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Politicsby Mark Reutter1:45 pmDec 12, 20170

Pugh’s grant of $50,000 to a Nation of Islam affiliate questioned

Defenders of Baltimore Brothers say they serve as behind-the-scenes mediators in violence-torn neighborhoods

Above: Andrew Knox, leader of Baltimore Brothers, sells the Nation of Islam’s newspaper, The Final Call, in 2016. (Bmorenews.com)

Mayor Catherine Pugh’s award of $50,000 to a group associated with the Nation of Islam is stirring controversy in the wake of her “gifting” of a Chevy Tahoe patrol car to an Orthodox Jewish watch group.

Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer – who convinced Pugh to divert Pimlico slots money for a patrol vehicle to the Shomrim watch group  – has questioned how this gift differs from the mayor’s contract with Baltimore Brothers Inc. for “violence interruption services” in Northwest and West Baltimore.

Baltimore Brothers is headed by four members of the Nation of Islam’s Mosque No. 6 on Garrison Blvd.

“I’ve never seen stories written about other groups that receive money from the city that are labeled like Shomrim [as religious], including the group that just received $50,000 from the city’s general funds,” Schleifer told The Brew, referring to Baltimore Brothers.

There has also been considerable discussion about the grant online.

Several commenters have questioned why The Brew and other media outlets have not updated their stories on Shomrim to reflect the city’s grant to the Black Muslim-affiliated group, while others say that public funding of non-profits with religious ties can be useful.

As one commenter on Lawrence Brown’s racial-equity-themed Facebook page BRACE put it, “just cuz folks are connected to a religious group doesn’t mean it’s a religious thing. Those mosques serve as pillars of [a] community where there are no rec centers and whatnot.”

Baltimore Brothers was incorporated by Andrew Knox, also known as Andrew Mohammad, with two associates, Isaiah Mohammad and John Price (a.k.a. Brother John8X).

The resident agent is Bilal Rahman, a mosque member who describes himself on Facebook as Baltimore Brothers’ treasurer and conflict resolution specialist.

The reportedly tax-exempt non-stock company was handed the $50,000 grant on September 20 by an unanimous vote by the Board of Estimates. (Mayor Pugh was absent at the meeting; her affirming vote was cast by Peter Hammen, her chief of operations.)

Forfeiture Pending

The Brew’s review of incorporation records shows that Baltimore Brothers was “not in good standing” with the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation at the time of the award.

Typically, the Board of Estimates gives a company 10 days to get in “good standing” with the state or else face the withdrawal of the contract.

So far, there is no indication the city has taken any action against Baltimore Brothers, which continues, as of noon today, to be “not in good standing.”

In fact, online records describe the company’s current status as “forfeiture pending” because it has not filed a personal property statement.

Reached yesterday by phone, Knox said he was walking to the city jail “to speak to about 120 young men that are locked up.” He said he would be happy to discuss his work after he finished at the jail.

Since then, however, he has not answered calls nor responded to text messages.

Mayor Pugh also has not responded to a request for an interview to discuss the grant.

“Icon” of the Community

Knox is known as a peacemaker among rival gangs and an advocate for economic self-sufficiency. Doni Glover, publisher of Bmorenews.com, has called Knox an “icon in the City of Baltimore” and a “behind-the-scenes advocate who helps hold the community together.”

Baltimore Brothers was incorporated in December 2015 to serve as a community resource center for job training, educational tutoring, mentoring minorities in business development and providing “help in loans and grants.”

Its grant with the city, however, calls on the company to provide violence interruption through “engagement with leaders in Baltimore City who are influential in the Western and Northwestern BPD districts” with the aim of providing “the space for mediation services between city residents.”

The company was also asked by the city to offer “barrier removal and referral services to community residents interested in being diverted away from potentially illegal activity.”

Bilal Rahman, a member of the Nation of Islam, is the treasurer and conflict mediation specialist for Baltimore Brothers. (Final Xcolter, Facebook)

Bilal Rahman, a member of the Nation of Islam, is the treasurer and conflict mediation specialist for Baltimore Brothers. (Final Xcolter, Facebook)

Pay Now, Report Later

A memorandum of understanding calls on the city to pay Baltimore Brothers $50,000 in six monthly installments starting on September 15 and ending on March 31, 2018.

Following the expiration of the contract in March, “Baltimore Brothers LLC [Baltimore Brothers is a corporation] will provide a final report to the City of Baltimore reflecting the total number of residents engaged in disputes, cases and the results of those cases.”

No other reporting requirements are required of the group.

The MOU further specifies that “prior to any advertising, publicity or promotional materials initiated by Baltimore Brothers relating to the service,” the group shall submit the material to the city and obtain written approval for release.

The MOU was signed by Mayor Pugh and Knox after the grant was approved by the four other members of the spending board – City President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Comptroller Joan Pratt, City Solicitor Andre Davis and Public Works Director Rudy Chow.

The grant is being administered by Alexandra Smith, director of special projects for the mayor.

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