Nanny mugged in Bolton Hill
Monday's attack on a nanny in Bolton Hill is scary for many reasons -- it happened in broad daylight, a woman was approached by two men, one of whom put her in a choke hold, the other separated her from the 8-month-old girl she was watching and rifled through the baby carriage, and the police response was questionable.
I spoke with the victim, Siwei Yao, on Tuesday and wrote about her experience in today's paper. The Chineses national has only been in this country for six months, and what struck me was when I asked her what she told her friends and family back home about what had happened.
It was that her neighbors flocked to the home after the attack, offered to help her and invited her to joint their group as they took babies for walks. That wouldn't happen in China, the 25-year nanny told me, and that, was the message she sent home.
Last night, the baby's father, Travis Hardaway, sent me this summary of events. It's long, but I think important to hear from people directly impacted by crime:
The broad daylight mugging of our au pair who was pushing my daughter Christine in the stroller for an afternoon walk a half a block away from our house, and the events which have since followed have given me a remarkable insight into a real peril that Baltimore as a city faces. We are all well aware that even though there have been improvements in the quality of life in the city overall and that Baltimore’s murder rate dropped substantially, crimes of all kind are still a major problem (the city moved from no. 3 to no. 1 in homicides despite the drop) and we still have an under funded educational system, and are allowing a self perpetuating cycle of violence to continue in the poor parts of the city. The fact that two young males would not have the moral compass to see what’s wrong with holding up a woman pushing a stroller and allowing her to lay unconscious on the ground while they searched her and the stroller and then just leaving them there in that condition was unthinkable to me. It is true that there was no physical harm done and we aren’t talking about murder, but these are young kids and who knows what they will become capable of doing as they continue to “grow up”.
Then there was the problem of the response to the problem. The police took the 911 call and got a description of the suspects over the phone. Two officers appeared at our door 90 minutes later and said that they had been out searching for the two men who fit the description. They asked our au pair if she would like to have a police report filed or should the officers just continue to look for the suspects. Our au pair Ms. Yao, unaware of what filing a police report entailed, said that losing her iPod was not a big deal, but the fact that she no longer felt safe walking outside with our baby on a sunny afternoon was a big deal. She said that she would rather they go and find the people who did this than fill out a report. By the end of the day, although we didn’t know it at the time, the officers had written the mugging up as a larceny. They did tell us that they were going to be “on this full force” when they came by our house for the second time that day around 5PM. We were assured that they were going to have cars searching and patrolling the area and my feeling was that they were taking this seriously, but when I asked them about why a report wasn’t being filed there was some serious back pedaling going on. I was initially told that a report couldn’t be opened on this because it had already been closed out. They did eventually give us a citizen’s complaint form, but it was not a police report.
That evening, my wife posted a description of the event to the Bolton Hill Yahoo group. Within a very short amount of time amazing things began to happen. First, there has been a steady influx of calls and email from supportive neighbors that has reassured us that we belong to a strong, supportive and resilient community. It has helped us feel positive and been a wonderful show of support.
Then we got several emails and a phone call from Peter Hermann, a Crime columnist/internet blogger for the Baltimore Sun, asking to speak with us about our experience. We agreed on Tuesday morning to an interview on Wednesday morning at 10AM and, unbeknown to us, Mr. Hermann started making phone calls. Shortly there after, we received two phone calls from higher-ranking concerned offices from the Police department. How are we doing? Is everybody in the family ok? How did we perceive the Police department’s handling of the incident? They gave us reassurances that everything was going to be taken care of and left us with phone numbers and names of Majors and Commanders we could talk to if we had any questions. I’ve never felt so important!
Three higher-ranking officers showed up at our door later that day to re-interview Ms. Yao and make sure that “everything is done right”. She replied that she had already told this story to the Police at which point they assured us that they weren’t those Police. They were extremely professional taking very detailed notes. During the process I overheard one of the officers saying that the first report wasn’t written up correctly and had been reported as a larceny; they then reclassified the event as an unarmed assault and robbery. I was told that they may not have gotten it right the first time but they would get it right. I was very impressed with their dedication to correcting the paperwork although I’m not sure they obtained any new information regarding criminals. If they had three officers at our house spending almost an hour getting this report right, one can only wonder how many more there must have been combing the streets for Ms. Yao’s perpetrators and iPod!
Mr. Hermann arrived this morning at 10AM and conducted his interview. I thanked him for drawing so much attention to the event because I feel that the more attention this incident gets, the stronger the positive outcome will be for the safety neighborhood. At the end of the interview I asked him what would happen now. He said that he is going to write a story describing the event and the response to it. I am convinced from our discussion that the Baltimore Police department is very worried that there will be backlash from the inexperience the officers displayed in their initial response to the mugging. I also believe that the Police department is worried that Mr. Hermann’s investigation will be used as evidence to support the growing suspicion that the Police department is padding it’s statistics to conceal the lack of progress in controlling crime. I think that were it not for the posting on the Internet and Mr. Herman’s role as an investigative journalist, this would probably have been left as a larceny and no one would have been the wiser.
Can you really blame the Police department for trying to make things look as rosy as possible when they are woefully under funded compared to Police departments in other major cities and the problems they face? They are being asked to do the impossible. Overall, my experience with the Baltimore Police department has been very positive. Several years back I was mugged and my scooter was forcibly taken from me while I was riding in a part of town I was unfamiliar with. The officer who first responded took a description and assured me he’d have my scooter back by nightfall and have the guy in cuffs. He was right, he knew the kid and his knowledge of the neighborhood and the collaborative effort of the rest of the Police department put my assailant in jail for 2 years with eight years probation to celebrate his first crime as an adult. He had an extensive sheet dating back to his 15th birthday. For the 9 break-ins that have occurred on properties I was renovating between 2001 and 2007 the Police usually responded in an appropriate manner (of course I never did get any of those tools back). Even in the current case I feel that the Police were generally doing the best that they could. Excepting of course the waste of man-hours being spent trying to placate us when I’d rather hear about progress controlling crime in our neighborhood.
I’m worried that Baltimore city does not have enough tax revenue to hire the necessary number of officers and pay them a fair wage for their service. I’m worried that the Police department is overwhelmed with the crime problem and that high level officers fear losing their jobs and careers because they know that they are loosing ground on the crime problem in this city through no fault of their own and have to resort to fabricated numbers because of political pressures. I worry that the city and state government have no more money to give the police department so they look the other way and accept these for as long as possible hoping to avoid a backlash from their constituents. I worry that the Baltimore Sun will diminish in capacity to the point where it can no longer function as a proper watch guard against corruption in both our government and community. I worry that Baltimore will loose it’s voice and presence as a major city in this country. Then the irony of the slogans on our city benches will be complete. What happens to Baltimore if the tax base starts contracting and the police department goes along with it? We are already a major of entry into the country for heroin and all the problems that go with it.
Overall I’m not a fan of dystopic visions of the future unless you are talking about science fiction. I do feel that the strength of our community is strong and no one is talking about picking up and moving. The police are continuing to investigate and I feel that this particular event, the mugging of a woman with a baby in broad daylight, is very uncommon and not likely to happen again. Ms Yao feels relatively safe about walking outside during the day. She says that when she came to the United States, she had the misconception (common in China) that Americans are very individualistic and therefore selfish. She says that when told her friends, they expected that the American police would be very competent and efficient while the neighbors and community members would be largely uninterested. She was very impressed with the strong solidarity of our local community. She also said that in China it would be unthinkable that a newspaper would not print exactly what the government wanted. I am only now becoming aware of the importance of The Baltimore Sun’s role in our community and that without it we would all be poorer. The fact that the revenue base for newspapers is not tied in a fiscal way to the real value that they provide is a problem that I hope gets solved.
The city of Baltimore has problems that are too big for it to fix on its own. An unlimited police budget by itself will not make the people who are committing these crimes any less desperate. We do however need more and better-trained police. We also need accurate reporting of statistics from the police department so citizens can adequately assess the size of the problem and generate the political will to fix things. We all feel the negative results of the look the other way attitude that has allowed the economy to become a train wreck. It is also unfortunate that the general perception in Baltimore is that the social programs have been largely ineffective and some them have contributed to dysfunctional parts of our social fabric and have in effect created a welfare state. This city needs is a substantial investment in the social and educational systems that are trying to support the children in our cities. We need to give the children and soon to be young adults a framework and support structure for getting out of their predicament. This is a problem that could be addressed by our president, who lives a city a stone throw away from us and is sitting on a giant pile of cash trying to figure out how best to spend it in order to stimulate the economy.
Of course there are many people who don’t feel that it is not the role of the federal government to be solving state and city problems (I’d like to point out that those people are now part owners of GM). Maryland is a small state and Baltimore is a big problem. If the crime and safety problems of Baltimore could be brought under control and we could give viable career alternatives to the spotters and runners and dealers and users, many of whom are inner-city children, the would no longer need this level of help. Throwing cash at a problem is generally not a good solution to a problem, but giving water to someone who is dying of thirst is. I argue that money spent increasing the quality of life and safety of citizens is a great use of stimulus money. I want to be safe from terrorists, but I want to be safe from muggers too. Being a safer city would be a huge boost to Baltimore’s economy and would ultimately allow us to need fewer police and community service members and support a larger more harmonious population. So what do you say Mr. Obama, could you lend your neighbor a cup of sugar?