Baltimore, Mayor Pugh, Reporter discussed on The Takeaway

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And now reporters are finding hard to track down where these thousands of books actually ended up for Baltimore. The revelations about mayor Pugh represent the latest breach of trust in the institutions that are supposed to keep a big city up and running joining us now or Alec McGillis reporter for propublica. And Liz Billy reporter with the Baltimore Sun. Alec. Liz nest have you on thank you. Hi, liz. I want to start with you this scandal centers on a series of children's books, but also fairly serious accusations of corruption concerning its author the mayor. A Baltimore where exactly is all about. I think what's interesting, and what has gotten the attention of so many people about this story is that it's actually very simple, the mayor sold eight hundred thousand dollars worth of books to various groups in the city. The major buyer was the university of Maryland medical system, but she's also sold books to Kaiser Permanente to other individuals, for instance, that prominent businessmen who yesterday we found out had written a check for a hundred thousand dollars for one buck the the questions that have been raised as what did those individuals who bought books get in return because not all of the books have been printed. Apparently, although we haven't been able to track all of them down. And the other question is was there a conflict of interest? In other words, in some cases, the institutions that bought the books. Also had either legislation. They wanted to past or had contracts with the city that were under review at the time. They they purchased the box the books themselves are not in our public, libraries. They are not part of any curriculum and we've gone to publishing houses and book agents who say they would never have been published by reputable publishing house to be clear. These are twenty page paperbacks with awkward illustrations in what's the nature of wrongdoing alleged wondering, well there are now six investigations into what's happened. And I'm sure there will be more. The most serious is being conducted by the state prosecutor at the the quest of governor Larry HOGAN, and they will be looking at that group of state prosecutor only looks at basically political corruption, but they're also. Also investigations by the city council by the university of Maryland medical system, and by the board of ethics. I should say the mayor has been very sick. She was hospitalized with pneumonia last week. And when she got out of the hospital, she held a press conference on Thursday in which she showed documentation that sixty thousand books had been printed and delivered to the school system, which actually didn't ask for the books. But in any event, she has said almost nothing since then L A, please help us understand the backdrop against which this is playing out. You wrote a recent piece in the New York Times magazine that places what we're now seeing with mayor Pugh is just the latest flip up in a much bigger citywide breakdown. When did these troubles start? What we're seeing here in Baltimore. The last few years is a really kind of extrordinary general institutional breakdown kind of unraveling that has been happening the city starting most clearly right after the death of, Freddie. Great from injuries. He got in police custody in two thousand fifteen and the protests and unrest that followed his death after that event, which got a lot of worldwide. Attention we've had this unbelievable surging violence in the city, Baltimore's open violence city, of course, but we've actually seen our homicide rate dropping quite considerably in the years prior to that we got under two hundred one year in two thousand eleven we've now spiked for four straight years, we've been over three hundred homicides, we had more more homicides in the city couple years ago than all of New York City, which is fourteen times larger than Poltimore extrordinary where basically the only city in the country that has returned to early nineteen nineties levels of violence back in the crack era. And on top of that. We've had an unbelievable police corruption scandal than folded the last couple years to mind boggling levels of corruption in this one plainclothes unit and the police department had an endless cycle of police. Commissioners about one per year cycling out the last few years, and then just this general sense of void of leadership in in city hall was really struggling to sort of get us hands on his file and exert any real sense of thirty. And then on top of that. Now, you have this just wild scandal coming out with these these children's books. So it really is kind of a breakdown in ordering governance wanting to to understand about Baltimore's that for all of Baltimore's a longstanding troubles that we we all know about incredible blight and supreme flight and disinvestment and all that the city actually is doing okay economically. This is not a story about total economic collapse. Like you saw Detroit. Around the time of the recession where city goes into total, bankruptcy and just kind of falls apart ecconomic. That's not what's going on here. This is collapse of ordering governance was mayor doing before this story broke out. I wouldn't say that she was a wildly popular mayor. She had all of these sort of issues with the police department that had come out mayor Pugh is reelection next year. They'll be a primary next spring that'll be the decisive election. And there had been talk about her being having fairly strong prospects for reelection race raise quite a bit of money. There hadn't been any real announce Strong's challengers yet to her and so looking like, she might she might be able to kind of ease into a second term despite not being all that popular. Really when important thing about her to keep in mind that she she won election last time with very narrow win over a fryer. Mayor someone who served to mayors previous to her who had herself been. Forced out of office over ethics and corruption charges, which charges that now held up against what's happening now actually look relatively smaller scale just in terms of the sheer amount of money involved. So that's sort of tragicomic element to this. Where Baltimore's now once again, dealing with these issues after having elected someone basically because she was not that prior mayor who is also dealing with ethics issues. I think one of the fascinating issues here is that the scandal extend so far beyond mere pew and into the community of business leaders and charities. And so we think that there is a lot of tentacles here that extend well beyond the mare you wrote in your recent piece that it's hard to describe Baltimore's quote unraveling and that the national political discourse lack of vocabulary for the city's ills what do you mean by this what? Why that is that there's been a lot of attention nationally, these last few years to the whole issue of police reform, and and dealing with cessive policing police brutality. Police harassment of of citizens, especially African American ones. And that's been very necessary conversation because of all the events we saw happening around the country in Ferguson, and Cleveland and Staten Island and elsewhere in the two thousand fourteen fifteen range, but Baltimore's actually dealing with these last years on the policing front is actually sort of the inverse of excessive policing, there's pretty widespread consensus here in the city that one big reason for this incredible surge violence that we've had has been essentially a pullback by the police that has left a lot of neighborhoods, especially the city's very heavily segregated black neighborhoods exposed to to crime and violence and create a kind of negligence by by the police body thirties these neighborhoods, so we're we're the the problem of of equal protection is not just refraining from harassment and brutality in certain neighborhoods. But it also is a problem of simply not providing good policing and protection in certain neighborhoods in that has been sort of lost. This nationwide debate around police reform, it's been conversation about how do we rain in the police when in fact, what Baltimore's dealing with these last couple years is is the opposite form of official negligence. Are we still witnessing the aftermath of that situation? Now, it's volved initially after Freddie, Gray's, death and the chargers by the district attorney. There was great upset among the police over those charges the feeling that that it was inappropriate to bring those charges because in fact, very little was known about exactly what had happened to cause for the grace death in the back of that policeman in. And so there was great sense of agreement over six of their colleagues haven't been charged. And there was what was really now is hard to hard to deny a pullback by the police in those initial months. Those wants this incredible spike in violence, we up over forty homicides of month in those first few months in the spring of two thousand fifteen and the reasons given for. Pullback evolve. Then over the next couple of years into all the uncertainty around what is known as the consent decree. The is now facing a federal consent decree where it's basically agreed with the department US department Justice to reform police department of federal judges enforcing consent decree, and there's they're basically new guidelines around how the police need to conduct themselves, and there's been great uncertainty among the police around just what that means. They are still allowed to do not do in in carrying out their jobs of policing. There's in. That's a that's a real uncertainty because they've gotten very little guidance in these last couple years over what this consent decree means. They've had this endless cycle of commissioners. There's been no real training in. So the police have been left on sure of what they can still do Risley dealing with that uncertainty by a lot of cases, not getting out of their cars, and they're just endless stories about police sitting there cruisers scrolling through their phones, and and not actually getting out and in policing whether its confronting a whole bunch of young men on the corner who may or may not be selling drugs that sort of thing. And so there there has just been this this continuing sense that we have a police force that is not fully engaged in policing seen is real abdication of duty. Wasn't it? Exactly. That's what's been kind of lost in a lot of this ongoing debate around police reform that we have to do have to worry about the responsibility and official abuse of power that comes. With excessive policing. We also have to worry about please simply not doing their job at the pain to do and recognize that there's also issued equal protection on that score through so many residents. I spoke to heard from in reporting article in the New York Times magazine who just talk about their incredible sense of fear in these neighborhoods and their desire to have police doing good policing in their communities. Yeah. I mean, I would also add that one of the deep problems with the police department right now is that there aren't enough officers. They had a difficult time attracting them and training them. And so part of the problem people believe is that there just aren't enough officers on the street and not enough backup for police officers who are trying to do their best alad Mikulas is reporter for propublica. And Liz buoy is reporter with Baltimore Sun. Thanks to you both. Thank you. Thanks. You're listening to the takeaway. I'm Rune vinegar Paul filling in for Tanzania Vega. Stick with us. A lot more to come. Takeaway is supported by Staples with organizations Aleutians for business, including calendars file, folders banker's, boxes and storage bins. 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