The fight for the destiny of Black Children in Baltimore has intensified as hundreds of city residents, including high school students, college students, clergy, community activists, and many others, are voicing their firm opposition to Governor Martin O’Malley’s plan to build a $104 Million Dollar Youth Jail at 600 E. Monument Street in a community already saturated with “correctional” facilities.
In overwhelming fashion, community members agree that this is not the best use of state tax dollars and there are more productive ways to engage issues surrounding youth offenders specifically and public safety generally. The truth of the matter is that 40% of all prison and correctional facilities in the state of Maryland are found in Baltimore City. Given that, outside observers might be led to conclude that Baltimore City has to be one of the safest places in the state given the mountain of resources that have been thrown into building barns with bars for all the “bad guys”. Those closer to the situation know differently and even without the statistical data or the political polish, most Black Baltimoreans especially know instinctively that building more jails does not mean increasing public safety. We also know that if resources are invested on the front-end of life; then the need for these types of facilities diminishes greatly.
Despite this common wisdom that permeates many Black communities in Baltimore; there seems to be a disconnect between the will of Black Baltimoreans and the actions of Black politicians. While community members and grassroots activists have been vocal in stating and demonstrating their opposition to Governor Martin O’Malley’s $104 Million Dollar Youth Jail; far too many Black Politicians in Baltimore have offered up only muted support or worse. The majority of Black elected officials in Baltimore City have been virtually silent on this issue causing many to believe that they have made a pact with the devil (so to speak) to gain political favor in exchange for their betrayal of their own community. (Delegate Jill Carter from District 41 being the notable and laudable exception. Thank you, Del. Carter!)
In the throes of a contentious gubernatorial election, rumors abound that Governor Martin O’Malley’s campaign team has been contacting youth-serving organizations, advocacy groups, and politicians in the city requesting their silence on the issue of the youth jail scheduled to be built in East Baltimore. While these claims have yet to be fully substantiated; one wonders how else it can be explained that persons who are accustomed to being “in the know” and on top of the latest and largest things going on in the city have yet to say much at all about a $100 million dollar-plus project coming to East Baltimore. It is almost as if the project doesn’t exist.
Of particular interest are the elected officials who represent the district where this Youth Jail is slated to be built. While the area is represented by Congressman Elijah Cummings and Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin on the federal level; it’s the state and local elected officials who are of particular concern. These are the individuals whom one would think have a greater finger on the pulse of the community and a greater readiness to respond to the will of those they were elected to serve. These are the ones who meet the neighbors, attend community meetings, get to know families, receive calls from those in need, and are invited to community events, pushed to the microphone and applauded. Surely, one would assume that they are in lock-step with the souls of Black Folks in District 40 (councilmanic district 12) – knowing their yearnings, their unmet needs, and being in tune with the community desire for itself. However, this does not seem to be the case.
SENATOR CATHERINE PUGH
The State Senator for District 40, Senator Catherine Pugh, is in the position of traditional legislative leadership for that district and there is no published comment anywhere that she offers up in relation to the $104 Million Dollar Youth Jail. She’s not publicly spoken on the project either way. This is particularly unsettling because she is also the Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland which is holding its Annual Conference beginning two days after next week’s mid-term election. One of the primary objectives of the caucus is to “act as a legislative body on behalf of the Black community” and advocate policies that serve the best interest of the Black community. One wonders if she thinks that building this Youth Jail serve the interest of the Black community. Her deafening silence belies her complicity in O’Malley’s dastardly plot to yet again secure political advantage and curry corporate favor on the backs of Black children. Pugh’s lack of leadership on this issue not only undermines the destiny of her district, but also gives heads up as to what we can expect from the Black Caucus in the coming years.
DELEGATE BARBARA ROBINSON
Much of the same can be said for Delegate Barbara Robinson who also “represents” District 40 and “serves” as the 2nd Vice Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland along with Pugh. After repeated attempts to contact her for comment on the issue of the youth jail being built in her district, she offers no comment.
DELEGATE SHAWN TARRANT
To the credit of Delegate Shawn Tarrant, he was interviewed on the Marc Steiner show on WEAA 88.9FM over the summer and came out against the project, however, since that time has not publicly demonstrated his opposition to O’Malley’s Youth Jail. While his verbal support is appreciated and is much more than his colleagues have offered up; what you say on the radio only takes us so far. With all the talk radio shows in Baltimore, thousands of people have the opportunity everyday to pick up the phone and voice their opinion. But in this town “radio revolutionaries” come a dime a dozen. We need more people who hang up the phone, get off the radio, and get in the streets.
DELEGATE FRANK CONAWAY, JR.
Delegate Frank Conaway, Jr. is puzzling in terms of his lack of attention to this issue. Though he comes from a political family known for speaking out on controversial issues,he too has been publicly silent. His father in particular, Frank Conaway, Sr. who is Clerk of City Courts, is remembered for his public clashes and critique of Martin O’Malley when he was Mayor of Baltimore. Frank “The Son”, however, has not followed in Dad’s footsteps on this point.
CITY COUNCILMAN CARL STOKES
Finally, City Councilman and former Baltimore Mayoral Candidate, Carl Stokes who represents the same neighborhood as his state-level colleagues listed above, has not publicly spoken out either. Private emails convey his disagreement with the project, but one would think that he would seize the opportunity to publicly demonstrate his commitment to the community particularly given the speculation around town that he’s considering a run for Mayor next year.
All in all, the entire team receives a failing grade on this issue for their convenient silence and in some cases outright complicity in partnering with Governor Martin O’Malley to build a $104 Million Dollar Youth Jail in their community. Many conclude that the Prison Industrial Complex and the “School-to-Prison Pipeline” represents the 21st Century version of slavery in this country for American Africans and Latinos in particular. If that is true, then a brand new slave ship is being built in East Baltimore and those whom Bro. Malcolm X might characterize as “House Negroes” are standing by and letting it happen.
In addressing the Vietnam War, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.” These Black Politicians (and their silent colleagues) are in danger of tarnishing their would-be legacies and becoming known as the ones who were curiously and conveniently asleep at the switch at a time when Black Youth needed them most.