Baltimore’s Black, white residents differ on police issues, severity of housing and litter problems

Published on: July 02, 2022 6:00 AM EDT

The inaugural Baltimore Now poll was conducted in partnership between The Baltimore Banner and the Goucher College Poll. It surveys city residents on important issues concerning life in Baltimore.

Baltimore’s Black and white residents agree on many things, but they have divergent views on issues such as police treatment of minorities, the availability of affordable housing and the severity of the litter problem, according to a poll of city residents for The Baltimore Banner.

The survey also found that Mayor Brandon Scott is viewed favorably by nearly half of both groups, but that white city residents were far less supportive than Black respondents of two embattled African American leaders: Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and her husband, City Council President Nick Mosby.

The Baltimore Now poll, conducted by Goucher College and commissioned by The Banner, surveyed 1,002 Baltimoreans representative of city demographics by cellphone and landline from May 17-23. The poll has a margin of error of 3.09 percentage points.

Kobi Little, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, said the poll results underscore the difference in perceptions between racial groups in Baltimore.

“The white experience in Baltimore is different than the Black experience — and theirs is better,” he said. “White perception of Black quality of life seems to [be] that things are better for Black people than they are.”

Courtney Baker, a 36-year-old groundskeeping supervisor who lives in Reservoir Hill, said he was not completely surprised to see a racial gap in poll responses.

“It’s still shocking to me how de facto segregated Baltimore is,” said Baker, who is multiracial. “I used to spend summers in Arkansas, and I feel that even the Deep South is less segregated than Baltimore is.”

Little added: “There are differences in perception. We need to look at why these perceptions exist. We need to start conversations and relationships and eventually eliminate the dual set of eyes.”

Common ground

Not that Blacks and whites see the city totally differently.

The poll found agreement on a number of questions. While 68% of whites feel safe in their neighborhood, 65% of Black respondents feel the same way. About the same percentage — slightly more than half — of Blacks and whites have an optimistic view of Baltimore. City schools CEO Sonja Santelises is viewed positively by 28% of white and 25% of Black respondents, the poll found.

The differences come into sharper focus when city residents are asked about law enforcement.

Black and white Baltimoreans differ on police funding, a contentious issue in light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2015 death in police custody of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man from West Baltimore. His death was followed by protests and calls for police accountability and reform.

According to the poll, 49% of white respondents said they favored an increase in funding for the police department compared to 41% of Black respondents. Thirty-three percent of Black respondents say police funding should be kept the same, compared to 22% of white respondents who hold that view.

“It’s hard to justify a half-billion dollars spent on the police department coming out of a weekend where 19 people are shot. You wonder, what are we getting for our money when crime is going up and not down?” asked Kaye Whitehead, associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland.

Baker gives poor marks to police, particularly when it comes to traffic enforcement and solving petty crimes.

“If they can’t get that done, they don’t deserve more money,” he said.

Violence in the schools and school safety were also viewed differently. The poll found 82% of Black Baltimoreans feel they represent a major issue compared to 69% of white city residents.

And Black and white respondents have different takes on the extent of the problem of trash and illegal dumping in the streets.

Both groups agree it is a problem. But while 60% of white respondents said it was a major issue, 75% of Black respondents felt the same way. Thirty-six percent of white respondents said it was a minor issue compared to 18% of Black residents.

“It is a perennial pet peeve,” said Baker, who came to Baltimore two years ago from Lansing, Michigan. “The amount of trash is ridiculous. I’m sure the city gives you trash cans, but people just throw garbage on the ground.”

As for the lack of affordable housing, 62% of white respondents said it was a major issue compared to 77% of Black residents. Twenty-six percent of white residents said it was a minor issue and 10% said it was not an issue at all. Meanwhile, 14% of Black residents said it was a minor issue and 6% said it wasn’t an issue at all.

Black and white city residents are more closely aligned when it comes to crime. Ninety-one percent of Black respondents said crime is a major issue while 89% of white Baltimoreans said the same thing. Overwhelming majorities of Blacks and whites — 83% and 78%, respectively — support stricter gun control laws and related punishments for gun crimes.

Crime concerns vary

For Shanicka Rice, a 42-year-old Hamilton resident who is Black, crime remains her top issue. And while she feels safe in her neighborhood, she said she knows violence can strike at any moment. Four months ago, she witnessed a shooting near Giant Food on East 33rd Street.

“It shook me. It’s sickening. It’s awful,” she said. “Every week I know someone who knows someone who has been murdered. I would be in favor of increasing funding for the Police Department if I knew it would decrease gun violence.”

She said she believes litter and the lack of affordable housing are problems, but not as big as crime.

Whitehead is not surprised by the divergent opinions, especially when it comes to police funding.

“It is taking a hard look at the money we are spending out and the results that we are getting,” she said.

As for elected officials, the poll revealed a gap in perceptions of Marilyn and Nick Mosby.

Sixty percent of respondents said they disapprove of the state’s attorney’s job performance, while 58% expressed disapproval of the City Council president.

But when the data is broken down by the race of the respondents, the gap widens.

Seventy-seven percent of white respondents said they disapproved of the job Marilyn Mosby is doing, compared to just over half of Black respondents. Seventy-two percent of white respondents said they disapproved of Nick Mosby’s performance, compared to 52% of Black participants in the poll.

“She [Marilyn Mosby] is very popular with the African American community,” Whitehead said, citing Mosby’s willingness to go after police officers following Gray’s death. “That made her a household name nationwide.”

For the Mosbys, the signal of public disapproval comes amid a staffing crisis in the State’s Attorney’s Office and months after federal investigators charged Marilyn Mosby with perjury and falsifying mortgage applications on two Florida vacation properties. She is running for reelection while awaiting a September trial.

Nick Mosby has not been charged with any crimes. But a city ethics board ruled in May that he had violated ethics laws by indirectly soliciting donations to fund the legal defense for him and his wife against the federal investigation, including contributions from at least two unnamed city contractors. Late last week, the City Council president filed an appeal of the ethics board decision in Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

Little describe the Mosbys as strong advocates for the Black community, which he suspects contributes to the different levels of support from Black and white residents.

“We attack Black leadership in inequitable ways,” Little said. “And we also see the perception of Black leadership looked down upon.”

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison received similar job performance ratings from Black and white respondents — about 50% each.

When it came to the mayor’s job approval, Black and white respondents were essentially the same.

Forty-eight percent of white Baltimoreans disapproved of Scott’s job performance, compared to 46% of Black residents. Meanwhile, 44% of whites approved of the job the mayor was doing compared to 43% of Blacks. As for overall favorability, 49% of Black and white respondents each gave Scott a favorable rating.

“If you talk to Mayor Brandon Scott, let him know that he needs to do something about these guns. Why are they getting in the hands of young people and people with mental illness?” Rice asked.

She acknowledged “this has been an issue in Baltimore before Brandon Scott was elected.”

Baker said he “sympathizes” with the mayor because “Baltimore is a very neglected city. And you can only do so much.”

Whitehead said issues such as litter and snow removal remain important with voters, and that improvement in these areas could boost Scott’s job approval rating.

“They remember that when they vote,” Whitehead said. “We might not be able to reduce crime, but we can clean up the city.”

Adam Willis contributed to this report

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