People swarm into Keisha Allen’s Westport neighborhood from around the city and surrounding counties every day, using stoops and backyards of the South Baltimore residents’ homes to buy, sell and use drugs. Her complaints to the city and calls for help have done nothing to stop the problem.
That’s why the head of the Westport Neighborhood Association paid attention to the city’s reaction to recent violence, including shootings that injured three people, in trendy Fells Point. Business owners there signed a letter threatening to not pay taxes if city officials did not provide additional resources for what they described as longstanding problems, including crime, trash and traffic issues.
The response was swift. Mayor Brandon Scott convened a virtual town hall before about 700 participants and the police department announced detailed plans to flood the area with officers, along with a promise to start enforcing laws such as open container and illegal sales violations that have long been ignored.
Allen said she has long tried calling police, city hall and politicians to get them to focus on Westport’s problems, but the city has not given her and her neighbors the same attention.
“I just want it to be consistent,” Allen said of the city’s response. “I just want to see city hall and our police department, and our politicians respond same way as you would there.”
Community leaders across the city for the most part say they don’t begrudge the Fells Point business owners for their letter and threat to city officials. Rather, they would like the same sense of urgency be given to their issues.
“We don’t get any kind of response like that,” said Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham, president of Matthew Henson Neighborhood Association in West Baltimore.
Allen, who also serves on the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee and is co-founder of the Westport Community & Economic Development Corporation, said she has for years been contacting city officials in the mayor’s office and police department. She said she often dials the non-emergency 311 line for various issues.
“It’s no surprise that their voices (in Fells Point) are heard louder than ours even when we try,” Allen said.
Other community leaders agreed. They note differences between their neighborhoods and Fells Point, which is also more affluent and predominantly white.
Cyndi Tensley, the Carrollton Ridge community association president, said after she saw the news of the violence in Fells Point, Tensley was concerned, but then quickly reminded about the circumstances in her neighborhood. s.
Tensley questioned whether the city would have reacted so quickly to a letter from leaders in her neighborhood, or other parts of the city comprised of predominantly Black residents suffering from poverty.
“I think it’s crap. If our community members threatened to withhold paying taxes would we have the same result ? That answer would be no,” Tensley said. “For someone to do that is basically saying our city has failed and they are determined to not become (one of many communities) that have been failed. While they have this leverage they will use it, because it is about survival.”
Beth Whitmer, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, said she understands the frustrations.
“I’m sure there are communities that feel marginalized and I can understand that sentiment,” she said.
Federal Hill, like Fells Point, is more affluent and whiter than most other neighborhoods. Federal Hill and Fells Point also share similar issues, as waterfront communities that draw tourists.
“In the last couple of years there have been significant issues with traffics, dirt bike, speeding and really dangerous driving, late night partying and drinking,” she said.
She said she’s glad the city is making an effort to address the issues in Fells Point but would like to see those efforts elsewhere.
“It does seem like they are taking action, and I hope it continues and it needs to be broadened,” Whitmer said.
Cheatham, a longtime advocate and influential voice in the city, said he would like to see other communities learn some lessons from what happened in Fells Point.
“I commend Fells Point for doing what they are doing,” he said. “I’m telling Black communities to stop, look and listen. We can learn a lot from what they are doing.”
Cheatham said that on the day he spoke to The Baltimore Sun for this story, he received three calls from neighbors about garbage in the community. It’s a persistent issue.
“I point the finger are our elected officials, a tale of two cities,” one is black and white, Cheatham said.
Cheatham said the majority of the city’s homicides are Black victims and their killings are occurring in Black communities.
“What if we stopped paying taxes?” he said.