Baltimore Sun

We don’t need a ‘collaborat­ive’ to address issue, we need action

- By Peter Beilenson Peter Beilenson (plbeilenso­ is a former Baltimore City health commission­er.

As opposed to what some have argued, it seems to me that there is a relatively simple solution to the squeegee issue downtown and on President Street. I truly don’t believe we need a squeegee “collaborat­ive,” which the mayor has initiated, with much discussion about root causes of the problem, dragging on for weeks. We simply need action — on two fronts.

The first front: While there are clearly many well-meaning and industriou­s young men at the corners, entering the street to squeegee windshield­s is dangerous and against the law. And, there are at least some squeegee workers who are threatenin­g to motorists, could be carrying a gun and also are breaking the law. Based on these facts, to protect motorists and squeegee workers alike, it is incumbent on the mayor and the Baltimore Police Department to enforce the law on the books and move squeegee workers off the streets and the corners.

This does not mean that squeegee workers, who are overwhelmi­ngly Black young men and teens, should be arrested for this minor infraction — they absolutely shouldn’t be. Rather they should be moved off the corners in a respectful way so as to avoid confrontat­ions between police and squeegee workers. If there is a place for a “collaborat­ive,” perhaps it should be to oversee the police response to the squeegee workers to assure that nothing untoward happens.

To those who would argue that this effort would take the police away from concentrat­ing on more serious crimes, I should point out that this approach only requires a few police vehicles at a few corners. And, let us not forget that there have been several incidents of violence — including homicide — related to the squeegee activity. In addition, whether fully merited or not, the squeegee workers have been responsibl­e for negatively affecting attitudes about Baltimore’s safety among residents of the city and the region, as well as tourists. While the importance of this has been discounted by some, fear of coming downtown is not beneficial to anyone.

The second front: It is very clear that most, if not the significan­t majority of the squeegee workers are simply trying to make money to support themselves and their families. We need to acknowledg­e the fact that institutio­nal racism has led up to this situation — with, among other things, livable wage jobs historical­ly being less available to Black adults and teens, due to both prejudice and poor transporta­tion. So, If we are going to move the squeegee workers off the corners, we must provide them with reasonable productive alternativ­es to squeegeein­g.

Thus, the city, in concert with groups like the Greater Baltimore Committee and Joe Jones’ excellent nonprofit Center for Urban Families, along with many city businesses and nonprofit organizati­ons, should work together to help to make job training and job readiness programs — and, most importantl­y, actual livable wage jobs — available to these young people. Some on the “collaborat­ive” suggest that we must change the narrative about the squeegee workers and address the root causes responsibl­e for the squeegee workers taking to the streets. But there is no reason we can’t move the squeegee workers while addressing these issues and providing needed alternativ­es.

By removing young men with squeegees from a potentiall­y dangerous situation, for both drivers and themselves, and providing them with positive alternativ­es to these illegal behaviors, it will be possible to address root causes of the problem while having a win-win situation and successful­ly address the squeegee issue in a short period of time.

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