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On The Streets Of Baltimore, 'It's Definitely Not A Safe Feeling'


Back here in the U.S., bringing change to Baltimore may also take longer than many had hoped. After the death of Freddie Gray in police custody back in April and the riots that followed, there were calls to fix the city, which has been plagued by violence and allegations of police brutality for decades. But things seem to be getting worse, not better. Homicides in the first half of the year are up by 50 percent in the city compared to the same period last year. At least two more people were shot to death over the weekend. Our next guest lives in the same town Sandtown, where Freddie Gray was from. His name is Ray Kelly, and he's the president of the No Boundaries Coalition, a community group in West Baltimore. Thanks so much for being with us.

RAY KELLY: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: I want to start by just asking you how things have been going in West Baltimore over the past few weeks.

KELLY: Well, it's been tense. There's a lot of violence going on right now and a lot of shootings, a lot of homicides. And the police patrols are, so to speak, cut in half. You can go hours without seeing a police car even pass through. And drug dealers are smart. They're seeing it. They're capitalizing on it. It's definitely not a safe feeling right now in Baltimore.

MARTIN: Have you had a chance to talk with any of the police, when you do see them, about what's going on?

KELLY: It seems like the officers are ready to come back out and patrol the streets. But it's more the high command and the administration that wants to, for lack of a better term, research and study what's going on when it's the same damn thing that's been going on for 30 or 40 years. We know what works. It's time for the police department to come out early in the morning, before the drug shops set up, and put the drug dealers on their heels for a change. And they need to do it 'til it works.

MARTIN: Where does all this leave your organization, the No Boundaries Coalition? When you think about your organization's mission to unify and empower this part of the city, West Baltimore, how can you do that? How are you doing that this summer?

KELLY: Well, what we're doing is we're pushing for policy changes. We're pushing for voter registration. Our summer initiative is education and registration. We want to not only register voters, but we want to educate them on the election process as well as the judicial process and the legislative process. And that's going to be our weapon. We feel like in our communities, we've kind of gotten the short end of the stick because we don't have strong voter turnout, as proven through decades of no political recognition. We're going to actually build a foundation for Central West Baltimore to flex our political muscle.

MARTIN: Is your organization getting the support it needs from the people in the community? I mean, when you talk to your neighbors, do they say, yeah, I'm impassioned about this. I want to make change. Or are people tired?

KELLY: Well, it's kind of disheartening to a community to see that we're not progressing, even with all this national attention. Instead, we're going backwards instead of forward. The progress that we've made with No Boundaries in the past couple of years, it's like taking it back to the beginning. I think in Western District, maybe in the past 10 years we've had five commissioners. I mean, we build relationships. And then they switch personnel. And then there's no relationship at all. It's been a repetitive motion where once again, we're getting away from the change that's needed to actually start to repair this broken city.

MARTIN: Ray Kelly is the president of the No Boundaries Coalition in West Baltimore. Thanks so much for talking with us.

KELLY: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.