Red light cameras in Baltimore again? Really, Mayor Pugh? Really?

Dear Mayor Pugh:

You should know from the start that I didn’t vote for you.

It wasn’t personal, but I’ve spent nearly thirty years of my life living in this city; I’ve seen so much good, but I’ve also witnessed so much bad. You are a part of the “old guard,” the way I see it. Maybe you’ll change my mind someday, but your recent decision to renew the red light traffic cameras is one of the reasons I hope you don’t get to see a second term in office, Ms. Pugh.

I didn’t always live within the margins of poverty in Baltimore. Once upon a time, I was happily-married to a man who made me quit my job because he made more than enough money for both of us, as he liked to say. When our marriage went down in flames, things changed.

You wouldn’t know by looking at me, but I’m just another member of the working poor. I’m educated, pretty smart, and genuinely happy, but this city often crushes my spirit at times. It’s not just the countless murders, shootings, and crazy crimes, but mostly, it’s the bureaucracy. It feels like every time I turn around, I’m being ticketed, fined, or otherwise squeezed for cash by this city. I’d like to know why.

Recently, I moved from a slum-lord high-rise in Roland Park to a sunny rowhouse in Wyman Park. Sounds ideal, right? Well, it has it’s moments of joy, but also a lot of pain. I moved in with a housemate who, like me, is also a single parent. We get on just fine and I adore his boys as much as he enjoys spending time with my daughter. But when he had to renew his tags this month, he was confronted with a $1400 bill to do so. It seems a few parking tickets had compounded with interest over a the past two years and now he was up against the wall. Returning home one night, he looked at me with despondency in his eyes.

“Baltimore is a city of desperation,” he sighed. I agreed.

As a single mother, I am glad to have any job, let alone the one I do. It’s part-time, though, and lacks benefits, so I try to find as many side-hustles as I can as a writer to keep my life running and bills paid. The upshot is more time with my kid; the down side is never knowing what taking a real vacation feels like. I’d kill to go to Disney World with my six-year-old or spend a weekend soaking up the sun on a beach. I just don’t have the money or the time. I’m sure you don’t have the first idea of what that’s like, Ms. Pugh.

So now you and the City of Baltimore have jointly decided to restart the red light camera program because…revenue.

You admitted that and I kind of respect you for saying it publicly and not making up lame excuses and lies about safety, even though you kinda followed up with that argument. But let’s be real, Ms. Pugh, those cameras have NOTHING to do with safety and everything to do with removing money from mostly-innocent people, many living in the margins of poverty, and lining the coffers of the city budget. Where and how will that blood money be spent?

I have to ask because just a few months ago, I was terrified of losing teachers, paraprofessionals, and others at my daughter’s school. Oh, yeah, about that. I lived in a rodent-infested high rise in the fanciest part of the city just so my daughter would not be redlined out of the best public education. She attends Roland Park Elementary/Middle School. I put up with years of cockroaches, mice, wasps, and other vermin in a crumbling, craptastic apartment just so my kid could have a decent education. I’m so happy we are not waving goodbye to Miss Nellie the lunch lady who makes sure my daughter has green apples every day, but you and your administration need to be much more accountable to our kids when it comes to their education. But back to those cameras…

The first go-round Baltimore had with red light cameras was not only met with controversy, but also met with rage by people like me. Why? Let me share some scenarios where I got a ticket for doing nothing but driving, not speeding, and trying to be safe.

  • Driving home to my old house in east Baltimore one night, I was forced to stop, mid-intersection, because of a driver in front of me stopping suddenly for no reason. Thank you, Baltimore City, for the senseless $75 ticket I got for trying to be safe and obey the law. You didn’t give a dead rat’s ass that I did NOTHING wrong or nearly collided with another car trying to get out of camera range. You simply wanted your revenue. You know what? Fuck you, City of Baltimore!
  • On my birthday, driving through the downtown area around a baseball game. Waved through a red light camera light by a traffic cop. You could still see her Mickey Mouse gloves in the photo that showed up in my mailbox from the incident. Baltimore City, YOU waved me through this light. You said I could go to court or pay. I had to work. Guess what? You got your pound of flesh from an innocent woman who had to choose work over time dealing with the morons of the traffic court.
  • Driving home in the rain. Not driving fast, mind you, just driving. My brakes lock up and I spin out in the intersection. Yep. Another $75. You still suck, city cameras!

Countless studies have showed that these insipid red light cameras cause far more accidents than they prevent. Do you really need blood on your hands, Madam Mayor?

You are losing taxpayers who have run scared from our city and into the county (blech, I hate the county, but it’s their choice to move to bland suburbia, right?). We need to focus on reducing crime, but also helping people live in and enjoy Baltimore. Why do you wonks at City Hall always find ways to kill the joys of living in Baltimore?

Let me tell you why I stay in Baltimore, in spite of our horrible governing.

I like people. I mean all people. I grew up in Utah, or as I call it, “The Giant Wonder Bread Bag.” It was white, soft, and squishy in the middle. Baltimore is a chocolate-covered strawberry. Dark on the outside, but really sweet at the center. This city is filled with good people. People who work hard and have nothing to show for it but a smile. People who built this city, yet don’t own a brick of it. That needs to be rectified. Soon.

Baltimore is magical and gorgeous in so many places. My sweet little spot near Wyman Park is proof of that. All kinds of cool people walk their dogs and children up and down my street every day. We all smile, say hello, make conversations, pat dogs and make silly faces at children. The whole city has this capacity, but not when you’re broke as a joke and being ticketed for your existence every time you park two inches in the wrong direction or get waved through a red light camera. Baltimore is a lovely study in humanity. Go to places like the Ottobar on a Wednesday night of karaoke and you’ll see just how well people with different skin colors can and do get along. We’re not all afraid of each other, and sometimes we sing with and embrace each other. It’s possible if you’re able to drive your sorry hooptie to work the next day and it’s not covered in violations.

Madam Mayor, we’re already under the gun of the state and federal government, why do you have to steal our sunshine with stupid cameras?

Registering a car in Maryland is an exercise in torture when you’re broke. Please have some dialogue with Governor Hogan when you get the chance. We do have a lot of wealthy people in Maryland, but Baltimore City is full of poor folks like me who want to work, volunteer, and contribute to this great city, but we can’t. We are taxed, fined, and arrested way too much for the smallest transgressions. We would like to go forward, but every time we try, the city and the state step on our feet and stop us with yet another tax or fee. It’s unreal.

My biggest criticisms for the past three or four mayors is how much they gave away to developers. You governing folks have allowed big business to get away with a lot of bullshit. You give them the best land in the city, then give them all these tax breaks which eventually wind up costing us with revenue for our city schools, roads, etc. simply stolen away. Make them pay, like you do with your poorest constituents. You know, those of us who actually work and live in this city and can barely get by? Yeah, we all vote. Well, a lot of us do. If we can make it to our polling center without getting a ticket for accidentally running a red light.

There are better ways, Ms. Pugh, to make money. Please don’t follow down the misguided path of your predecessors. You come off as a smart, kind, woman. Please stop listening to the wrongheaded opinions of people who simply want to make an easy buck off your most-disenfranchised constituents. I didn’t vote for Trump, but I’ve conceded he’s the president. I didn’t vote for you, but I’ll root for you when you do things to help our city, not hurt it. Until then, I’m out. I can’t support a deaf-eared mayor who seems eager to hurt her city residents in order to achieve budget parity. I can’t and I won’t ever support that. I hope you’re listening.