By Caroline Flannery
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Although seeing dead bodies, shootouts, drugs, and robberies in his West Baltimore neighborhood seemed normal when he was growing up, Councilman Brandon Scott is pushing his agenda to ensure that Baltimore’s youth are not surrounded by the same things.
The 32-year-old Park Heights native, who was sworn into the City Council for his second term last week, says one of his main priorities for this term is providing opportunities for young people, which will fight crime and give a higher quality of life to the people of Baltimore.
“When you look at the city of Baltimore and you look at the challenges that we have, opportunities and access for young people is connected to all that,” Scott said. “It is connected to crime, poverty, homelessness, need for jobs, and the economic situation.”
Scott says one of his top priorities while serving as councilman for the 2nd District is figuring out how to increase the amount of spending on family strength and training programs like the Center for Urban Families, which works with children and families, focusing on reducing the risk of becoming a victims or perpetrator of crime.
“Baltimore’s biggest problem is the obvious one- crime,” said Scott. “We need to tackle that through education, health and opportunity.”
“In order to prepare our young people to be better citizens as adults we need to connect them to opportunities and access,” Scott said.
Scott’s mission to give the youth of Baltimore academic resources comes from his own personal upbringing.
Growing up in Park Heights, Scott says he didn’t realize until he was older that the things he was experiencing was not normal.
“We saw the dead bodies, people shooting, robberies, drugs, we saw all of that,” Scott said. “But that was just a part of our life, we did not know the everlasting effect it would have on us.”
Scott said he and his peers did not know any different until they were able to get out of their neighborhood.
Scott was given the opportunity to get out of Park Heights for middle school by getting into an advanced academic program.
“It got me out of my neighborhood, allowed me to experience a different side of the city and be in a classroom with other bright minds who were continuing to do great things in the city,” Scott said.
But not every child in the city is given these opportunities.
“When I look at my middle school class and see where they are versus where the people I went to elementary school with are…there’s a distinct difference,” Scott said.
Then, in 9th grade, Scott was put into a test program for the College Bound Foundation with the rest of the track team at his high school.
“SAT preparation, words, strategies, it all had a great affect on me and my teammates. I was able to get $8,000 from St. Mary’s, and the College Bound Foundation matched that.”
Scott now serves on the College Bound Foundation’s Board of Directors, helping give opportunities to other young people, just like he was given.
“If it wasn’t for that, I would not have been able to go to school, and not just me. Same for my brother, my high school classmates, and same for thousands and thousands of other children,” Scott said.
After graduating college, Scott worked for Big Brothers & Big Sisters, and then served as a neighborhood liaison, which his credits to preparing him for his role as a city councilman.
Scott became the youngest elected member to the new single-member district City Council at 27-years-old when he was elected as the City Councilman for the 2nd District in 2011.
While once the youngest member, Scott will have a different role this term as a returning member, joining with eight new, all Democratic members and six other members.
“We are going to see a younger, more tech savy, more progressive council,” Scott said.
In his last term, Scott introduced a municipal ID card for the city of Baltimore, which would serve students as a school ID, transportation ID, rec center and library access.
“This would also benefit the homeless, domestic violence victims, immigrants and refugees, people returning from prison, and average citizens by giving discounts and benefits,” Scott said.
“Identification cards are great for everyone to have,” said TJ Smith, spokesman for the Baltimore City Police. “You never know what can happen and it is always a good thing to be positively identified.”
In his last term, the councilman’s proposal to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day lost, with a 7 to 6 vote. Scott said his proposal came at the request of students in Baltimore City schools, and that it is important for elected officials to listen to the youth.
“As a city coming off of the unrest of 2015, which came from not listening to what the young people of the city want,” said Scott, who was referring to the protests that rocked the city after the death of Freedie Gray while in police custody in April 2015. “These students are saying we do not want to celebrate this day anymore.”
As of now the bill is dead, but Scott says it will be brought back.
Scott co-founded the 300 Men March, a movement that was a response to the spike of homicides that occurred in Baltimore. This movement called upon the men of Baltimore to take a stand against violence and provide safety and stability to high-risk youth to have peace in the communities.
“The issue of the high crime rate is because we don’t have enough men standing up and mentoring, fathering, or guiding these kids,” said Sean Stinnett, spokesperson for the 300 Men March.
During the 2015 riots and demonstations, the organization went out to speak to members, hoping to be able to reach at least a few.
“The police can only do so much,” Stinnett said. “ We need a full effort from the community to make people feel protected in their neighborhoods. We need weekly engagement with these high-risk children, and need some sense of community responsibility.”
With Baltimore already over 304 homicides in 2016, Stinnett says the movement must step back and reevaluate.
“In a situation where if we are not able to get in touch with the people who commit crimes, we must reengage ourselves on a higher level,” Stinnett said.
“The 300 Men March has been a fantastic partner with the Baltimore Police Department. In sad instances of crimes against children, the 300 Men March has always been one phone call away,” said T.J. Smith, Baltimore Police Department spokesperson. “They show up in force at the drop of a dime and provide young men with a sense of direction. They are a valuable institution in Baltimore.”
The 300 Men March gained national recognition in August 2015, when it organized a march from Baltimore to Washington to bring attention to the spike of violence in Baltimore.
Stinnet says the organization is leaning on Councilman Scott to get the community to buy into what needs to be done.
“Do something, say something, get these kids off the street. There are too many kids with no parental guidance so they are just on the streets,” said Stinnet. “We have a good core in the council right now. These are significant people that have been committed to our community.”
“We need to teach discipline, different ways to resolve conflict, and how to be a family,” Scott said. “These are things that are not inherent and some people need to be taught these core values.”
When asked about his most disappointing moment of his previous term on the City Council, Scott did not hesitate.
“That’s easy,” he said. “My biggest disappointment is that we allowed the city to have over 300 homicides last year. It should be the most disappointing moment for all of us. We are talking about 300 homicides this year, its not just 300 lives lost, its 300 families in trauma, 300 communities in trauma. Violence is a disease and it spreads like a disease.”
“We know that most of the violence in the city is perpetuated by the same people over and over,” Scott said. “We need to be smart, not gong back to the days of arresting hundreds of thousands of people for petty crimes, but focusing on the violent people who have guns.”
Scott said he is proud of the Port Covington project, which received $660 million in revenue bonds in August.
“What is different about this deal is the community-benefits agreement,” he said. “For them to be spending millions of dollars investing in the community is unheard of when you’re talking about development deals.”
And although Scott started his career in the City Council with Mayor Rawlings-Blake, he is confident about working with the new mayor, Catherine Pugh, and says he can easily separate personal and work relationships.
“The former mayor gave me my start, but if you ask her who gave her the most trouble it would be me,” Scott said. “If you’re going to move the city forward we should be able to challenge each other, and I know that Mayor Pugh will be the same way.”
When meeting with the new council, Scott says he advised them to be cautious about letting this new role take over their lives, a mistake Scott made in the beginning of his term.
“This job can consume you until you eventually forget about everything else,” Scott said. “Take time for you, and take time for your family.”
Scott is now serving as the chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee and is part of the Recreation and Parks Committee.
This term, the councilman has several agendas he is focusing on, including specific police reform like having police redistrict their district each year, and engaging in a dialogue around who should be overseeing Baltimore City’s police: the state or city.
Scott also wants to push government and business transparency, specifically arguing to force restaurants to provide easily accessible information regarding the safety of their restaurants.