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COIL’s Director Reacts to Gang Indictment of Non Profit’s Employees

April 22, 2010

The same day that two community-outreach workers for Communities Organized to Improve Life (COIL) were arrested with 11 other defendants accused of drug-dealing on behalf of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison gang, the West Baltimore nonprofit’s executive director, Stacy Smith, was interviewed by BMore News about the federal indictment.

In the video of the interview, conducted Apr. 12, Smith characterized the arrests of two of her employees—Todd Duncan and Ronald Scott—as not surprising, given the risks inherent in gang-intervention work, which relies on gang-members’ street credibility to interrupt impending violence.

“We are nowhere near ready to deal with gangs,” Smith said, as the unidentified interviewer described her as a “Harriet Tubman” figure, thanking her for working on behalf of society’s “forsaken” people. “They are better organized than us. They are very structured.”

Smith also attempted to implicate other nonprofits’ gang-intervention efforts as susceptible to the same problem as COIL’s. “Is this specific to COIL?” she asked, then answered by saying, “I doubt it, because you always have to look at, once affiliated, always affiliated,” referring to the prospect that membership in the BGF, as with many gangs, is a lifetime commitment.

Smith added that she foresaw the potential of gang infiltration when, in 2007, the Baltimore City Health Department first started disbursing U.S. Department of Justice grant money to underwrite gang-intervention efforts—called the Safe Streets program—by local nonprofits, including COIL. “The concerns we raised,” she said, “have come to fruition.”

COIL’s Safe Streets funding was not renewed after the first year, and the Safe Streets funding of two other nonprofits—The Living Classrooms Foundation and Family Health Centers of Baltimore—was suspended by the city immediately after the April 12 arrests.

As for the contention, stated in the search-warrant affidavit in the case, that Smith herself is a BGF member, she responded on the video by saying, “Uh, no. I’m not a gang leader.”