Baltimore's "Squeegee kids" need to be removed, not reinforced

Normally, when we talk about problems on the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, it involves a trail of dead bodies and gang bangers terrorizing the city. So in some ways I suppose it should be something of a relief to talk about people washing car windows. Wait… what?

Yes, believe it or not, this has become a pressing issue in Charm City. Swarms of teens and young adults have taken to surrounding cars stopped at traffic intersections and taking squeegees to their windows and demanding money for this “service.” Far too many of them aren’t stopping there, either. If the unwelcome intrusion doesn’t result in the driver forking over some cash, they quickly turn to intimidation or violence. And now the municipal government is getting involved because the situation is totally out of hand. (Baltimore Sun)

[T]here’s too often anger at the Baltimore intersections where the squeegee meets the window, where city youth ask — some might say hassle — drivers they might see as better off than they are for some change or a buck for a quick window wash.

It’s an issue that’s confounded Baltimore leaders for generations: How does the city nurture the window-washing youth and address the needs that drive them into the busy, dangerous intersections looking for tips? At the same time, how can officials assure motorists the opportunity to travel city streets without being extorted for money by the more aggressive window washers, or without having their vehicles damaged when they say no?

The tone of the Sun article is much the same as that being taken by the city government and it should be infuriating to Baltimore taxpayers. They talk about the poor, beleaguered drug dealers who are trying to break free of that cycle by going out and “earning” some money (one kid claims he can make as much as $200 a day) by washing windows. They’re treating it as if these thugs are out there getting a job. But nobody hired them to do this job and people waiting at an intersection are not lined up to have their windows washed. They’re trying to get someplace.

This is, at best, a very aggressive form of panhandling. But it goes further than that. Drivers are regularly telling the police about being threatened, having their cars vandalized and in some cases having their windows broken if they don’t pay up. This is extortion, not a public service. Mayor Pugh is talking about establishing a jobs program to get them off the streets and that sounds great, but thus far it’s just talk. In the meantime, she’s instructed the police to “work with the kids” and “encourage” them to find other work elsewhere. They’re even sending out unarmed guards to keep things under control.

They need to be moving these thugs off the street corners and arresting them if they refuse to go. These are not people out there “earning a living.” They are terrorizing motorists. And in a city that’s struggling to attract both tourism and new employers, that’s not the sort of thing that’s going to help you.