The community center in Brooklyn Homes was hopping on the Fourth of July, with children squirting water bottles at each other outside and adults inside receiving counseling and connecting with government programs — all a few days after dozens were injured and two were killed during a shooting at a block party.
Some in Brooklyn had important questions for the politicians who flocked to the South Baltimore neighborhood: Where was this support before? And will it remain?
“We want the community to know that, collectively, we stand together as state leadership, local leadership, federal leadership,” Gov. Wes Moore told a phalanx of reporters outside the community center. “We stand together, and we’re here to say that this is not just about the response to an incident, this is about how are we actually improving the quality of life for everybody for good.”
Standing beside and behind the Democratic governor were a bevy of politicians, sweating in Baltimore’s summer heat and humidity. Nearby, curious children petted a friendly goat.
Down the street, the city’s orange “Peace Mobile” offered a cool respite for neighbors, and some distance away, the police had their mobile command unit set up.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley said they had no information to share about the investigation into the perpetrators who fired on a crowd following the annual Brooklyn Day party in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Two people were killed — 18-year-old Aaliyah Gonzalez and 20-year-old Kylis Fagbemi — and 28 others were injured, most of them teenagers and young adults. Moore spent four hours at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center earlier in the day meeting with those still hospitalized and their families. He also — privately — watched video of the shooting with police officials on Tuesday.
Questions remain why there were no permits or police presence at the party. Worley has said that police found out about the party the same day it happened and were unable to mount a response. Police radio communications indicate police were aware that possibly as many as 1,000 people were gathered, and the Safe Streets violence interruption program had workers there earlier in the day. The police union has alleged there were not enough officers on duty.
As the city continues the police investigation and pours resources into Brooklyn, the mayor was asked what the response in the neighborhood will look like in the long term — next week, next month, next year.
Scott said the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement is in the early stages of a 45-day stabilization program. And he met privately the evening before with community residents and leaders to learn what they’d like to see in the neighborhood on a longer-term basis.
“This isn’t about the city government coming in. ... This is about working with people that are already here on the ground and assisting to uplift what the residents want,” the Democratic mayor said.
In the crowd in Brooklyn on Tuesday, Denise Reid piped up. She’s a volunteer and co-leader with Moms Demand Action, a gun violence prevention group.
She wanted to know: What about the children? How are we going to help them cope with adverse childhood experiences like gun violence?
“We can’t keep calling our children ‘thugs,’” she said. “We have to speak love into their hearts.”
Scott said that’s what the city is doing in Brooklyn and across the city, noting the work by the We Our Us mentoring group.
“We go to those young brothers and sisters with love and show them that there’s a different way. You have to build relationships with folks in order to get them to change their life,” Scott said. “No one’s going to show up and walk into Brooklyn Homes or any corner of Baltimore they want and think they’re going to change someone. You have to build that relationship.”
Fourteen-year-old Chakeem James was skeptical. He rehearsed his question silently as reporters and adults asked their questions. Then he spoke.
“Why is it that you are trying to help the community now and make it a nice place when there was a mass shooting that happened?” he asked. “Why haven’t you been doing that?”
“I would say we have been doing that,” Scott responded. He ticked off investments in a nearby school and recreation center. “This incident just heightens the need for us,” he said.
Chakeem said later that he was a little shocked that he got a response. He said he hopes the politicians will follow through. “I’m kind of with them, I guess,” he said.
But even officials who represent the area sometimes face struggles in helping the community.
City and state officials have been working for years, for example, to get money to renovate and expand Maree G. Farring Elementary/Middle School less than a mile away. It’s overcrowded, with a significant population of English language learners.
The project’s progress has been slow, and the state has only assigned money in small portions — not enough to move the school forward, said City Councilwoman Phylicia Porter and state Comptroller Brooke Lierman, who previously represented the neighborhood in the House of Delegates.
Del. Luke Clippinger said the focus on Brooklyn was needed. He hopes the renewed attention can help the community and its leaders make connections that will lead to future investments, including at the school.
“It shouldn’t take something like this to get help to Brooklyn Homes,” he said.