BALTIMORE – Protestors from the Occupy Baltimore movement are operating on a new front, taking their momentum to the site of a proposed youth detention center to lobby for “Schools Not Jails.”
After their forced eviction from McKeldin Square in December, the Occupy Baltimore movement is focusing on specific issues in the city, such as foreclosures and corporate power.
“What people are doing is taking the energy, excitement and relationships from Occupy Baltimore and going in different directions, taking a more targeted approach,” said Kate Khatib, an organizer for Schools Not Jails.
Protestors are joining picket lines at the convention center and lobbying against a Baltimore resident’s eviction. They also are participating in the nationwide “Occupy the Courts” movement to protest the 2010 Citizens United decision allowing corporations to donate unlimited amounts of money to political candidates.
The Schools Not Jails campaign, working with the Baltimore Algebra Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to education reform in the city, aims to draw attention to the construction of a new youth detention center at 600 E. Monument St., a jail they claim is unnecessary.
Protestors feel the approximately $100 million allocated for the jail should be spent on prevention, not incarceration, especially after the recent privatization of youth centers in the city.
“They’re allocating the funds in the wrong places,” said protestor Nima Shahidi.
The campaign planned a five-day occupation of the site, beginning with a rally at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center on Monday, and ending on Saturday attending Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake‘s participatory budget meeting at Clyburn Arboretum.
“They’re cutting money off of the rec centers and schools,” said Annemarie Rush, an educator from the Baltimore Science Center who participated in the movement.
“Where are these kids going to go? They’re just going to funnel those kids who have no resources into the juvenile detention centers. It doesn’t make sense,” she said.
In 2010, the Maryland General Assembly approved the construction of a 180-bed detention center, a place for particularly dangerous youth who are tried as adults, said Rick Binetti, executive director of communications for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
However, after a report by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency noted a decrease of youth crime in Baltimore, the original design was reexamined. A new plan reduces the number of beds to 120 and cuts costs, Binetti said.
“Alternatives to juvenile detention [are] a Maryland priority,” Binetti said in an email. “But state law dictates detention in adult facilities for youth charged as adults. Maryland must improve conditions for this population.”
The Schools Not Jails campaign has met police resistance. On Monday, six protestors entered the site and built a “little red schoolhouse,” while others set up a tent on the street outside the enclosure, Rush said.
After refusing to leave, police arrested all six protestors on the proposed site, charging them with two counts of trespassing. Officials disbanded the remaining protesters.
Returning each night, the group plans to continue holding educational sessions on the effects of a detention center such as this on the community. Despite police intervention, organizers feel their protest thus far is a success.
“I feel like this is the most positive, productive movement that I’ve seen in quite a while,” said Jamal Jones, a member of the Baltimore Algebra Project. “This is a really good example of organizing, and I hope to learn a lot from it.”