CAMBRIDGE – Concerned citizens, including parents, gathered at the City Council meeting on Monday to speak to commissioners about the recent rash of crime involving youths.
Incidents have included shootings, an attempted carjacking and assaults, all within the last two weeks. Two teens and a 25-year-old man were wounded in one shooting in the early morning of Monday.
Investigations by the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) are underway. The CPD has asked for the public’s help in identifying suspects. Callers at 410-228-3333 can remain anonymous.
In discussions on social media, the community’s distress can be sensed in comments such as:
In the days prior to the meeting, Kia Simms spoke of her intention to be there.
Returning from her honeymoon last weekend, she learned her 17-year-old son was one of the victims of the Aug. 21 shooting. Now, she wants answers from elected officials.
"We're tired, we're paying our taxes," she said on Friday afternoon. "If there are not enough cops, why is the National Guard not here?"
A mother of two - her youngest is 4 years old - and a business owner, Ms. Simms said she no longer feels safe in town, and intends to tell the council members. As for the police, she said, "There's only so much they can do. They're short staffed.'
The police and community in general are also dealing with the results of last year's Maryland Senate Bill 691, titled, "Juvenily Justice Reform". The bill specifies that no child under the age of 13 can be charged with a crime, and turns over much responsibility for deciding cases of older youths to the state's Department of Juvenile Services.
Events in the last year have seen many youths arrested, only to be released to parents or guardians. "There are no consequences," Ms. Simms said.
But she has already suffered the affects of her speaking out. After posting a call for action and speakers at the council meeting, Ms. Simms said she has been harassed to the point that on Friday, she went to court to apply for a peace order against someone.
She said she hasn't called out any individual or group by name, saying only that the town needs peace.
"It's getting unsafe," she said. "It's getting more dangerous."
That danger has now touched her family, and has prompted some hard thinking and tough love. Ms. Simms said her son is recovering, and while she said he might not be completely innocent, she would rather see him in jail than dead.
Now she's looking for backup, hoping others attend the meeting to share their concerns. She has also notified Governor Wes Moore, though on Friday she had not yet received a response.
She's looking for answers on Monday, and will give the council a deadline. She's also planning a second meeting in the near future, at which she will continue the search for solutions to violence and crime in the city.
"God saved my son," Ms. Simms said. "So I'm trying to do a good deed."
City commissioners moved the Public Comment period to the top of the agenda at Monday's meeting, allowing citizens to speak without having to wait for all business to be conducted.
Ms. Simms went to the podium and asked, "Are there any resources like the National Guard? If not the National Guard, who?"
She ran down a list of Cambridge gangs - naming High, Pine, Projects and Douglas - and said, "There should be an official on every corner."
Now that she has spoken out, she no longer feels secure. "I'm scared to go in my house," she said. "Ever since I made a comment about people going to this meeting, I've been threatened. I shouldn't have to live like that."
Deborah Skinner is another woman who has been frightened by lawless behavior. An elderly woman who lives alone, she said her house was invaded last Wednesday by youths impersonating police officers.
"I was not hurt, but I am hurt," she said. "I had to get medication. I'm afraid to stay in my house."
Not confident to handle a firearm, which she said might make a situation worse, she also called for the Army to get involved. "The National Guard should be on every corner," she said.
Ikeia Cornish questioned the wisdom of the city's emphasis on development, when there are existing issues with poverty and crime.
"The people in that area cannot afford the housing that is being put up," she told the Council. What's the use of putting up a beautiful house in a community where gunshots can go through at any given time?"
She called for unity, rather than finger pointing, saying, "They're killing each other like animals in the street. They don't trust us. They don't trust clergy, they don't trust the schools, they don't trust their parents. Theya re influenced by rap music and social media."
She noted that much of the worst violence has occured in a limited area of the town, but it might soon spread to other neighborhoods. "Who is it going to have to affect before we really do something here?"
Gary Gordy, who ran for a City Council seat two years ago and says he will be a candidate for Ward 3 in the next cycle, said he has installed cameras around his home, and sees youths on his property wearing masks, and trying to break into his car. He called for the police to install more cameras around town, at least to give them more time to react to events.
"Come on now, don't say we can't afford it," Mr. Gordy said. "We have to figure out how these kids think."
Cambridge Police Chief Justin Todd said, "We're putting up more cameras," adding that his officers have doubled the numbers of handguns recently seized, including one from a 13-year-old on Sunday.
But because of the requirements of the new juvenile justice law, "They're back out on the street the next day," CHief Todd said.
He added his voice for those calling for common purpose and action, saying, "It takes a whole community."
City Manager Tom Carroll said, the Cambridge Police Department is "top notch," and in the process of rebuilding, not only in numbers of officers, but in its sense of mission, with a focus on engagement with citizens. "It's about a partnership," Mr. Carroll said.
Former council member LaShon Foster urged courage and called for citizens to get involved in related committees, saying, "We can't be afraid."
Dr. Teresa Stafford, a member of the Dorchester County Board of Education, said it's time for city officials to take a closer look at the situation in some parts of town, or suffer the consequences. "If the city does not get involved and find out what is happening in these low-income developments, you're going to have gangs taking over that side of the city," she said.
Finishing her remarks, Ms. Simms said, "We need help. We need to come together, stop pointing fingers, and figure this thing out."
In other news, the city in a Thursday press release invited residents, business leaders, and others to attend listening sessions to engage in dialogue about several proposed charter amendments. These meetings will address special elections procedures and filling vacancies in elected offices.
The first listening session will be held on Wednesday from 6-7 p.m. at the Empowerment Center at 615B Pine St.
The second listening session will be on Sept. 6 from 6-7 p.m. at the Intergenerational Center at 108 Chesapeake St.
“The City’s charter is the primary governing document for the Commissioners of Cambridge, akin to the City’s constitution,” the statement said. “Amending the charter is therefore a relatively rare occurrence and resident involvement is vital to the process.”
Listening sessions offer a forum for an informal exchange of ideas. Interested parties can join the conversation at any time during the listening session and respond to the City’s proposed amendments or other participant suggestions.
In the last 12 months, the City of Cambridge has held two special elections and one runoff election to address vacancies in the positions of mayor and commissioners. These elections and the vacancies in offices have prompted discussion about the City’s election procedures over the last year.
In March, the Commissioners of Cambridge held a work session to discuss policy options and possible amendments to the charter. A second Council work session was held in August to discuss specific proposed amendments developed by the city attorney and city manager. The current working draft of possible amendments can be viewed on the City’s website at: choosecambridge.com/.../Proposed-Charter...
The Commissioners of Cambridge are expected to begin considering legislation to amend the City’s charter in September, a process which will include formal public hearings and public notices, the statement said. Any changes to the charter would be in effect by the start of 2024 and would govern the upcoming general election to be held in the fall of 2024.
For more information about the proposed charter amendments, these listening sessions, or the upcoming charter amendment process, email City Manager Tom Carroll at TCarroll@ChooseCambridge.com.