One of the many unanswered questions about the Brooklyn Homes mass shooting is the role of the property owner in providing financing and security for the block party that erupted into gun violence on its grounds early on July 2.
The Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) owns the 34 acres of gently rolling land upon which 482 affordable housing units sit alongside narrow, winding roads and alleys with names like Elarton Court and Mariban Court.
Block parities are a not-infrequent occurrence at the city’s public housing developments, according to Annie Chambers, who helped establish the agency’s Resident Advisory Board (RAB), to give voice to housing tenants, when she was president of Baltimore Welfare Rights.
Applying through RAB, a resident council can access “participation funds” to use for community activities, be it for a wellness fair, a neighborhood meet-and-greet, a cookout or a block party, says Chambers.
• At 5 p.m. tonight, the City Council will call on representatives of HABC, the Police Department, MONSE (Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement) and the Department of Transportation “to discuss the mass shooting that occurred in Brooklyn on July 2, 2023.” The hearing is open to the public on the 4th floor of City Hall.
The single-page application form – not updated in years – requires disclosure of the proposed use of the funds, the number of expected participants, and the name of the person or group the check should be written out to.
There is no requirement for a security plan, and there is no apparent process for notifying police or other city agencies of the event.
Yesterday, the Department of Transportation told The Brew that it had gone through 10 years of records and found no applications or permits for road closures for past Brooklyn Day parties.
“It is all so loose, you put in what you want. And they approve it as long as Janet [Abrahams, president and CEO of HABC] goes along with it,” Chambers said.
The funds come from a pot of money that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sets aside to the Resident Advisory Board, with 40% of the funds absorbed by HABC for “administrative costs.”
A Long Tradition
For over 25 years, Chambers says, the Brooklyn Homes Tenant Council has hosted the Brooklyn Day party around July 4 – an event that has traditionally attracted a cross section of Baltimore, ranging from sheriff’s deputies and police brass to public housing residents and other citizens from across the city.
“That party has gone on for years. And it’s been fine – families meet and eat and enjoy themselves,” Chambers said. “The one this year got out of control, and the city should just say that instead of ducking and denying.”
Based on the HUD distribution formula, about $7,200 was available to Brooklyn Homes this year.
But according to HABC, residents didn’t ask for any of the money or for other HABC resources, such as tables and chairs from the community center.
“I can confirm that the Resident Advisory Board did not get a funds request,” said Ingrid Antonio, senior vice president of communications for HABC, who has repeatedly called this year’s Brooklyn Party “an unsanctioned event held without HABC’s or the city’s authorization.”
Asked for a copy of the requirements for holding events on HABC property, Antonio said, “The requirements for use of HABC property are being reviewed internally to determine what may need to be updated and clarified. This will not be finalized by your deadline.”
Chambers says the agency’s assertion of an “unsanctioned event” flies in the face of her many years of experience with how HABC works.
“Ain’t no way an all-day party with 1,000 people would happen on government property without getting some kind of authorization from them,” Chambers maintained.
Another longtime resident, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, said, “They’re pretending they don’t know nothing because of the shootout. Downtown knew. The asset manager at Brooklyn knew. None of this was any secret.”
Brooklyn Homes has a tenant council, but it hasn’t been active on social media since 2018. The former president listed in HABC records did not respond to emails.
Reached by phone by The Brew, the tenant council’s recently named president, Erika Walker, said past Brooklyn Day events were “never organized by the tenant council.”
Asked who did organize them, Walker abruptly terminated the call.
Phylicia Porter, the councilwoman who represents the neighborhood, said it was her understanding that the resident council did not organize this year’s party, as it had before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Instead, the party “was done more in an ad hoc way by individuals,” she told The Brew.
No Permits or Security Plan
Events held on HABC property don’t go through the complex array of application forms and advance approvals required of organizations holding special events in Baltimore.
City permit fees for races, parades and festivals start at $250 and can quickly escalate if a fire marshal, EMS ambulance, police detail, stage equipment, city electricians, a 1-day liquor license and waste removal are required.
What’s more, a police security plan is expected for block parties and other events with over 200 people, to be sent to the commander at the police district the event is to be held.
“Homemade cocktails” were reportedly advertised on flyers distributed before the Brooklyn Homes party. According to Police Department guidelines, “A Special Event that includes the sale or consumption of alcohol will always require a security plan to gain approval from a Police Commander.”
The security plan (see above) specifies the number of security guards or police officers required at the event – two security guards per 100 guests, two police officers for every 500 guests, and a police sergeant and 4-10 officers at larger events.
Bullets Flying Everywhere
Between 800 to 1,000 people and possibly more were believed to be attending the Brooklyn Homes party before gunfire erupted in the early morning hours of July 2.
Acting Police Commissioner Richard Worley said his department was not made aware of the party until hours before it began, and it was “too late” to prepare operational plans before a shootout that’s believed to have included a dozen or so guns, with bullet casings found at five locations of the housing complex.
Police scanner transmissions reviewed by The Brew show that 911 calls of “armed people” and “fighting and shooting” were received by police more than two hours before the shootout.
But following a flyby from the Foxtrot police helicopter, which reported “approximately 700 people. . . just walking around, hanging out,” police kept their distance from the crowd until the burst of violence.
The mass shootout left two dead and 28 wounded. More than half of the victims were 18 years old and under.
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— Fern Shen contributed to this story.