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Crime & Justiceby Jennifer Wright12:30 pmNov 13, 20170

Metal barriers in a sensitive spot for Baltimore: The Mondawmin transit hub

Heightened security at the site of the student-police clash that sparked the 2015 riots stirs debate

Above: The Mondawmin transit hub last fall, part of the Baltimore Metro rail system that officials have just closed in its entirety for repairs. (Fern Shen)

When metal barricades were installed last week outside MTA’s Mondawmin transit hub, the local community took notice, snapping photos and flocking to social media to discuss their purpose.

Many assumed that the barriers were part of a crackdown on students who use the busy West Baltimore transit hub – a reaction to high-profile incidents of juvenile crime in more affluent parts of the city, including the Inner Harbor, Federal Hill and Homeland.

Complicating the conversation in one Facebook thread were commenters noting that some students had been fighting at the Metro station and bus stop, located at the intersection of Liberty Heights Avenue and Reisterstown Road.

Many at the transit hub are irritated that the barriers are forcing users to walk a long way to get to and from different bus routes.

“Sad this is what it comes to because of kids. Soon the harbor will probably look the same,” one woman complained.

Others weren’t ready to place all of the blame on young people.

“Yes, the kids did hang up there and yes they were off the chain,” a man wrote. “Now everybody suffers because I guess this was [the] easiest way to deal with the problem.”

Meanwhile, hovering over the whole discussion was the special significance that this location acquired on April 27, 2015.

A confrontation between students and police at Mondawmin flared into full-blown rioting that spread to other parts of Baltimore on the day of Freddie Gray’s funeral.

Girl Tased by Police

Visiting the spot late last week, a reporter had no trouble getting the basic explanation for the barriers from a Maryland Transit Authority police officer working there.

The barricade, which is not bolted to the ground, was placed between bus lanes for crowd control after multiple fights had taken place between students from area schools, he said.

Much of the tension stemmed from the rivalry between Frederick Douglass High School and Carver Vocational Technical High School, where students have had a particularly bad history with each other.

Barriers close off the central part of the Mondawmin Metro-bus transit hub. (Fern Shen)

Barriers close off the central part of the Mondawmin bus transit hub. (Fern Shen)

He said fights broke out numerous times this fall, with the latest incident occurring on November 3.

Several of the students The Brew interviewed said they feel safer with the barricade in place.

“I think they put up the gates for a good reason,” said Devonte, a student who who asked that his last name not be published. “I’m tired of the fighting.”

“Not all of them are engaged in criminal behavior. Sometimes it’s just they are just waiting for a bus to come.”  – City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises

Still, Devonte said the barricade also feels like a message that young people are no longer welcome at Mondawmin. He said police have been over-reacting in ways that exacerbate conflict.

“Police Tased a girl,” he said. “She was fighting, but they could have handled the situation better.”

It was not clear whether the alleged Tasering was carried out by city police, city schools police or MTA police.

Another student  offered her description of the police-student confrontation.

“The girl lifted up her clothes, about to fight another girl. The police tried to de-escalate the situation, telling them to go home,” said Sandy Wyndham, 18, a student at Frederick Douglas. “That’s when the girl who started the fight pushed the police.”

Police at Other Student Hubs

City schools and the Maryland Transit Administration have not yet returned The Brew’s requests for comment.

But, notably, Mondawmin and other transit hubs were one of the first things that City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises brought up last Thursday at a press conference meant to show that city government is doing something about the current crime spike.

“We have increased the presence of school police in major student transition hubs throughout the city,” Santelises said, noting that officers are also being deployed at trouble spots such as Federal Hill where residents have complained about Digital Harbor High School students.

“We are trying to pinpoint where and when crimes are taking place,” Santelises told reporters, as Mayor Catherine Pugh listened.

“We’re targeting those eight transportation hubs because we know, for example, at Mondawmin, 7,000 young people come through Mondawmin every day,” Santelises said.

Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises, with Mayor catherine Pugh at left, addresses crime and violence reduction strategies. (YouTube)

City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises addresses violence reduction strategies late last week. Mayor Catherine Pugh is to her left. (YouTube)

Targeting transit hubs is not only intended to stop students who make trouble, but to protect students who don’t.

“Not all of them are engaged in criminal behavior,” Santelises said. “Sometimes it’s just they are just waiting for a bus to come.”

Barriers Called Ineffective

Will the barriers serve their apparent purpose of making the area safer? And does the benefit of having them outweigh the inconvenience of having to walk around them?

The answers to those question were “no” and “no,” according to several commuters who were interviewed.

“These gates were put up Monday, and by Monday afternoon, the kids were jumping over them,” said an adult commuter, James Wilson, who had arrived by Metro and was waiting for the #91 bus to Sinai Hospital.

For less agile adults, the barricade makes it harder to catch their bus, Wilson and others said. Several said they’ve missed their transfer because they had to walk around to get to their next bus, instead of cutting through.

Online, meanwhile, commenters said there must be a better fix for the problem than metal barriers.

Some faulted parents for raising undisciplined children. Others cited peer pressure. And still others blamed the city for not providing yellow schoolbuses to get children to and from their schools.

“What they need to do, they need to bus the children out of the neighborhood [and directly to their schools] like they do in the county,” one woman said.

“That would eliminate a lot of problems of all of the children gathering together at Mondawmin Mall.”

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