Trump and Fred­die Gray

Bal­ti­more’s ef­forts to re­build af­ter the 2015 ri­ots are hard enough with­out the White House work­ing against it

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS -

As we ap­proach the two-year an­niver­sary of Fred­die Gray’s death, many are frus­trated with the pace of change in Bal­ti­more. We are too. But we con­tinue to see many dis­parate ef­forts from the pub­lic, pri­vate and non­profit sec­tors, even from in­di­vid­u­als, to start ex­pand­ing eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties, ad­dress drug ad­dic­tion, pro­vide a sta­ble vi­sion for the school sys­tem, elim­i­nate blight and, per­haps most per­ti­nently, re­form the Po­lice De­part­ment. It is, in many cases, slow and in­cre­men­tal work, but the im­pe­tus for change re­mains.

Un­for­tu­nately, it ap­pears in­creas­ingly clear that these ef­forts will be swim­ming against the tide of Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion poli­cies. Fred­die Gray’s death had such an im­pact in Bal­ti­more not just be­cause of its tim­ing amid the Black Lives Mat­ter movement but be­cause his story touched on so many of the sys­temic prob­lems that plague the city, and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing steps that will make ad­dress­ing nearly all of them — from po­lice bru­tal­ity to lead poi­son­ing — that much harder.

The De­part­ment of Jus­tice’s waf­fling on its sup­port for Bal­ti­more’s po­lice re­form con­sent de­cree, which was signed in the wan­ing days of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, has re­ceived wide­spread con­dem­na­tion in Bal­ti­more. Judge James K. Bredar’s de­ci­sion to rat­ify it de­spite the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s con­cerns was wel­come, but it doesn’t fully rec­tify the sit­u­a­tion. Though the po­lice have taken some cru­cial steps, such as out­fit­ting of­fi­cers with body cam­eras and putting seat belts in vans like the one in which Gray was fa­tally in­jured, the hard work will be in chang­ing a de­part­men­tal cul­ture that was poi­soned by the zero-tol­er­ance tac­tics of a decade ago. No mat­ter how much Chief Kevin Davis may want to change that cul­ture, he will have a hard time do­ing it with­out the full com­mit­ment of DOJ re­sources to mon­i­tor and en­force the agree­ment. More­over, the de­part­ment faces the task not only of re­form­ing but also of get­ting the pub­lic to be­lieve in its re­forms, and many are skep­ti­cal — not with­out rea­son — that the de­part­ment can ever truly change on its own.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s law-and-order poli­cies also in­clude a re­turn to the failed war on drugs that shat­tered lives in cities across the na­tion. Gray ex­em­pli­fied the prob­lem of young men whose con­vic­tions on drug of­fenses make them all but un­em­ploy­able, which in turn sends them back to the un­der­ground econ­omy. In Fe­bru­ary, Mr. Trump promised that his war on drugs would be “ruth­less,” and top of­fi­cials in the Jus­tice De­part­ment are mak­ing clear that they view drugs as a crim­i­nal jus­tice prob­lem rather than a pub­lic health one.

Mean­while, the De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment is now headed by Dr. Ben Car­son, a vo­cal op­po­nent of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to fol­low fed­eral law call­ing for hous­ing pol­icy to fos­ter de­seg­re­ga­tion. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posed bud­get would all but elim­i­nate any tools the de­part­ment had to fos­ter that pol­icy any­way; it calls for a $6 bil­lion cut to the agency’s bud­get. In ad­di­tion to a $300 mil­lion re­duc­tion to the Hous­ing Choice voucher pro­gram that pro­vides rental as­sis­tance to low-in­come house­holds, it would cut such “lower pri­or­ity” pro­grams as the Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Block Grants that have been a main­stay of neigh­bor­hood re­newal ef­forts in Bal­ti­more and na­tion­wide since the 1970s.

Gray, like many young peo­ple who grow up in sub­stan­dard hous­ing in Bal­ti­more, suf­fered poi­son­ing from ex­po­sure to lead paint, which im­pairs cog­ni­tion, at­ten­tion span and im­pulse con­trol. Mr. Trump’s bud­get elim­i­nates En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency pro­grams to train work­ers on how to re­move lead paint safely and to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on the dan­gers of ex­po­sure.

We didn’t ex­pect Mr. Trump to take as di­rect a stake in Bal­ti­more’s ef­forts to re­build it­self as Pres­i­dent Obama did. But he could at least not make mat­ters worse.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.