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Police Surveillance Request Rubs Baltimore Urban League Chief the Wrong Way

Dara Sharif Aug 14, 2019. 10 comments

Where to draw the line when it comes to helping the cops solve crime is causing some controversy in Baltimore, with the head of the city’s Urban League shutting down the idea of letting police use her headquarters as a spy post.

Tiffany Majors, president of the Greater Baltimore Urban League, told the Baltimore Sun she quickly refused to let cops use the activist organization’s hub to do surveillance on an apartment complex next door.

And she wondered what cops—as well as a local City Council member—were thinking to even ask in an era when distrust of police among Baltimoreans is palpable.

“I’ve never heard of the police reaching out to a politician to ask a nonprofit agency if police could use their facility for surveillance,” Majors told the Sun.

Majors was referring to City Councilman Eric Costello, who made the request on behalf of the police—after getting an email from a constituent complaining about drug dealing going on at the apartment complex.

In a statement to the Sun, Costello defended his actions:

Costello, in a statement, said there is no question there is drug dealing in the neighborhood, and his outreach to Majors was simply an attempt to help neighborhood residents who “no longer enjoy their stoops or community amenities” because of it.

Costello said community members have expressed fear that the dealing would soon lead to gun violence, and that they would be retaliated against “if they were the ones who spoke out” about it. So he took it upon himself.

And therein lies the rub: No one condones drug dealing and crime, but in an age of over-policing and police abuses, especially when it comes to black and brown people, community distrust is a real thing.

Per the Sun:

The dynamic has long played out in major American cities, but is especially a concern in Baltimore given the exploding opioid epidemic, unprecedented violence, repeated corruption and abuse scandals involving police in recent years, and the federal consent decree mandating improved community interactions.

As Chuck Wexler, executive director of the law enforcement think tank the Police Executive Research Forum, told the Sun:

“It’s always hard when you come into a community and there has been a recent history of mistrust. There’s a very important dynamic here, in that in the very moment the police need the community to help them prevent crime, the community is wary of the police.”

And because the Urban League is a “safe space” for community members, Majors told the Sun, the police surveillance proposal, as the news site put it, “threatened its hard-earned trust among local residents.”

In addition, Majors told the Sun:

she believes drug enforcement disproportionately targets black communities, across the country but particularly in Baltimore. Allowing police to essentially spy on the Urban League’s neighbors in the Seton Hill neighborhood, and from its offices, would undermine its mission of helping residents succeed, she said.

“I was very bothered by that,” she said.

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