Acting Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley acknowledged early and often Thursday evening the gaps in the department’s response to, and failure to intervene ahead of, the deadly shooting in South Baltimore earlier this month during a marathon hearing at City Hall.
As Worley made known the agency’s shortcomings and pledged accountability, others used the podium to point fingers away from themselves. The leader of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, which owns and manages public housing across the city, said officials are exploring evictions for tenants who they say violated the terms of their residency agreements by throwing a large gathering on the premises without giving proper notice.
Meanwhile, other agency leaders and service providers defended their roles in the lead-up to the tragedy in Brooklyn. The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, for example, said they didn’t know about plans for the annual Brooklyn Day event until after the fact but started coordinating a response to the mass-trauma event before dawn Sunday morning.
The July 2 shooting, which killed two young people, ages 18 and 20, and injured more than two dozen others between ages 13 and 32, happened shortly after midnight on the tails of Brooklyn Day, an annual community celebration.
Even after hours of testimony and presentation, big question marks remained about the effectiveness of Mayor Brandon Scott’s administration both in advance and in the wake of the violence. Some of the questions relate to the role of the city’s flagship violence interruption program, Safe Streets, which mediated as many as five conflicts at Brooklyn Day before workers’ shifts ended, officials said. More than an hour later, the gunfire started.
Those who oversee and help fund the program wouldn’t say if mediators knew if there were weapons on-site or what they did with that knowledge. And city officials said they had not yet reviewed Safe Street workers’ logs about that night, which they enter into a shared software system anonymously.
“What happened was awful. We are all grieving as a city,” said City Administrator Faith Leach, stepping in for a representative of Associated Catholic Charities — the group that runs the Safe Streets Brooklyn site — to defend the program after it came under fire from some members of the council.
Leach said providing more details about Safe Streets’ activities could “compromise” their work. The group relies on using longtime community residents as mediators to quash conflicts before they erupt into violence.
But Leach’s explanations didn’t satisfy at least one attendee who was up in the balcony of council chambers. “Two children are dead!” he shouted angrily.
The large Thursday evening crowd — which included a couple state lawmakers, a rare sighting at council hearings — packed City Hall for the lengthy hearing, where representatives from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, the Department of Transportation, the housing authority and the Baltimore Police Department took turns at the microphone.
Not all were placated by the amount of information they were given. City Councilwoman Phylicia Porter, who represents Brooklyn and South Baltimore, decried the explanations offered by the various agency heads.
“I know that you all took time to develop your presentations for this hearing tonight, but it is not up to the level where we need to be,” she said. “No new information was provided to me, and I’m deeply disappointed.”
And Kobi Little, the head of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, said the organization would hold its own news conference at a later date to fill in the gaps left by members of the council and city agencies.
He wondered how city officials and service providers could find fault with residents who have long-standing problems making rent and connecting with services in Brooklyn.
“I have heard a lot of explanations tonight that didn’t make sense,” Little said. “We’ll see you in the media.”
In public remarks Thursday, Worley said continued review of the situation has exposed “a greater breakdown in judgement and communication” that he described as unacceptable.
“I’m angry, sad and very disappointed,” said Worley, who took the helm of the Police Department in an acting capacity in June. He said the agency has already implemented internal changes and pledged to “get to the bottom of what happened.”
That effort includes an after-action report that Worley said will dig deep into the agency’s actions and inactions the night of the shooting. He and representatives of the department said they will be able to answer some questions better once the report is finished.
Still, council members took turns poking holes in timelines, critiquing carefully crafted explanations and voicing concerns about “reactive” responses to a neighborhood that has long been in need of more attention.
City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, in particular, slammed MONSE for shielding some details surrounding Safe Streets’ role even though the mediators receive city funding. And City Councilman Eric Costello said MONSE’s claims of not knowing about the event before it happened represents a failure of its own.
But MONSE interim executive director Stefanie Mavronis held firm that Safe Streets workers are not technically city employees or law enforcement officers, and that their approach to conflict de-escalation has proven successful in parts of Baltimore and across the county. And she said Safe Streets workers, who are not armed, attended the event as part of their usual nightly rounds — not because they were instructed to.
“This is human work, this is not scientific work,” Mavronis told Schleifer.
City Council President Nick J. Mosby faulted city agencies and police for providing inadequate services in an oft-neglected part of Baltimore. Cut off by Interstate 95, Brooklyn deserves the same coordination and attention as other neighborhoods, Mosby argued. He contended a similar gathering in Canton or Fells Point would have garnered a stronger police response.
“That’s the crux of this matter,” Mosby said. “All citizens deserve the same level of service.”
Mosby also questioned how the department deemed the event to be nonthreatening despite hearing reports about guns at the scene and despite having aerial evidence of a sizable crowd.
Janet Abrahams, president and CEO of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, said residents of Brooklyn Homes failed to communicate the date of the event to the authority. Typically, Abrahams said, residents give notice so the authority can alert the Police Department’s Southern District in advance.
That didn’t happen this year, Abrahams said.
Following the shooting, Abrahams said the authority, in addition to considering evictions, is also changing its policies to implement security forces at all its housing complexes.
Several people faulted the housing authority and the city writ large for not doing enough to keep residents safe and supported in the years before the shooting.
John Watts, a pastor in Brooklyn, challenged the city for not doing more to wrap their arms around the community in advance of the violence.
“There are those that need assistance — help them get the assistance. There are those that love the police like I do. Help us get back the police presence in our community,” Watts said to cheers and applause.
Mavronis, of MONSE, said trauma and mental health specialists fanned out across the Brooklyn neighborhood after the shooting and have successfully linked survivors with mental health resources and social services. The Scott administration has committed to sending daily crews to the neighborhood for 45 days.
She defended the city’s youth curfew policy, which she said could not be enforced that night due to many of the young people living at Brooklyn Homes and being in the company of adults.
On Friday, Baltimore Police made an arrest, charging a 17-year-old with gun possession violations. But they have not charged him with shooting anyone. The teen’s lawyer told reporters this week that his client was carrying a toy gun and is not responsible for the violence. He will continue to be held without bond in the Youth Detention Center while he awaits trial, a judge ruled on Monday.
In the hearing’s final minutes, Mosby said the council risked allowing the same patterns of violence and neglect to happen again if they took their focus away from the failures of police. He and public safety chair Mark Conway agreed that law enforcement — rather than Safe Streets and MONSE — were at the heart of the breakdown in Brooklyn.
“There are a lot of eyes on our city for this, there’s a lot of people paying attention,” Conway said. “Our constituents are paying attention. We have to get this right.”