a health perspective, for the people who are using. We don’t need to be locking up users, filling up the jails. We need to be giving them treatment, right? So if we put treatment centers in place- within the hospitals, not in the communities, in these hospitals- where they can go and get their treatment, just like they do methadone, which is another drug. They can go get their treatment. We drive down the demand for drugs, which will stop the killings, not only in the city of Baltimore, all over. Drugs is not only in the black community, it’s in the white community too now, ’cause now they’re trying to do something about it, ’cause young white kids are using drugs at an alarming rate. Man 1: Why aren’t there any drug dealers in Rolland Park and Homeland? Jack Young: They won’t tolerate. We tolerate it in black communities. They won’t tolerate it. And that’s what I’m trying to say. Our communities shouldn’t tolerate it either. If you look at Baltimore, and take the drug piece out with the killings, we have a beautiful city, a thriving city. But we have a problem with drugs and murders. Take that away, we’re one of the safest cities in America.