We arrived at Baltimore City Hall on Friday, May 24, 2019 in the morning for an in-person Q&A with new City Council President Brandon Scott. His sparsely furnished space, empty shelves, pictures not yet hung on the walls and half emptied boxes suggests Mr. Scott hit the ground working.
Baltimore Times: Good morning Mr. Scott first I’d like to congratulate you on behalf of the Baltimore Times for your ascension to city council president. What do you hope to achieve between now and the end of your 18-month term?
Brandon Scott: I am humbled and honored to serve, and very grateful for the unanimous support of my colleagues.
At the top of my list is this disease known as gun violence that is raising havoc on our neighborhoods. That will remain the focus for me. We can no longer expect the police to be the sole bearers of the responsibility in that mission.
I have a bigger platform to demand from the agencies and administrative leadership in Baltimore, a comprehensive gun violence reduction strategy.
I’m 35 years old and Baltimore City government has not changed the way it operates in the 35 years that I’ve been alive, and we are seeing the results of that.
Also, I think that when you look at the way Baltimore’s government operates we have to look at changing that and what you will see from us will be very, very…
Baltimore Times: Proactive?
Brandon Scott: No. Not just proactive, transparent. Transparency will be key for us. We will talk with citizens. We’ll be bold. We’ll be innovative. We will also be respectful of everyone’s opinion and train of thought. No one will be disrespected.
Everyone will have a seat at the table and we will work through those issues. We will have bold ideas to put in place. What I will not do— which predecessors before me did— is worry only about my term. We’re looking 10, 15, 20 years down the road.
Baltimore Times: The circuit and district courts of Baltimore City denied a request by City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to dismiss thousands of marijuana charges. The principle reason Mosby wants the dismissals to free-up resources to target the homicide clearance rate.
Since Ms. Mosby took office in January 2015, these are the stats: 2015, 344 murders, 241 unsolved; 2016, 318 murders, 195 unsolved; 2017, 343 murders, 167 unsolved; 2018, 309 murders, 175 unsolved. Including 2019 numbers there could be at least 800 unapprehended murderers on Baltimore streets, years prior to 2015 notwithstanding. What’s your response?
Brandon Scott: The clearance rate is unacceptable, right, but I think that when you think about this, for me, is that I think about the totality of the system. First and foremost, to go back to your first point, listen, we… it’s time for Maryland to join states across the country in understanding and legalizing recreational marijuana.
We know that for Baltimore, and for Maryland, black and brown people bear the brunt of not just marijuana, but for all drug arrests, right. I will put it like this: in my neighborhood at the corner of Parkmont and— Powell and Belair Road, there’s a medical marijuana facility. But a young man can get arrested at that same corner for selling marijuana. I have been speaking about this ad nauseam. The new [police] commissioner is going to do a deep analysis, and he is going to come up with a plan for call reduction that focuses on the right priorities.
Baltimore Times: Research shows roughly 10,000 ex-offenders return to Baltimore streets annually with a recidivism rate of about 40 percent over 36 months. There appears a symbiotic relationship has developed between ex-offenders and urban street culture. The prison culture appears to have infiltrated the streets. What’s your response?
Brandon Scott: Listen, I talked about this a lot when I was running for lieutenant governor last year of the prison system. We have to rehabilitate.
That’s not what’s happening. We have to do that with a laser focus, right. So for example, we know that Sandtown-Winchester, per capita, has more ex-offenders than any neighborhood in the state, right?
If we know young men and young women, violent ex-offenders are coming home in three to four years to that neighborhood then we also know that we have organizations like Center for Urban Families there, that want to help them reacclimate— with their families, with their children— so they can be full members of the community.
Baltimore Times: I have one final question on incarceration and violence. Research shows that one of six Baltimoreans, are functionally illiterate— over 100,000 people. Of youth who go through the juvenile justice system, 85 percent are illiterate and 60 percent of prisoners overall in Maryland are illiterate. How do you deal with massive illiteracy and a high school graduation rate of nearly 50 percent?
Brandon Scott: What we can do from the council’s standpoint, understanding we have no direct power over the school system, we know from statistics that if someone’s child is reading at or above grade level at third grade then they won’t fall into the traps we’ve talked about. That’swhere the investment has to be.
We have to figure out a way to multiply so many efforts across the city. We have to have a literacy and reading program for our children, We have to invest more in programs like Youth Opportunity, the YO program, that I’m actually an alum of, getting them their GED’s, getting them into college, getting them to have the skills they need.
They’re not going to be popular. They’re not going to be pretty and shiny. There will be some failure in them but we know that we can’t continue to have ourselves do the same things., We have these needs that have to be met for people so we have to come up with creative ways to meet them.
Thank you, thank you so much.
Baltimore Times: Thank you as well, President Scott. We appreciate you making time for us.