A neighborhood community asks for help from Hagerstown Mayor and Council at last night’s meeting

June 21 — The regular meetings for Hagerstown Mayor and Council provide an open mic for residents to have their voices heard. 

Last night a group of people from the Bethel Gardens community stepped up to talk to the mayor and council about what’s been going on in their neighborhood. 

Mayor Tekesha Martinez explained, “I felt like this was residents that were sticking together that were coming in and saying these are the problems that we’re having. There’s people that do not live in this area that are on our sidewalks, they’re causing an issue, and we need help. Not only do we need help, but we would also like for you to advise us on how to have a safer community. I thought that was powerful.”

The meetings are posted online and the comments can be heard. 

Michele Jansen of NewsTalk 103.7FM noted, “I was listening to some of the comments and hearing exactly that. People talking about there’s some people coming in from outside the neighborhood, one man very graphically describing what he’s had to do to protect some of his neighbors or people passed out from drugs.”

Martinez said, “He’s talked about how he had to put his hands on someone. Right after the meeting last night, myself and I believe council member Bruchey, went down to that community and also police came down because we don’t want residents to feel like they have to defend or protect themselves with more violence, right? When I got down there, I found out that the woman who runs Bethel Gardens was talked to poorly and threatened by someone who didn’t live there and this resident stepped up and protected her and had a physical altercation. That was sickening to us sitting up there. There was another woman who talked about how she never imagined living in the Bethel Gardens community, but that’s where she has to live right now. That’s all she can afford. She feels like she’s being demeaned when police do show up and the people are gone. We heard things like that, that were very heavy on us to hear that a community is suffering and then not really feeling like the police are helpful.”

Pat Ryan of NewsTalk 103.7FM added, “I’m certain that there’s both sides to the story. There’s so many different factors in there, but hearing someone putting their hands on another person, that’s where you need the police presence. You don’t want that kind of liability. You don’t want that kind of pressure on you. That’s got to be a lot of stress. I’m really glad to hear that you went into the neighborhood right afterwards?”

Martinez confirmed, “Yes. There is a police substation in that community. Since I maneuver so much through there, maybe just by creating a presence inside of that building, and if I can help do that, again, I’m conflict resolution and so there’s always two sides. You can have someone say the police were being disrespectful to me, and it not literally be that the police was trying to be disrespectful. It’s just a miscommunication in the way that we address each other. Then the same thing on the other side, you hear residents saying we don’t want police down here all the time. We don’t want to feel harassed by police. We have to find a balance and in the midst of that, in between that, the last thing you want is a lot of emotional and and I don’t want to say passionate, but regardless whether it’s on the policing side, government side or community because with heat with it is like a breeding ground for chaos.”

Ryan said, “Seeing someone like you on the street, along with the former mayor, and now councilman, and then Chief Kifer as well. You start seeing a couple of people there and all of a sudden, wow. Obviously they do care. Right?”

“Yeah,” Martinez said, “You don’t want people to think that you don’t care about their community. That community is not the only one that came in and felt like, where are you guys? So, what happens is, we feel that. We feel like let’s go be present now. But I don’t want it to feel like we’re just reacting either. I want real solutions.”

Jansen said, “You don’t want virtue signaling. You want them to know we’re not just doing this today for this moment, and then we’re going to walk away and forget about this.” 

Ryan added, “I’ve also heard people come to a meeting and then you get deer in the headlights. I’ve seen these meetings where, well thank you very much for your comment and we’ll take that under advisement, then you don’t hear anything about it until something else blows up in your face. At least you had the common sense to go you know what? It’s not going to kill me to go down to the neighborhood and take a snoop around and then say okay, now I got a good visual on it. What are our next moves together?”

Former Mayor Emily Keller came in and made some public comments last night, too. 

Martinez said, “She talked about a documentary that part of it was shot in Hagerstown and that will be premiered at the Maryland Theater. She came to invite us and that was something she took part in, I believe as the mayor, and so she was a part of this documentary and she came to formally invite us.”

A proclamation was made for Pride Month, as well. 

Martinez said, “Our closing comments last night I think really showed the heart of the elected body that’s sitting up there. The council was very, great to hear that, but at the same time don’t want to feel like we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Dirt bikes came up again last night — but in a good way. 

Martinez said, “We haven’t seen dirt bikes. It’s been been four weeks probably since I’ve seen a dirt bike on the street. But, however I am worried about the youth this summer. There’s not a lot of hands on for accountability. I’m worried about more communities than one with it with the young people. The youth just being mischievous is one thing, but when they’re being violent, when they’re stealing cars when they’re doing these different things in different neighborhoods. This is only two weeks out of school I think and we’re just getting started. That is a big concern. How do police address that if you can’t do specific things with especially children under 15? We have to come to the table and figure out something.”

Ryan believes, “If anybody’s going to do that, it’s going to be you and we’ll be here listening to you and figure out those solutions together.”