From Freddie Gray to Healthy Holly

When we first called for an accountability re-set in our city, we had no idea that our mayor was on the verge of resignation, if not indictment.

But here we are.

We’ve just been punched in the face by the institutional rot that governs us.

Our mayor collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from people and institutions across the city who needed favors from her when she was a senator, and then when she became mayor, in transactions authorized by corporate boards full of powerful people who looked the other way – or who had deals of their own.

This is a shameful episode, most of all because the health of our city’s children was used as a front for a money-making opportunity for our mayor, and influence-gaining opportunity for these institutions.

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The vehicle for this scheme, after all, was series of flimsy, poorly-produced kids books, starting with “Healthy Holly,” that apparently these people thought were good enough for our children.

So, what’s been the response to this so far?

A lot of leaders afraid to say the obvious truth – that our mayor must resign.

And, a lot of talk about the 2020 horserace to replace our mayor. The Baltimore Sun can hardly wait, already giving us a long list of names. There’s a few with potential, but there’s plenty more who are not much different from the leadership that’s failed us, or who are not much different from past candidates who couldn’t speak to a majority-Black city.

Friends, we’ve been here before.

And if we are not careful, we’ll make the same mistakes.

We’ve been here before.

We were here in 2015, when an uprising demanded a reckoning this very same broken, complacent establishment – one that couldn’t fix our schools, fight concentrated poverty, stop population decline, or grow our tax base.

How did we respond back then? By electing a mayor produced by the failed institutional arrangement that 2015 was a revolt against.

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Remember, before election 2016 we were faced with an institutional status quo that failed to rise to the occasion in 2015, that could not lead us in the aftermath of the unrest, and did not create a path to reconciliation with Freddie Gray’s death.

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We responded by leaving the same status quo in place, ready, after 2016, to encircle the new leadership facing the new crisis of violence, just as they had the old leadership facing the old crisis of the unrest.

Once again we’re witnessing a collective failure. After the election, the people in this photo found an anti-violence program for City Hall, then funded it, then stood for the photo. When our homicide rate spiraled out of control anyway, they held private meetings with the mayor, desperate to turn the tide without daring to make a public criticism, while the rest of us began to realize what a mistake we had made in 2016.

We know the people in these pictures.

We’ve worked with them and for them.

And we think a lot them are tired of standing in photos like this.

Reasons for hope. 

Baltimore Now is founded upon hope – that there are enough people, both in and out of these photos, who are sick and tired of this arrangement, and the institutional complacency that gave us Healthy Holly, that gave us this mayor, and that gave us four years of no answers and no progress since Freddie Gray.

Outside the frame of these photos are even more reasons for hope – all the people who work for the people in the picture at the institutions they run. Hundreds if not thousands of people who know we can do better, who want to break free from the Smalltimore Silence, and who no longer want to be tethered to a failed establishment.

There are reasons for hope all around us.

Further beyond the frame of these photos are thousands more people – the rest of us, including a lot of people who get talked about by the people in these photos without truly being seen, or understood, or given the room to speak in their own voice.

That includes people who run local anti-violence programs and didn’t think we needed to hire people from Boston to come solve our problems. That also includes people whose children were used as the front for the Healthy Holly scheme – and who want much more for their kids than those books.

So many reasons for hope, all around us, like rocks waiting for little David and his slingshot.

No time for quick fixes.

Hope will not be enough to heal the crisis of faith we’re experiencing right now. The only solution is a fundamental restoration of accountability in this city – which might start with a resignation, but it can’t end there.

Some members of the City Council, eager to show we’re “moving forward,” are already talking about quick fixes to address the mayor’s corruption, including changes to how the budget is passed and how money gets spent by City Hall.

Facing down the crisis of faith will require real leadership, not quick fixes, because it runs so deep we no longer know who’s in charge anymore.

But facing down the crisis of faith requires real leadership, not quick fixes, because it runs so deep we no longer know who’s in charge anymore.

You could hear it recently in the voice of a popular midday news program host, who actually wondered out loud whether the mayor, the police commissioner, or the State’s Attorney had “the stop the kind of violence that is endemic in certain neighborhoods.”

He said, “I just wonder what sort of culpability we can ascribe to various political figures” for not finding solutions to the violence.

This is the crisis. Three-hundred murders a year, seven people shot in broad daylight last week, and we don’t know who responsible for doing anything about it, or whether anyone can. Stuck in a status quo that has failed for so long that violence is now considered “endemic,” like a species of plant or a feature of the landscape, beyond anyone’s accountability.

The crisis of faith that breeds this defeatism not only fails those who live in our most violent neighborhoods, it blinds us to the answers.

As if to relieve City Hall of responsibility, the host said, “the cops can’t be in every living room where a fight breaks out,” particularly in a city where “almost 90% of the people who were killed last year had arrest records,” and “19% of the people who were killed last year” had been shot before. 

City Hall hasn’t found the answers. But our city is full of people who can.

But these awful data points are part of the answer, not an excuse for failure. They tell us who is most at risk of shooting someone or being shot, and therefore, what “living rooms to be in.”

And you know what? Our city is full of people who know this already. Who know it’s the same small group of people committing most of the violence. Who know how to build an intelligent violence reduction strategy. 

But they’re not in City Hall. The closest a lot of them ever get is when their boss is asked to come down for another a photo-op with the mayor we’ve stopped holding accountable for anything.

An accountability re-set can change that.

To be continued….

Dan Sparaco