Brittany Young of B-360: “We All Need Positive Outlets in a Very Stressed City”

Dirt bike culture is a part of Baltimore. The question is whether it can thrive in the city without generating conflict.

Brittany Young thinks so, or is at least working toward that goal. She’s the founder of B-360, which stands for “Be the revolution.” The revolution is a fundamental change in people’s mindset toward dirt bikes and the people who ride them.

“We all need a positive outlet in a very stressed city,” she told me.

But wait a second: Aren’t dirt bikes disruptive? Aren’t they dangerous? Aren’t they illegal? Haven’t people been killed, both on the bikes and in their pathways?

I’ve heard people in Baltimore defend street riding, or at least romanticize it while they acknowledge the danger. But not Brittany. She said B-360 and the Baltimore Police Department have the same goal: zero dirt bike riders on the street.

Instead of cracking down on riders with a police task force, though, B-360 tries to steer them toward spaces where they can express themselves and relieve stress without posing a danger to themselves or others.

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After repairing their bikes, B-360 students learn how to ride safely out of traffic in preparation for their showcase.

More than that, B-360 uses dirt biking as a launching point toward education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Moving from the pavement to the classroom, popping a wheelie can be framed as a math equation. A fascination with dirt bike design can be used to learn 3D drawing and printing. Repairing dirt bikes can be translated into practical job skills. Brittany uses the intersection between dirt biking and STEM education to show young people – especially young black people – how smart they already are.

This aspect of Brittany’s work has been well documented, and is worth your time to look into. There’s this article in The Baltimore Sun, for example. And this one in Forbes. And this one in Vice. You’ll also find several videos on the B-360 website that focus on STEM education programming.

For this story, I want to focus on dirt biking in Baltimore.

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In a City of Neighborhoods, Morrell Park Is Distinct – but Distinctly Baltimore

To me, climbing up Washington Boulevard from under the I-95 overpass into Morrell Park feels like crossing into a different world. The land of sports stadiums, Horseshoe Casino and the Montgomery Park building – all just a short distance behind me – seems like a faint memory.

And yet one thing is certain: I’m definitely in Baltimore.

Morrell Park mural

The neighborhood’s unassuming Charm City flavor was on display when I spoke with Wendy Roberts, President of the Morrell Park Community Association. As we wrapped up the interview – during which we talked about everything from children’s activities to 311 requests to race relations to violent crime – Ms. Roberts told me it was just like “having a conversation with my neighbor.”

(As a resident of the Charles Village/Old Goucher area, roughly five miles away, I took it as a compliment.)

If you’re wondering how to pronounce the name – MOR-rell or mor-RELL – Ms. Roberts told me it doesn’t matter. Everyone says it differently, and the variations increase when you factor in the Bawlmerese dialect that is very much alive and well in Morrell Park.

In spite of my impression of the neighborhood as a world of its own, Morrell Park was originally part of Charles Carroll’s “Georgia Plantation” that surrounded Mount Clare Mansion in Carroll Park to the north. (The plantation also included Westport, Violetville and Mount Winans.) Ms. Roberts hasn’t yet tracked down exactly when the land in Morrell Park was sold to housing developers, but she continues to search the history books and shares what she can find with the community.

Morrell Park map

Today the boulevard that serves as Morrell Park’s main street – lined with taverns, small businesses and chains like Royal Farms and Aldi – is also a popular route in and out of town from points southwest. It’s been a source of disappointment for Ms. Roberts that the neighborhood hasn’t seen the kind of development that’s happened in nearby Pigtown since the stadiums and casino were built.

“We are the main street that goes through to the stadiums or the harbor,” she said. “As a community, we would like to try to make it a little better so that it looks nicer for when people drive through.”

Of course, development in Baltimore often comes with conflict over displacement, or preserving the neighborhood’s “character” (a loaded term, I know). And perhaps the lack of recent development compared to nearby areas is one reason Morrell Park defies stereotyping.

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Legalizing Drugs: The Bunny Colvin Solution to Violence in Baltimore – Part 2

This is the second part of a series. Go to Part 1.

“… the overwhelming bulk of violence is due to gangs fighting for Drug territory. When was the last time you heard about beer and liquor distributors killing each other over territory? Prohibition!”

– Jan Houbolt in the Baltimore City Voters Facebook group

According to The Baltimore Sun, police identified a motive in only 24 of the city’s 309 homicides in 2018. But out of those, half were tied to either drugs or gangs (11 to the former, one to the latter).

Some other 2018 homicide stats that pop out: 219 of the 309 victims (71 percent) had prior drug arrests, and 149 (48 percent) had previously been arrested for violent crimes. Police said about a quarter of murder suspects were members of a drug crew or gang.

Also, 175 victims had been shot in the head. That’s 57 percent, up from 45 percent and 47 percent in the two previous years.

That points to a professionalism in Baltimore’s violence that is also evident in the stubbornly high shooting fatality rate. About one in three reported shootings in Baltimore result in death. That’s one of the highest rates in the country, and it was the subject of a 2015 investigation by The Sun.

City officials certainly seem to think that drug crews are primarily responsible for the murder rate. “You’ve heard about the war on drugs,” Mayor Pugh said in October 2018. “There is a drug war. People are protecting their territories with guns.”

I’m not sure I would have gone with that choice of words if I were the mayor. Because, as the quote at the top of this post shows, some people argue that the war on drugs waged by law enforcement has actually made drug-related violence worse, not better.

And the obvious evidence to point to for that is Prohibition.

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Legalizing Drugs: The Bunny Colvin Solution to Violence in Baltimore – Part 1

Baltimore made national headlines in late January when State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that her office would no longer prosecute people for possession of cannabis, regardless of quantity or criminal history.

“When I ask myself: Is the enforcement and prosecution of marijuana possession making us safer as a city?” said Mosby, “the answer is emphatically ‘no.’”

The decision came a month after a report by Baltimore Fishbowl stating that, despite Maryland’s decriminalization law that went into effect in late 2014, cannabis-related arrests in Baltimore were still disproportionately affecting African-Americans. Out of 1,514 such arrests between 2015 and 2017, 1,450 of the arrestees were black. That’s in spite of the fact that white people use drugs at similar rates to other groups.

Still, Mosby has gotten plenty of pushback – notably from Maryland Senate President Mike Miller. “Miss Mosby is wrong,” Miller said. “There are drug dealers in the city who need to be prosecuted and laws need to be unified across the state.”

Of course, Mosby (who by the way is a married woman) made it clear that she would still prosecute people if there were signs that they were dealing cannabis, such as possession of baggies and scales. She just won’t prosecute simple possession.

More recently, State Senator Brian Feldman and Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk have introduced legislation (again) in Annapolis to create safe injection sites, where people with addictions could use opioids under supervision to prevent overdoses. The last time such a bill was introduced, the Senate Finance Committee initially passed it but then changed its mind.

But let’s back up a bit. Remember Season 3 of The Wire? When Major Howard “Bunny” Colvin effectively legalizes drugs in designated “free zones” (Hamsterdam) in the Western District? The result, in spite of some serious challenges along the way, is a more orderly, more peaceful district. Dealers don’t fight over territory as much, and police can spend their time doing police work rather than wasting time breaking up open-air drug markets that just pop up somewhere else the next day.

In January 2019, Baltimore had 26 homicides. That’s identical to the figure from 2018, when we had 309 homicides for the year. After a 24-hour period in late February in which 14 people were shot and five were killed, we are very close to last year’s pace. That means, without significant changes, there’s a good chance that we are on our way to a fifth straight year of 300-plus murders.

Is it possible that the solution to – or, I should say, a way to alleviate – Baltimore’s homicide problem is not to just decriminalize cannabis possession, or allow people to use opioids safely, but to legalize drugs Bunny Colvin-style?

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