Much to be sorry about in Baltimore squeegee tragedy, including the missed opportunities to prevent it | COMMENTARY

Jul 31, 2023

As the jury left a city courtroom Thursday, after finding a 16-year-old guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of a 48-year-old man who threatened the teen and his group of car window washers with a baseball bat last year, one juror turned to the boy and mouthed the words “I’m sorry.”
The woman was in tears, clearly pained. The moment captured the immense difficulty of the job she and her fellow jurors were tasked with and summed up how many people feel about the shocking incident that led to the trial.
There is so much here to be sorry about. And angry — especially the many missed opportunities to have prevented this tragedy in the first place.
Defense attorney J. Wyndal Gordon suggested during the trial that the victim, Timothy Reynolds, was “the author of his own death.” It was a callous statement meant to deflect blame from his client. Yet there was some sad truth to it.
If Mr. Reynolds, a white engineer from Hampden with a wife and three children, had not gotten out of the car on July 7 of last year, he wouldn’t have died that day, in that way. But the same is true for the Black teen: If he hadn’t been there washing windows in the street for cash — something he had done since the age of 7, according to his family — he wouldn’t have been confronted by Reynolds and reached for a gun.
Each of those two people is responsible for his own fateful actions, and the consequences are heavy. Reynolds lost his life; his children are left without a father, his wife without a spouse. And while the teen, who has no other criminal record, lives on, he faces imprisonment and must spend the rest of his days grappling with the fact that his choices resulted in the death of another.
But they are not the only “authors” of this disaster. There is a long history here of area organizations and individuals inadequately addressing problems of race and class and equity until they grow into catastrophes. And it will take a collective effort — one we can all participate in — to avert other such tragedies in the making.
We can start by dialing down our rhetoric. The trial has divided many area residents — as has the issue of allowing young people, most of them Black males, to “squeegee” car windows at city intersections — based on their race, political affiliation and where they live. The mostly white and suburban right see potentially armed Black kids panhandling and touching their vehicles with impunity, while the urban left see racism and systemic failures that have taken opportunities from Black youth coming from families earning low incomes, leading them to wash windows for what sometimes adds up to hundreds of dollars a day. Each faction can be sickeningly self righteous, and willing to loudly proclaim their views on social media, talk radio and in letters to the editor.
But both Reynolds and the teen who took his life are victims. One of his own privilege, which led him to exit his vehicle while it was still running and cross multiple lanes of traffic during rush hour without fear for himself or his family to threaten a group of teenagers. Three years earlier, when his son was 11, Reynolds had posted online about how “these kids have no right to be out in traffic.” It’s not much of a stretch to think that the echo chamber response he likely received from social media helped him double down on his frustration. Imagine if, instead, someone had taken the time to really talk with him, hear him out and put the window washers’ plight in a context he could understand as a parent.
Then there’s the boy, who was one day shy of his 15th birthday when he shot Reynolds five times — three of the bullets landing in the man’s back. He appears to be among the many teens who believe they need a gun to survive in Baltimore city, where he reportedly attended school even though he lived in Baltimore County. His parents say he was washing windows to help support his siblings and had been doing it for years, an apparent indicator of the poverty that plagues so many Black families in America struggling to come out from under the weight of decades of oppression and of the failures of municipalities to adequately meet their needs. Imagine instead if the boy knew his role was to be a child, not a provider; if he felt safe in his environment; if his parents had the skills to financially care for their children. Instead of in custody, he might be in summer camp.
After the shooting, Mayor Brandon Scott convened a work group of residents and business owners to develop a strategy for dealing with the squeegee powderkeg. Their efforts resulted in the Squeegee Collaborative, which seeks to provide education and employment opportunities to the young window washers. It’s had some success, and the mayor is to be commended for that. But why did it take a murder to meaningfully address the issue? And why were his predecessors unable to address the problems leading teens to squeegee years ago, especially knowing some drivers react so negatively toward them? The issue goes back to at least the administration of William Donald Schaefer.
You could read more of this Baltimore Banner article here.