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Baltimore City Council members split on squeegee worker policy change

Councilmember Kristerfer Burnett represents neighborhoods across Southwest Baltimore
Councilmember Kristerfer Burnett represents neighborhoods across Southwest Baltimore

Baltimore City Council members weighed in on the squeegee worker incident which happened last week during its regular council meeting seeking more action from police and the mayor's office.

The issue was not on the agenda and no ordinances were voted upon at the meeting.

On Thursday afternoon, a 15-year-old boy fatally shot a 48-year-old white motorist wielding a baseball bat near a busy intersection downtown last week

Eric Costello, a council member whose district includes neighborhoods downtown, said there’s too much violence in Baltimore and it’s unsustainable.

“As a government, we have failed everyone here by allowing these circumstances to continue to occur,” Costello said.

Costello said the police should do more to crack down on window washers at city intersections, a practice that’s been happening since the 1980s.

“I again call on BPD leadership to ensure enforcement of laws already on the books that prohibit this illegal activity immediately,” Costello said.

But Kristerfer Burnett, who represents neighborhoods across Southwest Baltimore countered that the push for more police instead of addressing the root issues such as poverty is short-sighted.

The Black prison population in Maryland was already double the national average of 32% in 2019, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit.

By 2020, about 71% of prisoners in state and federal correctional facilities across Maryland were Black, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. By comparison, 22% of prisoners were white. About 4% of prisoners were Hispanic and fewer than 1 percent were Asian, American Indian and two or more races.

Councilmember Burnett said there would be a different reaction from law enforcement, the city and the public if the squeegee kids were not predominately Black.

“Because let’s be clear, if these corners were filled with white kids who squeegee, the narrative would be different. Our response would be different,” Burnett said in a statement roughly six minutes long.

Such violent incidents are rare, Burnett said. He himself has had positive experiences with squeegee workers over the years.

“While I know others have had the opposite [experience], as we’ve seen that first hand the last few days, I want to give context to those making incredibly harmful and damaging blanket statements about squeegee workers in Baltimore City,” he said.

The answer is not more law enforcement policing window washing at intersections, something Burnett said he’s heard people in the community ask the city to do. That’s because a potential criminal record from squeegee work could make it more difficult for individuals to transition into the formal workforce.

Burnett said his office was in contact with an 8-year-old child and their siblings who didn’t have a safe home. The child’s mother was a domestic violence survivor and could not afford to keep paying for the hotel room the family was living in temporarily.

His office was able to assist this family, but it took weeks of calling the Mayor’s Office of Homelessness, Burnett said.

“But a lot of the families in Baltimore are not able to get the help they need,” he said.

Bethany Raja is WYPR's City Hall Reporter
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