People who live in Turner Station, a historically African American community in southeastern Baltimore County, say they just don’t trust the police department. That comes from years of seeing black people treated unfairly by the police.
But at the same time, they also say they need help with a growing crime problem.
Mia Jeffries told a recent community meeting in Dundalk she and her daughter were pulled over for speeding one night, and that led to her being tased, her daughter being pepper sprayed and both of them being locked up.
Jeffries said, “No reason. No excuses. All because I asked him a question about what he was doing with my child.”
A Baltimore County Police spokeswoman says they cannot comment on an open internal investigation but adds both were charged with assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest.
Davon Truitt said she fears for her 16-year-old son who is learning to drive.
“My biggest fear is that my son will be a Trayvon Martin, a Michael Brown, a Sandra Bland, the list goes on and on,” Truitt said. “I’m afraid for my son.”
She and Jeffries were telling their stories to Baltimore County’s equitable policing work group. County Executive Johnny Olszewski formed the panel after 2018 data showed African-Americans, who make up about 30 percent of the county’s population, got traffic tickets more than twice as often as white drivers.
But it’s more than just traffic stops according to Bernadette Young. She told the panel what happened when the police caught her nephew and others smoking marijuana.
“But when the police came, the Caucasian kids, they let go,” Young said. “My nephew and them, they set them on the curb. And I told them I said you know I hate to say it, this is a white and black thing and it shouldn’t be like that.”
Young said she was raised right in the Turner Station community. It was a thriving African American enclave of homes, churches and businesses. But Young and others complained that crime has increased as new people have moved into their neighborhood.
They said they want more police walking the streets and on bicycle patrols. They want more effective diversity training and they want more police officers who look like them.
About 15 percent of the county's police officers are African American.
Troy Williams, Baltimore County’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, said the work group is hearing from people who want effective policing.
“I don’t think all is lost,” Williams said. “I think this is an opportunity for us to get better.”
Gloria Nelson, president of the Turner Station Conservation Teams, a community organization, said they have put the word out that they want to work with police, but not everyone is getting the message.
“Especially when the perception is that someone is getting stopped unnecessarily,” Nelson said.
And missing from this community meeting were young people. And that did not go unnoticed by Turner Station resident Linwood Jackson.
“If we don’t get this youth in here, we’re hitting a brick wall,” Jackson told the work group.
Murisha White, president of the Turner Station Recreation Council, said she is in the trenches with young people in their community, and that for many of them, reality and perception go hand in hand.
“If they feel intimidated, in this day and age they’re acting out,” White said. “They’re not fearful of much.”
The equitable policing work group is to make recommendations to Olszewski. But Melissa Badeker with the watchdog group Baltimore County Justice Coalition is skeptical.
Badeker said, “So my concern is that, one, that the recommendations are not going to come to fruition. And two, that even if they do that the police are not going to follow through with those recommendations.”
Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt said they are listening, and they want to improve the department’s relationship with communities like Turner Station.
“Because at the end of the day that’s what’s really important,” Hyatt said.
The work group’s report is expected by August.