Back in April, Gersham Cupid says he was on patrol in Sandtown when a guy flipped him off and yelled "Fuck the police" at his passing car. A few seconds later, he says, he heard two gunshots. He assumes they shot at him.
An engineer by education, Cupid joined the Baltimore Police Department a decade ago and is now a sergeant in the Northwestern District. The 28-year-old Baltimore native says he's been dissatisfied with city leadership for a while, but never considered running for office until last spring. He says the media depictions of Freddie Gray's death and its aftermath are wildly out of sync with his experiences. He calls the defendants in that case "The Baltimore Six."
A few days after shots were fired (maybe) at his patrol car, but still before the city exploded, Cupid got a call for a burglar alarm on North Avenue near a notorious Crips gang house. As he walked up the sidewalk toward his call, he says, one of the gang guys stepped in front of him.
"I'm not here for you," he says he told the guy.
Other gang members lined up behind the first one. They told Cupid to get off the block.
Cops can't back down when gang members tell them to get off the block. Cupid stood his ground, he says, and after a stare down, the Crips retreated.
When people talk about the Baltimore Uprising, and say that the police prompted the violence with a false report of gang threats, it makes Cupid angry. The threats were credible, he says. He knows these people personally and has dealt with them for years.
He was similarly disappointed with the City Council when President Bernard C. "Jack" Young held a press conference with gang members who claimed they had called a "truce" in order to help the community. "Why would the city council stand with these guys," Cupid asks. "How would you feel to see the President of the United States standing with the leader of ISIS?"
That violence in the city exploded last year is no coincidence, Cupid says: rank-and-file police felt that their commanders did not have their back.
He says the department has big problems, but is not beyond reform. "There is a level of corruption but also a level of professionalism," Cupid says. "I call it controlled chaos."
The first problem has been that stated policies don't match realities. "You know Joe Crystal?" he asks, referring to the city cop who, after blowing the whistle on two cops who beat up a suspect, was harassed out of the department and filed a lawsuit. "The policy of no retaliation means nothing. He didn't get support."
But no reform proposal currently on the table "addresses the issue of the Baltimore Six," he says. "They should have got him medical attention when he asked for it," he says, but suspects fake injury all the time, and Gray had a previous injury to his back.
Mainly, Cupid says, the department needs "to do a better job of dealing with the emotions of the public."
It's not a message that resonates with everyone. "I know some people are gonna say bad things because I'm a cop," Cupid says. "I'm prepared to answer those questions."
Unlike most of his political rivals, Cupid would not alter the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, saying it's the only thing that protects a good officer from scurrilous charges.
He says more technology in the schools will attract industry to Baltimore while preparing students to avoid the criminal culture that pulls them to the streets. He says he saw how that happens in Hamilton Middle School and Lake Clifton High School.
"Very few of my friends dropped out of middle school to start selling drugs," he says. But in high school, "it was a lot." He estimates 60 percent of his high school classmates might have gone to college if their opportunities had been better.
Cupid says the governor's demolition funding is a good start to a comprehensive housing policy. He wants city government to syndicate real estate investors to "rebuild the whole community" instead of just a few houses or a block, like he thinks Vacants to Value, the city's current program, does.
The communities would include stores, schools, parks, "everything you need so you feel good about the community," he says.
He's not familiar with the Poppleton Redevelopment Project, an ambitious 15-year-old plan for a big swath of the district he patrols, in which a New York-based orthodontist and some famous people are supposed to do what he's saying ought to be done. It's not so easy.
"The vision sounds great," Cupid says finally. "The way they went about it is probably the problem."