WBAL-TV calls cops on kids, protesters asking for better coverage

build wbal erp

Organized by the group BUILD, children called on WBAL-TV and other media to cover education and neighborhoods better.

Photo by: Fern Shen

A protest at a Baltimore television station turned into a dramatic spectacle yesterday when community organizers and elementary-school-aged children calling for more coverage of youth and community issues were met with five city police cars, joined by an uninvited mayoral candidate and defended vociferously by one of their own. All as cameras from a rival station rolled.

“If young people were out shooting each other, they’d cover it,” thundered Bishop Douglas I. Miles, clergy co-chair of BUILD, outside the offices of WBAL-TV, as children clutching talking points about school construction and rec centers picked their way back down Baltimore’s “TV Hill.”

"The media won't cover our youth!" BUILD leader Bishop Douglas I. Miles chanted, outside WBALTV studios." (Photo by Fern Shen

"The media won't cover our youth!" BUILD leader Bishop Douglas I. Miles chanted, outside WBAL-TV studios." (Photo by Fern Shen)

Nearly 100 people, roughly half of them children from area recreation centers and churches, had come to the station.

BUILD was protesting what they say has been skewed coverage of the Baltimore mayoral race by WBAL and other local broadcast and print media – in particular, the focus on the city’s high property tax rate as the major issue of the election.

“If we did nothing but lower the property taxes, we are not going to have all these people come rushing to move here,” said the Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church and a BUILD Co-Chair. “We have got to be talking about young people and youth employment and education and community.”

 After some of th children entered the glassed-in vestibule, along with Bishop Douglas Miles, five police cars rolled up. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Five police cars responded to a call from WBAL. (Photo by Fern Shen)

A WBAL official, meanwhile, defended the station’s decision to call police rather than come talk to the protesters (“we can’t control how many police cars come”) and said the property tax issue is the big issue of the campaign, in part because that’s what the candidates are talking about.

“We cover the news,” said Wanda Draper, director of programming and public affairs for WBAL-TV, a Hearst station. “We can’t go out and say, no, actually these are the issues.”

“Where Are the Reporters?”

BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) has been trying to tip the tenor of talk around the city election with their own agenda. They’re calling, for example, for the building of 55 rec centers and 28 new schools and dollar-for-dollar subsidies uptown that match spending for tourist attractions and other development downtown.

Pushed by the tax-slashing platforms of the leading mayoral challengers, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake recently offered her own plan, which involves using 90 percent of any future slots revenue not for education, but to offset tax cuts.

Media reports comparing the various tax plans have been proliferating. Protesters said city residents care about other issues, especially the 40 percent who don’t own property.

The BUILD group that came to WBAL television studios included clergy and children. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The BUILD group that came to WBAL television studios included clergy and children. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“Saving $3 or $6 a month on property taxes does not make me say ‘Wow,’” said Terra Hiltner, a librarian at Holabird Academy who said conditions there are extremely challenging, with “rooms with no view, rooms that are over-heated, rooms that are under-heated.”

As Miles grabbed a bullhorn and led the way yesterday, she and the others followed.

“Raise our city, raise our youth!” they chanted. “WBAL, come on out!” Miles bellowed.“Where are the reporters?”

Miles tried to call up to the building from an intercom at the sliding gate that stopped their progress. When the gate opened for an exiting car, the protesters went through it.

The BULID protest paused at this gate. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The BUILD protest paused at this gate. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“If the police come, I’m out of here,” a nervous Kaeon Covington said. Asked why he thought he was there, the 10-year-old said, “To tell them to keep our rec centers.”

“Your Viewers Are Here”

Once the hill had been gained, Miles and about 20 of the children went into the glassed-in vestibule, whose inner door was locked. A security guard could be seen inside talking intently on the phone. Miles used a phone on the wall to ask if someone could come talk to them.

“Your viewers are here!” he announced merrily. Miles said he was told a news editor was coming but it soon became clear that wasn’t happening. “The media won’t cover our youth!” he said, back outside with his bullhorn.

 Bishop Doulas Miles tried to get someone from the station to come talk to them. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Bishop Doulas Miles tried to get someone from the station to come talk to them. (Photo by Fern Shen)

At that moment, mayoral candidate Otis Rolley popped up. “Otis is here!” organizers whispered to each other.

(They later stressed that they did not ask any candidate to come to the non-partisan event. Asked how he heard about the it, Rolley said “someone texted me.” BUILD has been circulating word about the WBAL protest for days via email, Facebook and Twitter. Organizers said they sent press releases to all the major media outlets, including WBAL-TV, on Tuesday.)

 Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley got wind of the protest and came to cheer protesters. Jeff Abell, from Fox 45, is reporting in the background. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Mayoral candidate Otis Rolley got wind of the protest, came and cheered protesters. Jeff Abell, from Fox 45, is reporting in the background. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Next to arrive was a Baltimore city police car, followed by four more.

“Hey, my man!” the uniformed policeman said to Miles. The protesters were on private property and would have to leave, the officer, whose badge read “H. W. Carter,” told Miles.

WBAL called the police on our youth!” Miles announced angrily.

The group moved toward the lower lot and organizers gave interviews to the radio and television reporters who had come to cover what amounted to a critique of their work.

So, what did Rolley have to say, the candidate who started talking about a 50 percent property tax cut in the earliest days of his campaign?

“To be fair, I am the only candidate who came out with a complete agenda – on education, on making government more accountable and efficient, on all these other issues  – before releasing details of my property tax proposal,” he said.

“I agree with what’s being said here. There has not been enough attention paid to our overall problems, to youth. Only 15 out 141 schools in Baltimore met their annual yearly progress goals.”

The Take-away

As the group gathered in a small park before dispersing, one of the adults supervising the children explained how 17 of them came to be there.

“We are from Sickle Cell Fun in the Sun, a community-based health program at the Sharp Street Memorial United Methodist Church,” said Efa Ahmed-Wiliams. The children, ages 4 to 13, discussed the protest “in between arts and crafts and health” and voted to participate, Williams said. “We talked about it as a form of advocacy.”

On the phone later, Draper said her main thought as she looked down at the group in the WBAL parking lot was “why didn’t they call me first?” She acknowledged that the newsroom had known about the event, but said they hadn’t informed her.

Draper said the station has covered many of the issues the group thought were being ignored and said they have lots of coverage of the mayor’s race and of city youth.

“This week we featured a 12-year-old who won a city talent contest,” she said. “We just taped a piece on a 10-year-old food critic that’s going to air this Sunday.”

But she also defended the focus on taxes, not only because it’s what candidates are talking about, but because she believes “it drives everything else.”

“Lower taxes brings people here. If you don’t have people in the city you don’t have revenue,” she said. “Whatever you want for the city, better schools or whatever you want, that’s how you get it.”

Asked why no one came to talk to the group, Draper said, “we were having a very busy work day,” and faulted the group for not staying in the lower lot, saying, “we have had a lot of protests here over the years and that’s where they always stay.”

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  • Emily Rose Proctor

    I disagree with Draper.  Lowering property taxes is not the only way, nor do I think it is the best way to bring people in the city or encourage them to stay.  For me, having good schools and safe neighborhoods is a much bigger incentive to stay in the city than reduced property taxes. 

  • fed up

    I am not staying because of the rip off on property tax. I get nothing.
    My trash cans get beat up by sanitation, my recycles get left behind. I actually gave up recycling. Why should I recycle for a city/mayor that treats it’s citzens like crap. 311 code enforcement is a JOKE!

  • Tom

    Ms Draper says: “We can’t go out and say, no, actually these are the issues.” Hmmm, why the heck not? WBAL has plenty of reporters who know what’s going on in the city — and can get the candidates to talk about them. Property taxes are a key issue, but by no means the only one…..Of course, it’s not just WBAL at issue here. All of the media should expand their focus.

  • ashleyist

    “We cover the news,” said Wanda Draper, director of programming and public affairs for WBAL-TV, a Hearst station. “We can’t go out and say, no, actually these are the issues.”
    So, if the candidates aren’t talking about an issue, then it isn’t an issue? This crystallizes what is wrong with horse-race journalism.

    • guy

      it’s funny that someone from a Hearst station is saying this, considering the company’s history

  • MC

    I listed to the conversation with Pastor Connors on Midday this week and very much agree with the sentiment expressed by BUILD.  We all want better schools, opportunities for our kids and investment in our neighborhood, but where does BUILD think all this will come from?  City government can’t make these investments until we have the tax base that can support it, rather than a population base which continues to shrink.  Further, much of what BUILD is discussing, youth jobs for instance, really shouldn’t be a function of government anyhow, except that dire situations (flight of businesses to the suburbs) have forced the govenment into becoming babysitter of last resort. 

  • Bruce V

    Am I the only one who questions the ethics of using small children as props for a political protest? 

    • Sally King

      No, it is a disgraceful act of community organizers. We see the same thing coming from the President.

      • fed up

        Pathetic way of trying to bring light to something, they were trespassing.
        Pastor and the parents of the kids should be locked up too allowing their children to be used like this…….. OMG.
         Stupidity is too kind.

    • Guest

      I think small children are plenty capable of understanding “more recreation centers in my neighborhood/schools that don’t make me pass out from heat.”

  • Sally King

    What a bunch of sad radicals using children as a pawn! How sick are these people?

    • Claudlaw

      Yes, clearly the folks at “Sickle cell fun in the sun” are a bunch of red, fire-breathing anarchists bent on the destruction of America. 

      Our city’s current discourse, rightly or wrongly, is completely consumed by the conversation about property taxes, one which doesn’t immediately impact roughly 50% of its citizens (note I used the words “immediately impact”).  There is absolutely nothing radical about trying to have a voice in the conversation, particularly when children in Baltimore are particularly voiceless.

  • sickandtiredofstupidity

    Everyone in the protest were trespassing…and should have been arrested.  WBAL should have pressed charges against the organizer of that protest…that alleged “bishop” who no more of a preacher than I am.

  • Mayor of Towson

    Live.Local.Latebreaking.  Say what?

  • devils advocate

    “WBAL-TV calls cops on kids..” Now there is a eye catching headline!

  • devils advocate

    “WBAL-TV calls cops on kids..” Now there is a eye catching headline!

  • Meredith

    It is my understanding that the media is to play a role in enhancing our democracy. That it is their responsibility to shed light and share the truth about what is happening in our city, country and the world. As such, it is their responsibility not to just be a parrot for the politicians, but lead the search for truth, answers and justice. By simply just covering what the candidates say without engaging them in a larger conversation I do not believe they are living up to their responsibility. And it is not just WBAL, there are few media outlets in my opinion who are doing much of anything to enhance our democracy. So I would have to sincerely disagree with Wanda Draper’s defense.

  • Monty Burns

    “Protesters said city residents care about other issues, especially the 40 percent who don’t own property.”

    They should realize that the high property taxes get passed on to renters in their monthly payments and are certainly a factor in the dearth of affordable housing in the city.  The high property taxes also create an incentive for landlords to do the minimum amount of improvements to their properties to keep their appraised value from rising. Finally, it’s a huge barrier for any renters who wish to become homeowners.

  • RobertT

    Are property taxes too high? Absolutely. How do you replace the revenue?

    People are not going to rush into Baltimore City just because the tax rate went down. If property taxes were reduced to zero, residents would still have to pay an annual $20,000 per child “tax” to send their children to private schools because the public schools mostly stink. Why do so many young couples move out of the city once they have kids? It’s not the property taxes.

    The extra 3-4 grand you spend per year in taxes is probably offset by the fact that you don’t need to drive nearly so much when you live in the city. Fix the schools if you want people to stay in the city.

    • devils advocate


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