Perhaps the way Brooklyn came to be part of the city of Baltimore is symbolic of the way residents sometimes feel about their neighborhood today.
Although there are many things they love about where they live, they say they sometimes feel shut off from the city and an afterthought to more known neighborhoods in the same district, such as Locust Point and Federal Hill, which tend to be more vocal and politically active.
Located on the southernmost border of Baltimore, the neighborhood was a part of Anne Arundel County until it was annexed into the city in 1918. But sometimes it is still confused as part of the neighboring county, where there is a similarly named neighborhood, Brooklyn Park. While plenty of city neighborhoods say they feel ignored — it’s almost second nature for residents to gripe at some point about city services — some believe these uniquely Brooklyn traits make it seem even more so.
“The people of the Brooklyn neighborhood have felt cut off geographically, culturally and psychologically for 100 years,” said Del. Robbyn Lewis, who got a better understanding of the neighborhood after living there for a week in 2020 to connect with constituents.
These feelings as the outlier bubbled up for some when Brooklyn came under the national spotlight after a mass shooting that injured 30 people, two of them fatally. The attention has some residents hoping light is shed on what they consider long-standing issues: inconsistent city services, ineffective policing, inadequate political representation and not enough opportunities for youths.
The city has poured resources into the neighborhood since the shootings, but some wonder if it will last.
Alicia Lucksted, who’s lived in Brooklyn for six years, enjoys living next to a waterfront at an affordable cost. She volunteers with local organizations, including Action Baybrook, which has worked to get more people from the neighborhood registered to vote.
Brooklyn “would have more political clout if people voted,” said Lucksted, noting none of the city councilmembers or state lawmakers who represent the area lives in the neighborhood. She said she’s found there’s a common misperception about who can vote, especially those who have criminal records.
Mayor Brandon Scott’s office highlighted investments in or near Brooklyn, including a brand-new Bay Brook Elementary/Middle School, the Middle Branch Recreation Center and several grants issued to local organizations. Action Baybrook, City of Refuge and Reveille Grounds received Community Catalyst Grants for community development projects. The Greater Baybrook Alliance also received a grant for violence prevention and public safety.
But he added that residents’ feelings should not be discounted. “If we only point to those investments while residents are saying they don’t feel like they get enough support, then we’re simply not listening.”
Andrea Mayer and Lisa Bowling say it is certain local organizations that have worked to make the neighborhood better. For example, Action Baybrook, a nonprofit that works to improve the safety and well-being of residents by reducing blight, recently renovated a vacant house and welcomed new homeowners.
Mayer and Bowling said they love their Brooklyn homes, which they’ve made their own for at least two decades. The neighborhood, with its mix of housing stock — single-family homes, rowhomes and some apartment buildings — has a small-town feel. Small businesses line up along main streets such as Hanover Street and East Patapsco Avenue with the occasional boarded-up property in between. In February, Bank of America donated a closed branch to the community in the main commercial area.
But residents say the neighborhood has changed in recent years — and not always for the good. There used to be plenty of places to socialize, such as Gunning’s Crab House on Hanover Street and Club 4100, right over the line in Anne Arundel County. Club 4100 is the place where Baltimore Colts players congregated and Johnny Unitas gave out small footballs to kids for Easter, said Mayer and Bowling.
Not only has the social scene died down, but Mayer and Bowling agree that crime and trash are some of the issues in the neighborhood that counteract what they like about Brooklyn.
“There’s definitely a lot of negative here, but I don’t feel like it’s a horrible place,” Bowling said.
Mayer said she and her husband were driving near Brooklyn Homes before the shooting when they saw the huge crowd. She said it had to be at least 1,000 people and they had a feeling “something bad was gonna happen.” She was surprised more people didn’t get hurt or killed when news broke about the shooting.
Mayer, who owns a printing company started by her father in 1945, said there’s constantly trash on the streets and her business is next door to a shuttered, boarded-up grocery store. The fact that Brooklyn is also a food desert is a “Baltimore cliché” that needs to change, she said. Lidl on Governor Ritchie Highway in Brooklyn Park is set to close this month.
“It’s very demoralizing trying to make this neighborhood better because we don’t really have any support,” Mayer said, adding that residents often aren’t at the table when decisions are made about the community.
Mayer said it seemed as though the area was cleaned up before public officials visited Brooklyn days after the mass shooting. She wants the Department of Public Works to clean up the alleyways and main streets more efficiently. During a recent meeting, the department made promises to address some of the trash issues, she said. So far, she has seen an improvement.
During her one-week residency in Brooklyn, Lewis said, she became more aware that Brooklyn needs additional support in sanitation and public works services.
Brooklyn residents flood 311 with complaints about rats, poor sanitation and dirty streets and alleys. There have been 4,000 calls this year, a rate slightly higher than normal but far from the highest in the city.
Since June 1, the Department of Public Works’ Bureau of Solid Waste has closed out over 1,900 service requests in and around the Brooklyn neighborhood, according to Jennifer Combs, a spokesperson for the department. The Bureau of Solid Waste crews also joined Scott on a community walk July 5, where they addressed issues during the stroll.
Mayer said she’s also concerned about crime — specifically, the problem with the illegal sex trade in the community. Several signs are posted throughout the neighborhood warning people that sex solicitation is prohibited and encouraging them to “report suspect vehicles.” In 2019, Baltimore police arrested 19 men in a two-week sting operation mainly in the Brooklyn community. They were charged with soliciting an undercover cop for the purpose of prostitution.
The presence and efficacy of police officers seemed top of mind for several residents who shared their perspectives about the community.
Yusef Hadith, who has been a Brooklyn resident for at least 40 years, said he misses the “old ways” of policing, when officers got to know everybody and embedded themselves in the community. Hadith is a merchant who sells soaps, deodorants and other novelties and self-care products.
“They need to walk around and get to learn the community. They need to make them do that. That’s not a choice they have. They need to learn the community because they kill our young youth too,” Hadith said.
Too often, he added, he sees police officers in their cruisers, not engaging and “sitting around on my taxpaying dollars.”
The city has beefed up community policing in Brooklyn and other neighborhoods, though not everyone thinks it’s been effective. Neighborhood coordinating officers, who are supposed to lead community outreach, are part of the Baltimore City Police Department’s community policing plan. The Brooklyn area is included in a pilot for neighborhood policing plans, which allow officers and community residents to collaborate on public safety strategies. In Brooklyn and Curtis Bay, the neighborhood coordinating officers have submitted over 900 311 requests for dirty streets, vacant properties, illegal dumping and more, according to the department.
Hadith said he stays in Brooklyn because at 68 years old he thinks he can share wisdom and advice with young people. Neighborhoods need the elders, he said. He feels he knows many of the kids and young adults in the area and, like several other residents, he thinks they need opportunities offered to them.
That doesn’t mean the neighborhood is void of activities for kids. A Boys and Girls Club sits at Garrett Park, across from the Enoch Pratt Library’s Brooklyn branch. On a weekday, children shuffled out of the building in bright orange shirts. Another place that seems to attract kids during the summer is the pool at Farring-Bay Brook Recreation Center.
Nikki Gibbs, with Baltimore City Recreation and Parks Aquatics, said she’s worked at the pool for at least four years. She tries to keep snacks stockpiled during the week for the kids. Since the shooting at Brooklyn Homes, which is very close by, the pool has seen 15 to 20 fewer kids each day, she said.
“You can’t live your life in fear, and that’s what’s happening now. People are scared,” she said.
Gibbs lives in Curtis Bay, but her son plays for a baseball team that practices at the fields near the pool. She said South Baltimore, in general, has a reputation for not being a safe place. Gibbs, who’s originally from West Baltimore, tried to get kids to play for the team, but they refused when they found out it was based in Brooklyn.
Gibbs thinks it’s unfortunate that it took a shooting to bring attention to Brooklyn, but she thinks it will be a wake-up call for change.
“We gotta do better. If we can give it to one neighborhood, we can give it to another, but they gotta want to,” she said.
Mayor Scott said the city will continue to direct resources to Brooklyn long after the shooting.
“We won’t just be responding in Brooklyn for a few days or a few weeks. We will keep pouring resources and necessary support into this community — and so many other neighborhoods across the city who need them,” Scott said.
He also wants to change the perspective that political strength and socioeconomic wherewithal are the only ways for the city to thrive.
“For most of Baltimore’s history, they’re right that it took money, power or political muscle to get anything done in our city. I’ve been fighting to change that historic injustice my entire career, and my promise to Brooklyn residents and every single Baltimorean is that that’s not how we are doing things,” Scott said in a statement.
Lucksted said it’s not as if Brooklyn Homes and other residents haven’t been advocating for better situations, but the neighborhoods will take help where they can get it even though the gesture of help since the shooting seems a bit “hollow.”
She and other residents said they will wait and see what happens next.