On Crime and Bikes

We wanted to craft a thoughtful response to the recent assaults and robberies that are impacting the Baltimore bike community--both describing the actions we’ve taken, things we plan to do in the future, and our analysis of this issue as a policy organization. 

We are not experts in adolescent development or juvenile justice, but Baltimore is full of people who are. We’ve spent the week discussing the recent assaults and robberies with some of these experts, and will continue to engage in conversations. As a policy organization, we believe in exploring issues deeply and making recommendations based on evidence. 

Children assaulting and robbing people is a serious problem. Every human being deserves safety. But we know, without equivocation, that youth crime is a symptom of a society that has disinvested in its children to such a degree that they are left without the support necessary for healthy adolescent development. We cannot address this issue without acknowledging the structural systems that got us here, and the policy solutions that can help us emerge. 

We are angry that people have been victims of assault and robbery. It isn’t right, and it has to stop. The kids responsible also need to be held accountable. We are attempting to work with Baltimore City Police to provide any information that can help bring an end to the ongoing violence and robberies so people can feel safe again riding their bikes. Sadly the two hot spots - Maryland Ave and the Jones Falls Trail - are two of the only places to ride your bike and feel safe from speeding cars. We have to restore safety to those integral routes. We also know that policing alone cannot ensure these types of attacks won’t happen again, and that a result that places children into the criminal justice system will likely lead to additional harm and an outcome that makes our community less healthy and safe in the long term. 

Last week we recruited volunteers to hang out in the hot spots where crime was occurring to be a friendly face to folks biking by, and collect signatures to support environmental design solutions that can improve safety on the Jones Falls Trails. We are pleased to report that we have over 500 signatures to deliver to the City in support of these request. If you’d still like to sign, you can do so here. Baltimore City Police have already committed to placing a light tower on the switchbacks of the Jones Falls Trail while funding for a more appropriate lighting solution can be procured. Rec and Parks has committed to clearing the brush to improve sight lines. And we are in the beginning stages of conversations with community partners that may be able to support the placement of an emergency call box. Thanks to everyone that volunteered. 

We are currently working with the Community Conferencing Center to provide an alternative path toward accountability for these crimes. If you have been a victim of these recent assaults and robberies and would like to learn more about the restorative justice techniques they use, send an email to liz@bikemore.net. We will be organizing an information session so those who have been impacted can learn more about the choices available to them if they are able to identify the kids who have been committing these crimes. This method does not make light of the seriousness of the crimes, but acknowledges the real harm that comes from sending a child through the criminal justice system, and the lack of autonomy and restitution a victim can experience in the criminal justice system. If you want to have a say in how a crime committed against you is resolved, Community Conferencing can provide that pathway, and in no way rules out the option of pressing charges later if a satisfactory resolution is not reached. 

As Bikemore, we are here advocating for the safety of all people on bikes. What makes this particular situation so sad, is that a healthy city is one where children are free to ride bikes with their friends around the neighborhood. When a crime pattern creates suspicion of children riding bikes together, that has serious impacts on every family in the city. We can only imagine the difficulty some families experience in having to refrain from allowing their child to ride a bike--for fear of being attacked, robbed, or profiled by police. It also forces us to confront the very real disparity that is evident by people who have mobility, transportation choice, and relative wealth biking through neighborhoods full of people that do not. Regardless of the intent of these crimes, that disparity is at its root. And it has no simple solutions. 

We want to share some short term and long term strategies we are working on to both help put an end to these crimes, and be unwavering in our position of advocating for the health and safety of all people in Baltimore--especially our city’s children. In this instance that means following the lead of those who are making a difference in the community preventing, intervening, and restoring justice for crimes committed by children. 

How to Stay Safe in the Short Term: 

  • Keep riding. The more of us out there in the afternoons and evenings, the more difficult it is for someone to be a victim. 
  • Use resources like social media (the Unofficial Bikemore Forum and Women Bike Baltimore are good examples) to find a riding buddy that has a similar commute. 
  • Avoid stopping along your commute to engage with folks especially in hot spots like Maryland Ave north of Lanvale and Falls Road. Keep pedaling. 
  • Stay alert. No headphones, use a super bright front light, and if you’re able--use a camera. 
  • If you are confronted, remember property is replaceable. Keep yourself safe and retreat. 
  • Make a report. Call 911 when you’re in a safe place. If you are unable to wait for an officer due to the lag folks often experience when trying to report a crime not in progress, you can make a report in person at a station or online. 
  • Record your bike’s serial number and follow up after making a report to ensure that information is included. If it’s stolen this can help it be recovered and/or help lead police to the people committing the assaults and robberies. 
  • In the end, you’re in charge of your safety. Follow your gut and make decisions that are right for you. That can also mean not riding for awhile. We support you. 

How to Create Safety in the Long Term

Correcting the impacts of generational poverty that cause people to remain with little access to healthy food, healthcare, and opportunity costs money. As an American society we often tend to think about these things as personal problems. These problems however are rarely personal failings, but often structural. Someone with power made a decision that made it more difficult for certain people to attain health and safety. A city with people who aren’t healthy is not safe. This means ensuring our children have access to proper health care--including trauma informed care, nourishment, and opportunities that foster development is directly tied to making our city safer. This is how you prevent crime. 

 source: Open Budget Baltimore 

source: Open Budget Baltimore 

 

Baltimore instead chooses to invest heavily in policing rather than the things we know prevent crime. We spend 53% more on policing than we do on schools. 82% more on policing than transportation--when we know access to transportation has proven critical to escaping poverty. 96% more on policing than on recreation. In times of high crime, the narrative of policing being our only option in reducing crime perpetuates this imbalance. In a strong Mayor system like we have, the Mayor is responsible for setting those amounts. The City Council has limited authority to make other advisory recommendations and authorize cuts. . Because Baltimore has a relatively low voter turnout compared to cities of similar size, and our Mayor is often decided during the Democratic Primary among a broad field--it is nearly impossible to elect a Mayor to whom the majority of Baltimoreans cast their ballot. Without a voter mandate, leadership has no incentive to listen to advocates or organized groups of citizens.  

Achieving different outcomes for Baltimore means radically shifting how we invest our tax dollars. That type of leadership is politically risky. We have not elected a politically risky Mayor, and our chances of doing so in the near term due to the nature of our elections is unlikely. It’s why as a city we must seriously consider shifting how we budget. Revising our City Charter so that City Council has more authority could lead to the the type of innovation necessary to evoke change. This was something discussed last year, but was a political non starter. With the new crop of younger, more progressive council members, perhaps it’s time to revisit. 

While the people that ride bikes in the city are incredibly diverse, the ones directly engaged in bike advocacy are less so. This means that relative to the city, the people we reach most with our blog or social media posts are likely wealthier, better educated and have better health. It is out of that privilege and the incredible compassion that comes from experiencing this city that we love up close from our bike that we must approach these complex situations with mindfulness. We aren't the right people to lead on this issue, but we are able to lift up the work of others and ensure we are not contributing to further harm. No one of us is directly responsible for the trauma and disparity that exists right now in Baltimore, but we all can do more as citizens to fight for things that help bring stability, health and safety to all of our neighborhoods.