A man who got out of his car and swung a bat at squeegee workers during a confrontation in downtown Baltimore was killed Thursday when one of the workers pulled out a gun and shot him, the authorities said.
The man, who had a heated confrontation with the workers as he drove through the intersection of Conway and Light Streets about 4:30 p.m., parked his car, approached the group with a baseball bat and swung it at them, Michael Harrison, the city’s police commissioner, said at a news conference.
One of the workers pulled out a gun and fired at the man, who was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead, Mr. Harrison said. The victim’s name was not immediately released, and Mr. Harrison said that the police were searching for the person who fired the gun. It was unclear if anyone had been hit with the bat or whether the victim had swung at the person who fired the gun.
The shooting elevated tensions in the community over workers known as “squeegee kids,” young people who clean the windshields of cars stopped at red lights, often without permission, in the hopes of scoring a few dollars in return. The young people, who are often living in poverty, say the practice is a lifeline. City officials have called it a nuisance that makes residents and tourists avoid driving through downtown.
New York City has had its own history with squeegee workers. Crackdowns on the practice were perhaps most severe under Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who portrayed these men as a scourge on the city.
To defend his department’s handling of the squeegee workers, Mr. Harrison said that on Thursday, hours before the shooting, the Baltimore police had arrested a person with a handgun at the same intersection where the shooting later took place. He did not provide more details on that arrest.
“The police were out here conducting enforcement, as the people want us to do,” he said. “And we did exactly what they asked us to do. Enforce. We did.”
Mr. Harrison said city officials were also providing the young workers with information to help them make “lifestyle changes” and to make them aware of other opportunities.
“We understand people’s frustrations because we hear their complaints constantly,” Mr. Harrison said. “This is a very complex situation, where someone took matters into his own hands.”
Mayor Brandon M. Scott said in a statement late Thursday that the city, “through enforcement and engagement,” would continue to try to deter young people from “conduct that puts lives at risk.”
“I want to be very clear: If you are on the streets of Baltimore and endanger the safety of others or turn to violence to solve your problems, we will hold you accountable,” he said. “Regardless of what caused this incident, it is a sad reminder that far too often, easily avoidable confrontations escalate into acts of violence.”
Marilyn Mosby, state’s attorney for the city of Baltimore, said in a statement that she was limited in what she could say because of the investigation but said she was “completely dismayed at the heinous act of violence that occurred this afternoon.”
“Today’s episode is completely unacceptable and should serve as a flash point for our entire city,” she said. “There are too many guns on our streets, and those who willingly turn to violence as a means of resolving conflicts will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”