Op-Alt: Unite our city with equal access to services, improved quality of life

City Paper

On April 12, Freddie Gray was severely injured in an encounter with the police, suffering a severed spine and damaged voice box. He died a week later. He was not the first detainee to experience severe spinal injuries while in police custody. Since 2004, at least two others have suffered severe spinal injuries while detained by Baltimore police officers. And he is not the first Baltimore resident to be mistreated by the police—the city has paid out over $6 million in police-related cases since 2011, and between 2010 and 2014 more than 100 people have died in police custody. 

City and state officials are not ignorant here, nor are they passive bystanders. Baltimore residents have organized for police reform for years and have been consistently ignored by both the Maryland General Assembly and the mayor. Cronyism, and a system that grants too much power to officials and influential interests, severely reduces the ability of citizens like Gray to be heard. And our elected officials, whatever their stated differences in policy or personality styles, too often bear twin-like resemblance to one another when it comes to their attention to the serious problems of inequity.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Gray’s death at the hands of Baltimore police has pushed rage to a tipping point. Last week, we had police in riot gear, a National Guard presence, and curfews in Baltimore. City, and state leaders have not come up with a response beyond controlling communities. During the uprising in 1968, Gov. Spiro Agnew asked black leaders to control the protests and to quell demonstrations while refusing to engage in the issues of racial injustice that drove people of Baltimore to rise up after MLK’s assassination. One could argue officials are using the same tactics and strategies Baltimore used almost 50 years ago.

We believe another way is possible.

It is being defined by the efforts of a number of grassroots organizations with actual accountability to their communities.

This way recognizes that the people of the Western District in particular, the people who live in the neighborhood Freddie Gray lived in, have a right to the city. They have a right to all of the services the city provides. They have a right to be treated as full citizens by the government and by government officials. This right is an inherent right, rather than a privilege only conferred to people with the right class background, the right education, the right job, or the right race.

This way also involves recognizing that the police themselves lie at the heart of the problem we face in Baltimore. While Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and President Obama himself talk about “thugs,” it bears noting that neither have focused on the specific, literally back-breaking activity of the police; they’ve only referred to it in the abstract. There can be no effective peace generated by police actions. They have neither the capacity nor the legitimacy.

Finally, this way involves policy. City and state officials have an opportunity to not just provide carbon-copy approaches, but to actually recognize citizens’ right to the city, by providing increased access, authority, and control. This would not only allow more people at the table but, by acknowledging that the table is, in fact, the people’s table, Baltimore could become a city that breaks the current, unjust, mold of what a city can be.

There are a range of policies we know can make police function to protect rather than harm the public interest. These policies not only include mandatory use of body cameras, but policies that require that review boards include regular citizens, reduce the amount of time police can go without giving a formal statement, and extend the amount of time citizens have to file a formal complaint.

In addition, as Freddie Gray faced not only police violence but economic violence, there are a range of policies that we know can increase the quality of life people like Freddie Gray have, policies that can enable them to exert their right to the city. These policies include support for public institutions like public housing, they include support for local control of schools, they include support for worker-owned cooperatives, they include support for limitations on the types of weapons and restraints police may use.

There’s a popular quote that likely predates “The Wire.” There’s the Baltimore that reads and the Baltimore that bleeds. We know which Baltimore Gray lived in. Indeed, that’s likely why he was killed with impunity. It is in all of our best interests to create one Baltimore. A Baltimore that leads. 

Signed, 

  1. Yousuf Al-Bulushi, Assistant Professor of Peace Studies, Goucher College
  2. Rina Agarwala, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
  3. Bentley B. Allan, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
  4. Jackie Andrews, Senior Laboratory Instructor Biology Department, Goucher College
  5. Bob Barbera, Co-Director, Center for Financial Economics, Johns Hopkins University
  6. Sara Berry, Academy Professor and Professor Emeritus, Department of History, Johns Hopkins University
  7. Emily Billo, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Goucher College
  8. Frona Brown, Assistant Professor of Education, Goucher College
  9. Lawrence Brown, Assistant Professor, School of Community Health & Policy, Morgan State University
  10. Rebecca M. Brown, Associate Professor, Department of History of Art, Johns Hopkins University
  11. Laura Burns, Assistant Professor of Art and Art History, Goucher College
  12. Ryan M. Calder, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
  13. Ying Chen, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Johns Hopkins University
  14. Mina Cheon PhD, MFA, Full-time Professor Foundation, Electronic Media, Liberal Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)
  15. Kimberly Coleman, Assistant Professor, School of Community Health & Policy, Morgan State University
  16. Richard A. Cone, Professor, Department of Biophysics, Johns Hopkins University
  17. Bill Connolly, Krieger Eisenhower Professor, Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
  18. Michael Corbin, Independent Scholar
  19. Jennifer L. Culbert, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
  20. D. B. Connolly, Assistant Professor, Department of History, Johns Hopkins University
  21. Veena Das, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor, Department of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University
  22. Seble Dawit, Associate Professor of Peace Studies, Goucher College
  23. James F. Dator, Assistant Professor of History, Goucher College
  24. Evan Dawley, Assistant Professor of History, Goucher College
  25. Steve DeCaroli, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Goucher College
  26. Kelly Brown Douglas, Elizabeth Conolly Todd Distinguished Professor of Religion, Goucher College
  27. Samuel A. Chambers, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Johns Hopkins University
  28. Julie Chernov Hwang, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Goucher College
  29. Jeffrey Dowd, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology, Goucher College
  30. Lorece Edwards, Associate Professor, School of Community Health & Policy, Morgan State University
  31. William Egginton, Anderw W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, Johns Hopkins University
  32. Nicole Fabricant, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice, Towson University
  33. Irline Francoise, Associate Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Goucher College
  34. Rebecca Free, Associate Professor Department of Theatre, Goucher College
  35. François Furstenberg, Associate Professor, Department of History, Johns Hopkins University
  36. Linda Garofalo, Instructor of Dance, Goucher College
  37. Nyasha Grayman-Simpson, Associate Professor of Psychology, Goucher College
  38. Meredith J. Greif, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
  39. Clara Han, MD/PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University
  40. Anita Hawkins, Assistant Dean, School of Community Health & Policy, Morgan State University
  41. Floyd W. Hayes, III, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, Coordinator of Programs and Undergraduate Studies, Center for Africana Studies
  42. Ailish Hopper, Assistant Professor of Peace Studies, Goucher College
  43. Mian Hossain, Professor, School of Community Health & Policy, Morgan State University
  44. Emek Karaca, PhD Candidate, Department of Economics, Johns Hopkins University
  45. Nina Kasniunas, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Goucher College
  46. Cynthia Kicklighter, Associate Professor of Biology, Goucher College
  47. Ali Khan, Abram Hutzler Professor of Political Economy, Department of Economics, Johns Hopkins University.
  48. Naveeda Khan, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins Unversity
  49. Nicole King, Associate Professor, Department of American Studies
  50. University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  51. Gizem Kosar, PhD Candidate, Johns Hopkins University
  52. Gabriel Kroiz, BSAED Program Director, Associate Professor, Morgan State University
  53. Huei-Ying Kuo, Senior Lecturer and Assistant Research Scientist, Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
  54. Jenny Lenkowski, Assistant Professor of Biology, Goucher College
  55. Anne Marie O'Keefe, Associate Professor, School of Community Health & Policy, Morgan State University
  56. Michael Levien , Assistant Professor Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
  57. Isabel Moreno-Lopez, Professor of Hispanic Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, Goucher College
  58. Jamie Mullaney, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Goucher College
  59. Jeff Myers, Associate Professor of English, Goucher College
  60. Yi-Ping Ong, Assistant Professor, Humanities Center, Johns Hopkins University
  61. Phaye Poliakoff-Chen, Director of Writing Program, Goucher College
  62. Hank Ratrie, Senior Laboratory Instructor and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Biology, Goucher College
  63. Hollis Robbins, PhD, Director, Center for Africana Studies, Johns Hopkins University
  64. Angelo Robinson, Associate Professor of English, Goucher College
  65. William T. Rowe, Cooke Professor of Chinese History, Department of History, Johns Hopkins University
  66. Randy Rowel, Associate Professor, School of Community Health & Policy, Morgan State University
  67. Erica Schoenberger, Professor, Dept of Geography and Environmental Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
  68. Carolyn Schwarz, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Goucher College
  69. Leslie Shellow, Instructor of Art, MICA
  70. Todd Shepard, Associate Professor, Department of History, Johns Hopkins University
  71. Jessica Shiller, Assistant Professor, Department of Instructional Leadership and Professional Development, Towson University 
  72. Eric Singer, Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Goucher College
  73. Beverly J. Silver, Professor, Department of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University
  74. Amy E. Skillman, Director of Master’s in Cultural Sustainability, Goucher College
  75. Lester K. Spence, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science & Center of Africana Studies, Johns Hopkins University
  76. Colin Starger, Assistant Professor, University of Baltimore School of Law
  77. Kim Sydnor, Dean, School of Community Health & Policy, Morgan State University
  78. Raymond Terry, Sr., Assistant Professor, School of Community Health & Policy, Morgan State University
  79. Rochelle Tobias, Professor, Department of German and Romance Languages and Literatures, Johns Hopkins University
  80. Rory Turner, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Goucher College
  81. Renee Van der Stelt, Instructor of Art, MICA
  82. Hent de Vries, Russ Family Professor in the Humanities
  83. The Humanities Center & Department of Philosophy, Johns Hopkins University

 

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