Over the weekend we talked about a recent story where a Baltimore woman was surrounded by so-called squeegee boys at a traffic light and accosted for money. She pulled her legally owned and carried handgun from her purse and during the ensuing struggle with a youth reaching into her vehicle the firearm discharged. Nobody was injured, but it was a close call. This, as I pointed out at the time, should have been a warning sign that these panhandlers have turned into more than just a nuisance and immediate action needs to be taken.
As it turns out, the editors of the Baltimore Sun appear to agree with me, though they are far more gentle in their descriptions. In an editorial yesterday they called for a “time out” for the squeegee kids. It’s something City Hall and the Baltimore Police Department need to read and heed.
It’s time that everybody take a deep breath and hit reset. We propose a 30-day enforcement of city codes 47-3 through 47-5, which ban aggressive soliciting in public, solicitation of drivers in traffic or on a public street, and nighttime solicitation. Law enforcement should tell anyone violating those laws — including coaches raising money for their sports’ teams and residents selling bottled water — to move along. They should also be prepared to refer the squeegee kids, many of whom are simply looking to put food on the table or help their families pay bills, and others to specific programs and services.
We realize this is no permanent solution. But it’s a start. It would help clear the streets for a period and give the simmering tensions between motorists and the city’s squeegee kids, mostly young men, time to cool down. The mayor’s office should use the reprieve to further its “Squeegee Alternative Plan,” meant to address the underlying poverty that leads kids to the city’s busiest intersections. It is a holistic approach that doesn’t just treat the squeegee kids as castaways in the city that is their home, and we support it.
I suppose some progress is better than none, assuming the city government has any interest in taking advice from the paper’s editorial board. But it’s also sadly ironic that the newspaper has to call for “a 30-day enforcement” of the law. As they note, there are already codes on the books prohibiting aggressive soliciting, solicitation of drivers in traffic and solicitation after dark. In other words, everything the squeegee kids are doing seven days per week. But even if there were only thirty days of enforcement it might indeed provide a cooling-off period and the chance for other options to be put into place.
The editors are endorsing one plan that’s already on the table, known as the “squeegee alternative plan.” This option would ensure that the police act more as truant officers and get the squeegee kids of school age (many others of whom are not kids at all) off the streets and back into the classrooms. It would also connect the young people doing this with counselors who could hook them up with social services and local businesses where they might land actual paying jobs.
The police have already been assembling a database of all the kids who have been doing this so reaching out to them and their families shouldn’t be impossible. The real question is whether or not the parents will take an interest and try to get them under control.
But first and foremost, the cops need to take back control of the streets. The paper’s editors disagree with me there, saying arresting any of them would represent a “setback” and harm their chances for college or employment later in life. But that’s not true if they are juveniles and their records are sealed. (Assuming they stay out of trouble after turning 18.) And as long as these roving gangs of extortionists don’t believe that the police are serious about enforcing the law, they will continue to ignore them and do as they please.
In closing, take a look at this video posted by the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police. This is the sort of situation they are dealing with out on the streets on a nightly basis. How surprised should we be if things continue to spiral out of control?
This was posted to social media just days before a recent murder in the same O'Donnell Heights neighborhood. This is what our Cops are facing under the current administration. They can't even find a way to resolve the squeegee issue let alone this! #CityinCrisis pic.twitter.com/bK2yxV9X45
— Baltimore City FOP (@FOP3) October 29, 2019