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Baltimore's squeegee kids: debating how the community should respond

Nathaniel Silas squeegees the windshield of a truck stopped at a red light in Baltimore, in this Oct. 24, 2019 photo. City officials estimate that more than 100 young people regularly work at intersections citywide, dashing into the street as traffic lights turn red to clean windshields in exchange for cash from drivers. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The intractable rate of violent crime is one of Baltimore’s most pressing problems, and Mayor Brandon Scott has said repeatedly it is his highest priority. Yesterday, the Mayor announced his “Action Plan” for the next three years. It makes no mention of the fact that he has yet to reach his goal of a 15% annual reduction in homicides.

Today on Midday, a discussion of what many view as another public safety issue: what to do about Squeegee Kids.

It’s an issue that strikes people viscerally, and it often divides along racial lines.

Squeegee Kids or Squeegee workers or Squeegee people, or Squeegee whatever you want to call them, have been an on-and-off topic that has preoccupied people at various times over the last 40 years.

A little background:

In 1985, then-police Commissioner Bishop L. Robinson advocated for a bill that would make windshield washing on the street illegal, and subject to a $50 fine for offenders over the age of 18. The City Council passed that bill, divided along racial lines. A subsequent version of the bill that included training on safety and courtesy to drivers, IDs, uniforms, and designated areas for offering squeegee services was signed into law by Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

The rationale was one of public safety. A year after the bill passed, a young boy named Howard Bradshaw was hit by a truck and killed on Maryland Avenue while squeegeeing.

For years, the supposed prohibition about squeegeeing has largely been ignored.

In 2017, then-Mayor Catherine Pugh formed the “Squeegee Corps,” an initiative that was similar to the 1985 iteration. It lasted less than a year. Mayor Jack Young announced another program in 2019. I spoke about it on Midday with Tisha Edwards, who was at the time, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success. She said the aim of that program was to eliminate squeegeeing, which she described as panhandling.

This year, two days before Thanksgiving, Mayor Brandon Scott announced his plan to address the Squeegee Kids issue. It is a 90-day plan in which the city will "intensify its outreach and engagement efforts." A statement announcing the plan said, “Mayor Scott will launch a Boys and Men of Color Cabinet that will engage academic, business, and community partners to build a comprehensive strategy for connecting the City’s disconnected boys and men of color to opportunity. The new strategic framework will be presented to the public in early 2022.”

Former State Senator Jim Brochin has called for residents of Baltimore County to boycott the city. Midday has invited Sen. Brochin to the program today to explain his position. Full disclosure: Midday host Tom Hall believes boycotting the city because of Squeegee Kids, or for any other reason, is a bad idea, and he looks forward to hearing what Sen. Brochin has to say about it.

We asked the Mayor’s office if someone could join the program to explain the Mayor’s plan. They declined our invitation.

Dr. Lawrence Brown is a researcher at Morgan State University's Center for Urban Health Equity, and director of the Black Butterfly Academy; Jim Brochin is an insurance broker and a former Democratic state senator who represented Baltimore County in Annapolis from 2003-2019.

We are joined by Professor Lawrence Brown, a research scientist in the Center for Urban Health Equity at Morgan State University. He’s the author of The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America, a book that explores the racial and spatial divide in Baltimore.

We would very much like to hear from you, as well.

Are you intimidated by Squeegee kids when they approach you at traffic lights? Do you give them money and encourage them? Do you think that what they’re doing is akin to panhandling, or does it represent entrepreneurial enterprise? Should people stay away from Baltimore as long as the Squeegee kids are at some of the corners in the city?

Sen. Jim Brochin and Dr. Lawrence Brown join us on Zoom.

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Host, Midday (M-F 12:00-1:00)
Malarie is Midday's Supervisory Producer.
Rob is Midday's senior producer.