The Annapolis Police held a meeting at the Eastport Community Center last night to discuss the recent murder of a teenager across the street from the Eastport Terrace public housing neighborhood. Several Annapolis Police officers were in attendance as well as the mayor-elect Gavin Buckley and several current and newly-elected alderpersons.
Annapolis Police Chief Scott Baker spoke about the investigation and told the capacity crowd that the police have a “person of interest” in the crime and will be releasing more information soon. Baker then began laying out his strategic plan for the Annapolis Police Department to tackle gun violence in and around Eastport.
The police have identified five key strategy points: Community service, social service, education, training, and jobs. Though this meeting was advertised as an update on the current homicide, Baker and his subordinates quickly established that this meeting was the third in a series of meetings with community stakeholders.
One question kept arising from different audience members, “What do we keep meeting for?”
When asked by the mother of an unsolved murder victim about where they were on the case, Baker replied that they are working that case actively as well. He implored residents and community members to get involved and to take responsibility for taking back their neighborhoods. He told residents to “Hold public officials accountable.” Audience members began to address the mayor-elect and alderpersons directly, with questions about the city’s role in providing resources and information to at-risk communities.
When community activist Dajuan Gay asked the chief about the city’s public safety committee, Chief Baker referred Gay to Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson who has served as alderwoman for Ward 4 for 11 years and currently is on the Public Safety Committee.
Finlayson spoke about an initiative she spearheaded working with the city and state in the Newtowne drive corridor. The plan was a series of weekend events, planned to fight crime on Newtowne Drive. The first event was for children in which police door-knocked and participated in some activities with children. The second weekend, the Public Safety Comission sponsored a job and health fair. For the following six weeks, there were roadblocks set up on Newtowne Drive. “They put up a big light and they checked everybody’s identification, going in and out of Newtowne, so we knew who belonged and who didn’t,” Finlayson said.
Several residents testified that Finlayson’s initiative was tantamount to a “semi-police state” and questioned the alderwoman on what they felt was an authoritarian ideology on dealing with citizens. Some community members likened Finlayson’s strategies to being treated like “animals.”
As crowd members demanded solutions, it was apparent that the police and current City officials did not have effective solutions in place. The Chief stressed that they are in the infancy stage of developing a strategic plan, but he wants the community to be at the table.
Several audience members suggested ideas such as spiritual-based guidance, creating a community-policing model styled after an initiative by Oakland, California Police Department, and bringing a sailing program to the Eastport Community Center. A woman who addressed herself as a teacher at the Phoenix Academy testified that students should be brought to the table to solve the issues that they are facing. Many audience members spoke about teaching life skills to young people and finding resources to provide after-school programs. Community advocate Toni Strong Pratt spoke about creating programs to build healthy families by educating adults with life skills, saying, “Maybe it’s time we start teaching some adults.”
“Crime in and around HACA is a complicated problem, but we are committed to working together to help solve the problems that exist,” said Diane Butler, an Eastport resident who has volunteered at Eastport Terrace and Harbor House facilities since 2009. Barbara Webber, of Annapolis, said that there was a lot of interest in citizens signing up to be part of solutions for education, youth and security in the communities. “Now we need unification and people staying involved. I have hope our community will stay interested and involved,” she said.
“The overall department is doing great in attempting to build better relationships,” said Eastport resident Dajuan Gay, who added that he would like to see more effort from individual officers. “I would also love to see our veteran lawmakers take a different approach and try something new. New issues won’t be solved with old tactics,” he said.
On several occasions, Chief Baker asked the audience how to get more public housing residents at these meetings. The audience was majority non-public housing residents. Several who were from public housing offered that many residents are tired of meetings and memorials. Without infrastructure investment and strategic community and economic development, they said, residents will continue to view the police and City officials as complicit in the continuing problems in their communities.
Richard W. Right is a father, community activist, and writer from Annapolis.
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