By Ian Duncan
The Baltimore Sun
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After a week in which violence rocked Baltimore, leaders get together and ask: What now?
About three dozen church and community leaders huddled at the Greater Baltimore Urban League's office Monday to discuss ways to answer a tricky question: A week after violent rioting brought attention to some of the city's most blighted neighborhoods, what comes next?
The meeting was a reminder of the mix of problems some of Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods face — and have faced long before the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who died after suffering a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody.
Barbara Williams-Skinner, a leader in the National African American Clergy Network, said after an outbreak of violence, leaders can get stuck on quick fixes and struggle to address problems such as mass-incarceration and heavy-handed policing that fall hardest on poor, African-American areas.
"This has to be a life work," Williams-Skinner said. "We've been working on symptoms, we've got to be working on systems."
Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin and Rep. John Sarbanes joined Williams-Skinner at the front of the room at the Urban League's office, an old church hall that is said to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad for escaping slaves.
Cardin touted a bill he has supported that would outlaw racial profiling by police. The measure would encourage minorities to trust police more and improve the efficiency of officers' work, Cardin said.
"In the vulnerable communities you have to have your community working with you, believing — and the police demonstrating — that they are not discriminating," Cardin said in an interview.
"You can't say just because you're black and live in this neighborhood that you're suspicious, that's wrong," he said.
A version of the bill Cardin introduced last year did not attract bipartisan support, leaving it with little chance of passing Congress.
Other leaders focused on short term needs and initiatives — such as opening swimming pools and camps for children as the summer approaches — while others looked further ahead and wondered how to create well-paying jobs for people in neighborhoods such as Sandtown-Winchester.
Quarter of a century ago, officials pumped money into that part of the city, with questionable results. Douglas Miles, a leader of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, said the subway stop at Pennsylvania and North avenues — the site of some of the worst destruction last week — was designed to solidify the progress.
Ultimately, Miles said, the project was "piecemeal."
Sarbanes said he had been involved in that effort, and believes it is time for another, more successful try. The question, he said, is how can "we make sure that this time is different?"
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