How Do We Build Community When We Can’t Be Near Each Other? (with UB Conflict Scholars and Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos)

This is the fourth part of a series. Go to Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus in Maryland hit 580 on Thursday, and are climbing rapidly. Baltimore City has 72 confirmed cases, compared to just one last Tuesday. And experts say the real number is far higher than the official count. If you’re reading this even a day or two late, these numbers will likely be wildly out of date.

Maryland schools will now be closed an extra month, through April 24. That presents the challenge of how to educate children remotely in a city where many people have limited access to technology, which school officials will be wrestling with in the coming days.

Hope mosaic

To address another major challenge, some have called on the mayor to release funds in order to house Baltimore’s thousands of homeless people. Though the proposed location, the downtown Hilton, has since been designated a field hospital, along with the Convention Center.

The BIG Baltimore Kite Fest that would have taken place on Saturday is canceled, of course. But you can still buy a kite from Creative Alliance if you want to get outside and do something. (Just keep your distance from each other.) And Open Works has been recruiting volunteers with 3D printers to address the shortage of protective equipment in hospitals.

Continuing the conversation about how we build community when we can’t be near each other, I talked to conflict scholars at the University of Baltimore and Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos from Medicine for the Greater Good at Johns Hopkins. Here’s what they said…

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No Boundaries Coalition: “Baltimore Is a City of Innovation”

In December 2015, during an uptick in drug trafficking, representatives from No Boundaries Coalition lobbied the police department for more foot patrols along Pennsylvania Avenue. That’s the corridor where the historically black neighborhoods of Sandtown-Winchester, Upton, Druid Heights and Penn North intersect.

The police told them there were no resources for the patrols.

A day later, the same police department announced that after a recent surge in robberies in Bolton Hill, it would be tripling the patrol in the area by deploying four more officers.

Bolton Hill, as it happens, is on the other side – the whiter side – of Eutaw Place.

All these neighborhoods – along with Reservoir Hill and Madison Park – share a zip code: 21217. But for generations, that boundary of Eutaw Place has split Central West Baltimore into two different worlds.

21217

No Boundaries Coalition was formed in 2008 in an effort to erase that boundary. As CEO Ashiah Parker told me, the organization’s vision is a Central West Baltimore in which “neighbors can advocate together for issues that are important to these neighborhoods regardless of race, class or gender.”

It started with the Boundary Block Party, now an annual event to bring all the communities of 21217 together. In addition to food and entertainment, block parties over the years have also provided space for voter registration, listening campaigns, walking tours and other activities to connect residents to the broader community.

The block parties – which are now complemented with a more issues-oriented “CommUNITY Gathering” – gave rise to resident-led advocacy efforts in four main areas: public safety (including police accountability), health and food justice, youth organizing, and civic engagement.

The story I related above about the foot patrols came from a 2016 report called Over-Policed, Yet Underserved, which No Boundaries released in partnership with BUILD and UMBC. Later that year, the U.S. Department of Justice referenced that report multiple times in the summary of its investigation of the Baltimore Police Department. And as the consent decree took shape in the months that followed, No Boundaries played a significant role.

Over-Policed, Yet Underserved highlighted a dissonance that plagues residents in and around Sandtown. They feel unsafe because of the lack of police presence in the area to deter serious crime, and yet they also feel unsafe because of the overzealous policing of their everyday existence. A survey of 453 residents revealed 57 “unique accounts of misconduct,” including verbal harassment, humiliation and excessive use of force. Beyond that, 92% of the respondents refused to be on the record, “showing the extremely high level of fear community residents have of police retaliation.”

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