Residents raise concerns at O'Malley forum

Baltimore mayor tackles police brutality, housing, other topics at meeting

April 06, 2000|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Residents expressed concerns ranging from police brutality to traffic congestion to run-down parks at a public forum held by Mayor Martin O'Malley last night at Edmondson High School in Southwest Baltimore.

The "Mayor's Night Out," O'Malley's second forum since taking office in December, came a day after Edward T. Norris, 40, was nominated as police commissioner to replace Ronald L. Daniel, who unexpectedly resigned last week.

Many in the black community have said they don't want Norris, the chief architect of New York's policing strategy. At a community meeting Monday night in West Baltimore, during which tensions were high at times, the overriding sentiment was that Norris should go back to New York. But last night's meeting was civil.

O'Malley initiated the subject of the Police Department during opening comments to the more than 650 residents in attendance, including many officers in uniform, Maryland legislators, city council members and heads of municipal agencies.

The mayor said the city will be policed "without people running roughshod over civil rights." He also urged residents to read a private consultant's 152-page report unveiled this week on plans for policing the city.

"We're going to have a plan that isn't for Boston, that isn't for New York, that isn't for Newark or New Orleans," O'Malley said. "It's going to be Baltimore's plan."

When O'Malley opened the floor to questions, about 45 people quickly formed two lines down the auditorium aisles.

One of the first speakers was Carolyn Hux, 51, who said she is more fearful of police than criminals.

She talked about problems facing Baltimore, including "police brutality, racism, sexism and inequitable resources" in public schools, drawing heavy applause. She also talked about being afraid for her son, Malik McDade, 13.

"We should not tolerate the mistreatment of people because of their skin color, income, sex or political ideology," Hux said. "I just want to urge that we not be misguided by what is happening in New York.

"We all know in our hearts that all we have to do is have this kind of skin color. I have become more afraid of the police than of these criminals. There's a reckless disregard for our community, and we know in our heart of hearts that what they do in our communities they don't do in theirs."

O'Malley responded to Hux in part by saying: "If we wouldn't tolerate open-air drug markets in a rich neighborhood [then] we shouldn't tolerate it in a poor neighborhood."

He also emphasized that just as police keep statistics on other crimes, they are going to "map police brutality."

Later, Norris responded to one man's concerns about police by saying, in part: "These are training issues and discipline issues. We've got to make the department a very professional one."

Norris agreed that "tragedy happens when people overact."

Initially, the meeting had a pep-rally-like atmosphere as O'Malley introduced his department heads. But as it wore on, many complained that speakers were taking too much time. By 8: 30 p.m., both lines remained long as residents waited their turn at the microphone.

Rydell Davis, 35, talked about slow responses to maintenance concerns in public housing and asked O'Malley to build additional affordable housing.

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