DeRay McKesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter activist who last week announced he would be running for mayor of Baltimore, released the first three parts of his plan for the city, which he wrote were “developed with the feedback and input of citizens across the city”, promising dramatic changes in “education and youth development; community prosperity; and safety”.
In line with McKesson’s recent advocacy, his plan released on Friday offers a comprehensive list of proposals for police reform in the safety section, including a reframing of “enforcement priorities” away from non-violent offenses and towards “responding to and solving serious crimes” and a change in the city’s “use of force” policy to require an investment in “de-escalation tactics” and an end to arrest and ticket quotas.
He calls for a repeal of the controversial law enforcement officers’ bill of rights, which gives expanded protections to police officers, the establishment of a database of police complaints and a system that allows victims or their families to monitor the progress of their cases. The plan ultimately calls for a way to direct an “increasing portion of the police budget to invest in expanding employment and educational opportunities in communities most affected by crime.”
McKesson’s announcement to join an already-crowded field of more than a dozen candidates for Baltimore mayor could shake up both the Black Lives Matter movement and the city’s politics. With the ongoing trials of the officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray and the police department under investigation by the Department of Justice, Baltimore is at the center of the debate about policing in the US.
It is widely believed that Gray’s death in police custody led to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s announcement that she would not seek re-election, but 343 other people were also murdered in the city in 2015, making safety one of the primary concerns in this election cycle. Sheila Dixon, the current frontrunner; Nick Mosby, the husband of prosecutor Marilyn Mosby; and Elizabeth Embry, a prosecutor, have all already released crime plans.
Like Dixon, McKesson also proposes using a collaborative victim-centered approach known as restorative justice as a way to deal with minor offenses.
But McKesson, who also released two campaign videos and a website on Friday, seems aware that people may see him as an advocate for police reform and explicitly couches his safety proposals in broader terms. “I understand that issues of safety are more expansive than policing, and that to make the city as safe as we want it to be, we will have to address issues related to job development, job access, grade-level reading, transportation and college readiness,” he wrote.
He also focuses on ending the drug war and expanding treatment and re-entry programs. Though the proposal is a bit wonky, the issue is personal for McKesson. In an essay on Medium announcing his run, McKesson talked about his family’s struggles with addiction. “As the child of two now-recovered addicts, I have lived through the impact of addiction,” he wrote. “Perhaps because I have seen both the impact of addiction and the power of recovery, I hold tight to the notion that our history is not our destiny. That we are, and always will be, more than our pain.”
Though known primarily for his activist work surrounding police brutality and racial justice, McKesson’s career has been centered on education. He worked with Teach For America and was an administrator in the Baltimore public school system.
In the education prong of his plan, McKesson calls for transparency and audits within the school system and promises to advocate at a state level “to fix the public school funding formula” so that tax breaks for developers do not result in a lower tax base for schools. “As transparency improves and the full picture of the school system’s finances emerges, move to increase the city’s own contribution to schools in particular areas of need and opportunity.”
His plan calls for the city to “increase urgency and expand opportunity” by investing more in community schools, after school programs, focusing on reducing chronic absences, and “collaborating with local technology entrepreneurs and innovators to launch computer and coding opportunities”.
The plan also calls for better internship and apprenticeship programs, dual enrollment and early college opportunities, scholarship programs, GED prep, and the “radical transformation of Baltimore City Community College into an engine of opportunity for city residents”.
“I am not naive to the fiscal constraints of the city budget nor do I believe that the path to prosperity can be shortened through tax breaks and traditional developer tax incentives,” McKesson writes in the community prosperity portion of the plan. “I believe that the pathway to community prosperity starts when we reduce the barriers that make it difficult for individuals to find and maintain jobs and open up businesses.”
McKesson also proposes a $15 minimum wage, strengthened local hiring policies for businesses that receive city contracts or subsidies, and the exploration of funds to be used to create locally run cooperatives. The plan also calls for a subsidized, transitional work program “to build skills and establish a work history for adults living in poverty and citizens returning from incarceration”, while enforcing the “ban the box” law that prohibits employers from asking about criminal history on job applications.
The plan hopes to “expand the scope and reach of the city’s economic and community development strategies across all neighborhoods”.
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