Baltimore Bloc activists chanting "drop the charges, drop the bail" interrupted the Baltimore City Council meeting tonight.
Upset by high bails for some involved in the week's protests and riots and long waits for nonviolent protesters to get out of jail, the group, which brought its own media crew, hung a banner from the balcony and held one at the back of the council chambers until police gently escorted them out of the building.
"See, that is why I have been advocating for better education for young people about how government works," Second District City Councilman Brandon Scott said privately as the chamber quieted. "I told the kids they should be doing this at the courthouse."
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said something similar from his perch at the front of the room. "This is not the right way to do it," he told the council and the TV cameras that record city council meetings.
The interruption came just as Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton (6th District) tried to report on an amendment to an urban renewal project in Franklin Square, on the West side. "Urban renewal plans are an important part of rebuilding our city," she said.
The council completed that and several other routine matters, and announced some hearing dates. Then Councilman Bill Henry (4th District) gave a speech.
"Last Tuesday," he began, "we stood behind the podium just outside this room" and spoke to "a room packed with journalists" about the riots of the night previous. Henry said that just 19 hours before that, he stood at that same podium to talk about the need for $4 million in supplementary funding for city schools. There was one camera then. "Tonight, camera crews appeared out of nowhere to capture protests against another part of government to us." Now, Henry continued, there are only one or two reporters left to cover the doings of the government.
"So I reiterate the message that has been drowned out over the past week: The way to deal with unrest is to keep it from happening in the first place," Henry continued. The way to do that is to fund positive government functions like schools, libraries, summer jobs, and recreation centers, but "the police department has been eating their lunch for a quarter century."
Henry said that, 25 years ago, the city's parks and recreation budget was $35 million while the police budget was $165 million. "We spend less today on recreation than we did a quarter century ago," Henry said. "The police department budget has nearly tripled.
"We purposely disinvested in our children, in favor of catching and caging them," Henry said.
The city's budget goes to the Board of Estimates on Wednesday, Henry said: "After that, we can’t add to it."
He called on his colleagues and constituents to pressure the mayor to fund city functions that will tend to prevent unrest in the future.
"For years," Henry concluded, "we have been trying to police our way out of a situation that we cannot police our way out of."
He sat down to applause.