Alex Long & Monique Brown on Police-Community Relations

Michel Martin sits down with Alex Long & Monique Brown, two of the subjects of the documentary film “Charm City” which focuses on issues of police-community relations in Baltimore.

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And we continue on that theme, turning to 'Charm City.' It's a documentary that highlights the epidemic of violence shootings and murders in Baltimore and it highlights the people who are trying to change that.

We got 171 dead black people.

That's not a state of emergency.

Gun violence is a disease and it should be treated as such.

So that's a short clip but Michel Martin sat down with two people who are at the center of 'Charm City, ' Baltimore police officer Monique Brown and neighborhood peace keeper Alex Long.

Continuing our ongoing initiative about poverty jobs and economic opportunity in America called Chasing the Dream.

Major Monique Brown, Alex Long thank you both so much for for being with us.

You both grew up in Baltimore.

Am I right.

So I wanted to ask each of you what was it like when you were growing up Alex Jyou want to start.

I really couldn't tell that I had a bad upbringing and I was older you know so for me my childhood earlier saying excellent.

Nice Christmases birthday party.

All that stuff and then once the drugs really took hold in effect that's when things all went downhill.

What was the drug of choice then.

Like what was the when you were growing up what was the drug.

Well for my parents, cocaine.

That that was the main thing.

They did a little bit of weed from time to time but it was mostly cocaine and it destroyed my family and me and my sisters ended up in foster care and from that point on that's when the journey downhill started for me because not only was things you know going on a downward spiral but I was separated from my family so I was really stuck figuring out who I was and which direction my life was going to take all on my own.

Major Brown.

Monique, what about you.

What was it like when you were growing up.

Probably similar, our house was like the party house.

I mean, weekends, they would party drug of choice for us was alcohol.

Didn't necessarily know that some of the things were going on were problems and so you realize hey you know you get a little older and it's like you didn't pass first grade second grade third grade because we didn't go to school on Mondays because they partied a lot on the weekends.

And then he started to take notice, OK this is an eye right.

My mom used one coping mechanism so another from marijuana to cocaine to alcohol to crack or to heroin and a mixture of methadone which eventually led to her demise which was an overdose once I had my kids I pretty much just was like I have to take them away from this.

What made you want to become a police officer.

I take it you didn't have any police in your family.


And growing up the same we still have those tensions were there.

They were separate or different than some of our dynamic that we deal with now.

A lot of it was I always felt like there was someone around to always be a help whether it was was home or outside.

Now we come outside and this is like this, we were just killing each other and this all makes sense.

I've always thought as I wanted to do something law wise, but even though you feel like you want a journey to do good things as a young teenage mom it's like I can go to law school I have kids.

So you know you defeat yourself in that way but then you're like What can I do to be helpful.

And I just felt like somebody has to say our part, like be a change because again the tensions were there.

Alex I want to play a clip from the film where you talk about just how early the distrust or just how early the tensions between the police and citizens can can take root.

And why and I want to play that clip and here it is.

So I go to the store and we racing and police see me running and I become suspect.

Descriptions say the person had on all black gray with a grey hoodie.

I got orange and blue New York Knicks jersey, orange and blue boots, blue jeans and an orange coat but it's me because I'm running.

He said your heart is beating fast so you're scared.

I said no my heart is beating fast because I'm running and if I was scared it's because you just grabbed for for nothing thinking I had robbed somebody so there are answers for you questions.

He was like you're a wise ass.

I've got my man.

I was charged with armed robbery, kidnapping.

You know I went in a little you know 15 year old kid and I came out like 260.

I was a child with an adult record that did adult time and I got adult sized.

Monique, I want to ask you how do you feel when you see that and when you hear what Alex just said.

It makes you upset.

One of the things that we do take taking his job is to make sure that we uphold the Constitution.

We're not we don't vary from that.

So and then not only that I have a son I have a son.

My son is 24.

I have nephews I have a brother you know and I have a lot of family that still lives in the city so it was important my coming on of course was hey we had to get this right because of course of myself.

I'm still African-American I'm not exempt from that.

The job is what I do but that's not who I am, so that's one of the things that I have to push and I've always tried to push to make sure that you see us as being human.

We're not separate and we have circumstances that kind of leads us to do bad things but they don't make us bad people.

One of the things I noticed in the piece is that you said that when you joined the force that that attitude that Alex was talking about was so widespread that you even had friends when you told them that you were becoming a police officer dropped you as a friend instantly.

When I first decided I was going to join law enforcement a lot of my friends and I was you know because those boys.

How could you the way they treat us they only want to lock us up any only.

So I see things twofold.

Most times people don't like police of course because we have that right to take your freedom away and then on the flipside growing up in the neighborhood in the areas that I did it wasn't fun either.

One of the things trying to plead my case was well how do we change anything if we're on the outside.

We can throw stones bricks whatever all day long we can we can protest we can be loud so we become inside of any any avenue agent or whatever and I strongly believe we want to change laws we have to become judges.

We have to become council people.

We need to be embedded in every single entity that we feel as though we're not counting accounted for.

The only way our voices can be heard that we can bring that change that we feel and implement that change, we have to be a part of the system.

But one of the other things that you said is that you wanted to help people and you also said that a lot of people don't see the good that you do.

Do you feel that you are doing good?

I pray so.

The good is always the narrative, right especially when we're in this uniform.

Alex when you hear Major Brown say people don't understand the good that we do how does that sit with you?

It's true.

I can honestly say that.

It's a huge misconception in the black community that you know police isn't anything until you actually need a police officer.

Do you think that other people feel the way you feel that because there are some moments in the film how nervous when you're when you're not too pleased with the police.

In fact you can hear words which I cannot say on the TV you know even just people riding by you hear them expressing some unhappiness.

But do you think most people feel the way you feel like both and both and it's like we need them but we hate them.

They may not say it but if their mother shot, their grandmothers rape or anything like that I guarantee you they call the police.

Somebody breaks into their car and they need to file an insurance claim, they call the police.

You know so a lot of times we we put on that facade that we don't, keeping that look you know but deep down we're a society that's suffering.

You know if you can't turn to the people they're supposed to help you, you're almost forced into a wild wild West situation.

So is this I hate to ask if I have to ask is this something about Baltimore is we are speaking now like a fourth candidate for the police chief has withdrawn.

I mean so Baltimore has been sold off to the highest bidder for about 40 years now if not longer so the residents of Baltimore really don't have any type hope or a chance is there anything unless you have a trust fund, unless you have somebody that and put something aside for you.

Outside of that, there's pretty much no hope and when you look at Baltimore that's why you see so many of the youth, they've kind of given up.

The school system don't believe in them.

They refuse to put any money into the schools to educate to renovate or do anything so are you telling the kids.

You look at what they feed them most of the kids come home they get peanut butter and jelly for breakfast.

So you feed these kids like they inmated, you treat them like a social service client and you tell them hang in there, keep your head up, have hope for the future when they know deep down there is no future in the city for a person that look like me.

One of the things that the film does do that and I hope people get to see it is that it does show that people aren't just giving up, that people are every day doing what they can do.

Alex you could have given up after you went through what you went through.

I mean some people would be so angry at being falsely accused and having to fo time for something that they didn't do they'd just be so filled with rage they'd be looking to take it out on somebody for the rest of their lives.

So what made a difference for you?

It really didn't.

All Of these as you just said I went through those processes myself for years, you know I was angry at the world for because I felt like I was unjustly convicted of something that the victim even said I didn't do that the victim said she never seen me before.

So that that made me so enraged but then I realized at the end of the day I'm playing right into the hands of that quote unquote system.

A lot of times when you get emotional you tend to do things that you know sabotage yourself.

I didn't want that no more.

My father was in prison.

My mother was in prison and my aunt was in prison.

So that was a common thing.

My father had all the athletic ability in the world, had scholarship offers and everything and he chose the streets.

I'm seeing where that put me and my family you know so I realized at the end of the day the only way I would be able to get ourselves out of where we don't want to be is by actually getting ourselves out of that situation.

One individual that really moved me in the film was Mr. C.

That's my O.G.

That's my OG.

I got a lot of respect for Mr. C.

once again he showed me and helped open my eyes on the responsibility that one owed his community.

And he used to be a corrections officer and now he runs a community center and you started working there.

I've been working at the Rose Street Community Center for about 15 or 16 years.

Let's just play a short clip and we'll hear what he has to say.

We can't give up.

Can't give up.

Things are gonna get better but you got some people that don't believe that.

I cannot fall into that unbelief that things are not going to get better.

I can't believe that.

I can't believe that Brendon is not gonna make it.

I see Brandon 70 on gray hair, might have a can.

You know you have a few more pounds on you.

See but I see you at 70.

I see her at 70 years old, 4 kids 6 grandkids.

I see that when I look at y'all right.

I see y'all in the future.

And you know believe it or not that was actually the day after you know my little sister Ashley was killed and you know that was a message to the community but you know kind to me personally you know not to lose focus and I say get too emotional over the situation because it'd be during those times where I could destroy not only myself with my whole family.

You know I'm so sorry about your sister.

Appreciate that.

She's definitely still smiling down.

I believe that's why I'm here today.

Can I ask what happened.

Unfortunately she kind of got into a fight with somebody she considered a friend.

Somebody that she allowed stay in the house and it quickly escalated and end up turning to homicide.

And the friend killed her.

The friend didn't but her son did.

He didn't took a life and lost his life because he was found guilty on all charges.

So I said that's two lives lost for absolutely nothing at all outside of and again I said being emotional.

I apologize for asking but.

I have to ask Did you ever want to retaliate.


Why didn't you?

Because that's once again like I said earlier that's that trap.

That only sent us deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.

To me it wasn't worth it.

You know I'm gonna find another way and I found another way to honor my sister you know to make sure that her legacy live on her name live on and ain't through blood.

Over the course of time that the film was even being made a thousand people were killed in Baltimore and I think some people might think that that's you know it's you know with the drug war or turf wars or.

You have some of that need but most of it is retaliatory and a lot of it is trauma.

Trauma affects us shared from community because that community may be struck with violence multiple times and we with law enforcement and first responders as well because we are always coming.

We're answering the call you know to come to aid as best we can after those incidents happen and we're not dealing with that across the board at all.

So therapy is not there.

We're not communicating and we're not telling our kids hey this is not the way to solve problems.

This is a councilman in the film who is quoted as saying that this is a public health crisis.

Do you agree with that you both agree with that.


My particular field where I work for Safe Streets Safe Streets is originally set up and designed to reduce homicides and community so we go out to particular hotspots where not throughout the city.

Most people think this is for in Baltimore and we're really in hot spots in the cities and what we do is we go into communities and we find guys that's respected in the community on a street level.

So business sense would say don't give that man a job, but with our field we realized it's going to take that community to heal and fix that community.

A lot of times when I interview mayors or leaders in cities that are having a crisis like a flood or a hurricane right a lot of times we ask them what do you need.

What do you need?

And so I'm going to ask you you know what do you need.

Honestly, me personally I just need opportunity for my kids, be that educational, the workforce or whatever we got to find ways to give our kids other avenues to success.

Like I say if they had met this man the sky's the limit for us.

We're way too bright of a group of people, our minds expand way beyond anybody's imagination.

So that's not a problem.

It's just the opportunities that we're actually given and it need to change and I say to me that will really change everything.

I would say to some degree we have the figure out how do we bring our kids in enough to touch them because I feel like all of us are failing them.

Most certainly they need education you know and getting them to understand that they are these diamonds that we always uncover.

So many people give up on us because of the neighborhoods we come from, they here hear oh you came from well you know and it's just like OK well what's the story.

All of us have one.

We need more mentorship.

You know we have a lot of people great grass roots foundations that's in the city that's now working trying to get our kids and bring them on board to a lot of things but it may just be a community they walk out find a kid and say Hey listen how can I help you.

That's a great place to end Alex Long, Major Monique Brown, future chief.

Thank you both so much for talking to you.

Thank you for having us.


About This Episode EXPAND

Christiane Amanpour speaks with furloughed Fire Captain Mark Munoz; British Justice Minister Rory Stewart; author Afua Hirsch; and director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Michel Martin speaks with Baltimore Police Officer Monique Brown & Alex Long about “Charm City.”