One day after presenting demands that Commissioner-Designate Darryl De Sousa participate in community listening sessions, release his internal affairs file and transition to a Baltimore Peacebuilding Authority akin to the department disbandment that occurred in Camden, New Jersey, the activist group Baltimore Bloc says it declined a private meeting with De Sousa.
In a statement released this afternoon, Bloc said such a meeting should be done in public with other members of the community, and that “[i]t is unclear what BPD and DeSousa intended the outcome of such a meeting to be.”
“We do not speak FOR the community; we speak WITH the community,” the statement said, in part. “Any meeting affecting the community at large must include the community at large. We respect the work of many others in the city who have important things to say to DeSousa [sic].”
After the initial publication of this story, media consultant and political strategist Catalina Byrd tweeted that she had tried to set up the meeting.
In a conversation with Baltimore Fishbowl, she said she reached out “as a concerned citizen.”
Bloc said it had been contacted by two individuals. Byrd was one, but the group declined to name the other.
Byrd said she “saw an opportunity” to create a dialogue and reached out to three members in particular about the meeting. The conditions were that it had to be off the record and no photos or videos could be taken during it. Two members agreed to the conditions, only to later back out, she said. She called the activist group’s statement about how things happened and who was involved “disingenuous.”
Bloc contested that its members had not agreed to anything. “We had to take it back to the collective,” the group told Fishbowl.
In its statement, the group said it will not waver in its mission to serve as a watchdog to the department.
“For the remainder of the time that BPD exists, we will continue to hold it accountable to the extent we can by remaining watchful, sharing what we know with the public, supporting the victims of BPD and their families, and disrupting the status quo that Baltimore’s elected officials happily and deliberately maintain through their refusal to hold BPD accountable.”
Baltimore Fishbowl has reached out to the Baltimore Police Department for comment.
In its release of demands yesterday, Bloc characterized De Sousa’s appointment as “a strategic move by the power structure to feign reform in the wake of citywide calls for disbandment.”
Following the long-term corruption outlined in the Gun Trace Task Force trial, which was followed by the resignation of a top-ranking official, Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere, amid accusations from the case that he had coached an officer to avoid discipline after a shooting, De Sousa’s status as a 30-year veteran of the department is “extremely problematic,” says Bloc. The Sun reported last month that earlier in his career, De Sousa was involved in two on-duty shootings in 1995, both of which resulted in fatalities.
De Sousa is scheduled to appear before the City Council’s Executive Appointments Committee tonight for his confirmation hearing.
Since the Gun Trace Task Force trial, activists have made a stronger push for a disbandment of the police department similar to what happened in Camden, New Jersey, in 2013. There, the city department was broken up and reformed as the Camden County Police Department, with a more community-oriented approach and fewer officers. Since then, the city’s murder rate has dropped to the lowest level in decades, according to CityLab, and crime has fallen across the board.
Morgan State University professor and Bloc member Lawrence Brown has said the Baltimore Peacebuilding Authority should focus on “deescalation, mental health, public health, conflict mediation, and guarding the public’s interest to authentically protect and serve.”
The confirmation of De Sousa’s predecessor, Kevin Davis, was met with protests in October 2015, months after the Baltimore Uprising. Protesters occupied a balcony in City Hall into the early morning. As City Paper reported at the time, about 50 officers went through the building at 3 a.m., resulting in 16 arrests.
In anticipation of that hearing, a coalition of activist groups, including Baltimore Bloc, issued a list of 19 demands related to the treatment of protesters by police officers and other grievances.
After Davis was confirmed by the full council, protesters marched across downtown.
Byrd said the protests from Davis’ hearing were one reason she tried to set up the meeting.
“We were trying to be proactive in making sure it was civil, productive,” she said.
As a citizen of the city, she said, she’s well aware of the reforms needed within the police department, but “there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things.”
This post has been updated.