Maryland Rep's Fix for Baltimore Unrest: Ban Food Stamps for Protesters

April 30th 2015

A Maryland state legislator entertained the idea of stripping food stamps from the parents of protesting Baltimore youth on his three-hour radio show Wednesday morning. 

Revoking food assistance from families involved in the Freddie Gray protests as a punitive measure, said Rep. Patrick McDonough, would address the failures of bad parenting, presumably in destitute areas of the city similar to where Gray resided. 

On the show, McDonough, a Republican in the state's House of Delegates representing the city's suburban northeast, responded to a caller's question asking what retribution protesters who were "too young" could face for causing damage. "That's an idea that could be legislation", he said. "I think that you could make the case that there is a failure to do proper parenting and allowing this stuff to happen, is there an opportunity for a month to take away your food stamps?" 

Later in the show, McDonough also suggested a "scientific study" by "brilliant, honest, objective people" looking into law enforcement's relationship with the black community up in arms of the death of Gray in police custody earlier this month––the local iteration of what he called "this community, this culture, this thug nation." 

McDonough touched on the urgency of the issue, expressing what seemed like genuine confusion over the poor relationship between the black community and law enforcement writ large across the nation. "These young people, they're violent, they're brutal, their mindset is dysfunctional to a point of being dangerous," adding that this was not to suggest "put[ting] them in a test tube or cage." 

As the Intercept notes, McDonough has had problems with similar statements in the past. In 2012, he called for the resignation of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake because of the "roving mobs of black youths" in the Inner Harbor area. When asked to apologize, McDonough said "[y]ou never apologize for the truth." Addressing the controversy in a newsleter this week, McDonough derided Rawlings-Blake's leadership in the protests earlier this week. 

"The problem of young thugs getting away with lawlessness in our area is nothing new. From a lack of discipline in the family and neighborhoods, plus swimming in an ocean of drugs, gangs crime, generation after generation is consumed. 'Thug Town' is not a geographical area but a mindset," he wrote.

McDonough's office could not be reached for comment Thursday morning. 

McDonough's suggestions may seem too farfetched to gain any real political traction, but in recent weeks, different states have proposed crackdowns and limitations on assistance programs with the same top-down thrust to delegate how and when needy families can use them. In Kansas, for example, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients are barred from spending those benefits in movie theaters, swimming pools, and cruise ships, among other bizarre restrictions. In Missouri, legislators are mulling over what SNAP recipients can and cannot buy on the program, considering bans on cookies, chips, energy drinks and sodas, seafood, and steak. Maine is considering a similar bill

The weeks of protests over the death of Gray, which briefly turned violent Monday with looting, arson in small areas of Baltimore, has drawn national attention to the desperate poverty affecting large swaths of residents there. Almost a quarter of Baltimore residents live below the poverty line, but certain areas are worse off. In Gray's neighborhood, for example, some 51.8 percent of residents aged 16-64 were unemployed between 2008 and 2012, when the median income there was $24,006––under the federal poverty level for a family of four. In addition, one-third of the buildings in the neighborhood are vacant. 

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