A time for activism

Baltimore's budget cuts put the city at risk

the only way to save it is to get involved

April 05, 2010|By Nicole Harris-Crest

Amid a suffering economy and budget cuts that threaten public safety and recreation, Baltimore residents must take an active and aggressive approach to cope with the city's economic woes. I am saddened and outraged to hear of proposed cuts to police, fire and recreation budgets. I know firsthand the importance of public safety and support systems for youth, as almost two years ago three teenagers were charged with fatally shooting my father, former Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. My father's death taught me that anyone can become a victim of crime.

To avoid pervasive violence, specifically as we face proposed cuts to public safety and recreational programs, residents must take an active approach to improve our communities. Although Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake may salvage a few important programs and city-run activities with taxes and other proposed fees, some will inevitably be cut and affect many residents.

President Barack Obama once said, "For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies." The government alone cannot maintain public safety, recreation and stability for our communities. Instead, it takes the work of every citizen.

With the warmer weather comes the ideal time for residents to go into their communities and become actively involved. Residents can begin by doing one or all of the following:

• Develop relationships with local police districts via community associations. Monitor police reports and distribute reports to community residents. Be aware of patterns of crime in order to avoid reoccurrences and report new offenses to police.

Many patrol officers are likely to be cut from the city's budget; therefore, we must take a "citizens on patrol" approach and become the eyes and ears of our communities.

• Be a visible presence within your neighborhoods. Also, report suspicious and peculiar behavior in your community to police. As with all witness tips, they can be provided anonymously to protect the safety of you and your family.

• Engage your elected officials. We elected them, so now it is our responsibility to call our needs to their attention, make our priorities their priorities and bring them into our communities. And, if your elected official isn't effective, consider other candidates or running for office.

• Support local community organizations that mentor youth. With proposed cuts to recreation centers, community volunteers play a crucial role in providing youth with positive outlets. I mentor students at the Liberty Learning Center in Canton and find the experience mutually rewarding for both the students and volunteers.

• Hold local businesses responsible for engaging youth and improving public safety. Businesses often rely on some level of public safety in order to attract patrons; therefore, urge businesses to become partners in programs, such as city-run YouthWorks and the Corporate Work Study Program at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. These programs assist businesses with building safe and friendly consumer environments, and provide youth with a positive outlet away from the violence and negativity of some communities.

Although these suggestions alone are not solutions to the difficulties Baltimore and many other metropolitan areas face, they offer practical steps toward taking an active role in difficult times.

There comes a time when our actions must speak louder than our words. It takes the work of each and every one of us - including elected officials - to improve and protect our communities, families and ultimately our city.

Today, I challenge you to become more actively engaged within your community. Why sit by idle and allow our elected officials to solve the city's problems alone?

Nicole Harris-Crest is a youth advocate in Baltimore City who this fall begins her first year of law school at the University of Baltimore. Her e-mail address is nicole harriscrest@gmail.com.

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