In 2008 during the term of Mayor Ellen Moyer, residents of Eastport were up in arms about the escalating violence in Ward Six which is home to many of the City’s public housing communities. They formed a civic group called Stop The Gunfire in Eastport Now. Mayor Moyer essentially discounted their concerns as unfounded and told them that they were “rhetorical bomb throwers.” The violence continued to climb.
Eventually, former Chief of Police, Joseph Johnson, was forced to resign and the City, under the tutelage of new Police Chief Michael Pristoop formed a series of partnerships with different organizations and departments called the Capital City Safe Streets Program. For three years, the program appeared to be a successful one, as crime in the City began to decrease on the whole. However, in the public housing communities, after a brief decline, the crime rate began to rise again.
Ousted Police Chief Johnson was named the Director of Security for the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis (HACA) and in that position is the “chief of police” for the communities.
For the past year has seen a marked increase in violent crimes in the public housing communities with little response to constituent concerns from the City or from the housing authority. Two weeks ago, there was a double shooting and residents are rightfully concerned.
Another issue has cropped up. Voting. With a Presidential election upon us, many residents have expressed concern about their safety while voting. One of the Ward Six polling places is located in the Eastport Community Center which is a facility located in, and managed by HACA.
With the escalating violence, residents have turned to City Hall to voice their concerns; but they appear to have fallen on deaf ears. The residents are asking for additional security during the election. The Ward’s Alderman, Kenny Kirby claims it is a race issue. The Mayor, Josh Cohen, says that putting police in place for security will suppress voters.
Local resident, Jim Hunt recently sent this letter to the Mayor.
I just read the article in The Capital about our appearance on the steps of City Hall and could not believe you were quoted as saying “Mayor Josh Cohen said too much police presence could discourage voter turnout.” Please tell me that was NOT what you said. Or at the very least, give me the classic “taken out of context” politician’s excuse. Surely you cannot be serious? Not only is that statement insulting to the residents of Ward 6, but it is illogical. With perhaps a few exceptions, the only person who would ever be discouraged by a strong police presence would be anyone not wanting to be identified by a police officer. What in the world would make you think that a law-abiding citizen would not want to see a police officer nearby when walking through an area that is one of if not THE most dangerous areas in Annapolis? Of course one has to first acknowledge that the Eastport Terrace/Harbor House area is in fact dangerous. Do you feel that area is dangerous? If not, how would you describe that area to a newcomer to town? Perhaps “safety challenged” sounds better.
By the way, as anyone who has tried will attest, attempting to contact Kenny Kirby either by email or phone is a lesson in futility. So his lack of responsiveness on this issue comes as no surprise. Neither does his go-to “divisiveness card” which is a creative variation on the “race card”… Different cards from the same deck. This is NOT a race issue, it’s a safety issue. Period. I think we’d have a better chance of getting a reply from Mr. Kirby if we proposed having a 2am license at the rec center. He certainly “rolled up his sleeves” and worked tirelessly for Castlebay in Ward ONE on that issue. The next time you see him, you might want to remind your fellow council member that he is the Alderman for Ward SIX. I’m not sure he ever got that memo.
As I told Steve Conn the other night, I very much look forward to moving out of Annapolis in the next few years. Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there… anymore.
There is no word on a reply from the City. The polling location cannot be changed this late in the game. Certainly security can be added. Hunt makes a valid point that few law abiding people would be adverse to having a police officer present at the polls. In fact, during the last City election, the City was required to place officers in the polls which were located in schools (schools were in session as the City does not have an election cycle to coincide with State or Federal elections). So, having security is not an anomaly.
Why the resistance? If the HACA communities are as safe as Chairman Carl Snowden, Security Director Johnson, Alderman Kirby, and Mayor Cohen suggest–there should not be a problem. If the criminal element is present–well it should not present a problem either.
The job of our elected leaders is to answer to all of their constituents–not some of them. And, as the Mayor has repeatedly said, one of the prime functions of government is public safety. This is a safety issue. Why the hesitancy? Paying overtime for an officer to insure voter safety is money well spent.
It is disappointing to hear that Jim Hunt is considering moving. He has been here for a long time and has made Annapolis his home.
What are your thoughts? Is there a problem in the HACA properties? Is voting safe? Is having a police officer there an unreasonable request? Why the hesitancy? Is this just politics in action? There are a lot of questions that remain.