One Baltimore #37, Regaining Control

2/17/20

In last week’s column (https://one-baltimore.org/2020/02/11/one-baltimore-36-losing-control/), I delved into why the State of Maryland took over the Baltimore Police Department after a decade of elections marred by violence. It made sense at the time… but that time was a full hundred and sixty years ago, and the state never gave us back full authority over our own cops.

One of the interesting things about this state of affairs is that almost no one knows about it. Outside of criminal justice reform circles, most people to whom I speak are as shocked as I was to learn that our local police are in fact a state entity. After all, the Mayor is always hiring or firing the latest Police Commissioner and sometimes talks about tweaks to the police budget — how is it possible that the city isn’t actually in charge?

Turns out, after failed attempts in prior decades, the state legislature transferred authority to choose the Commissioner to us in 1976. That being the case, perhaps BPD’s designation as a state agency is a mere technicality, like one of those laws that says you can be jailed for spitting in the street. It might be on the books, but that doesn’t mean it has any impact on us today.

That’s not the case though… if anything, the veneer of local control only obscures the actual state of affairs. There’s a reason we go through Police Commissioners like toilet paper — ten in the last decade alone — and I think it comes down to a desperate attempt to exert SOME influence over a completely out-of-control agency. But deeper reforms are off the table. In fact, the Baltimore City Charter states that “…no ordinance of the City or act of any municipal officer shall conflict, impede, obstruct, hinder or interfere with the powers of the Police Commissioner.”

What does that mean? Well, as laid out in the 2018 report (https://www.baltimorepolice.org/sites/default/files/General%20Website%20PDFs/0909_COTF_Final_Web.pdf) of the Community Oversight Task Force (created as a requirement of the Department of Justice’s 2016 Consent Decree, initiated in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray with the goal of ending the many civil rights violations identified in their investigation of BPD), “While Baltimore City’s taxpayers are responsible for funding the BPD and paying for misconduct lawsuits filed against this agency, they exercise little influence over vital policies and operational issues. For example, parameters around the hiring and firing of officers, promotions, and civilian oversight are all set in state law.”

Made up of community organizers, professors, legal experts, faith leaders, lawyers, and mediators, the task force met for a year and researched deeply. Their report lists seven main recommendations, among which is local control. It states that “Every other police force in Maryland is governed and regulated by their local charters. The same should be true for Baltimore City. The BPD will never be fully accountable to its residents until full control of the department is returned to the city. Given the broken relationship that exists between the people of Baltimore and the police, the implementation of this recommendation needs to be a top priority.”

So, how have attempts to implement this priority fared? Well, earlier in 2018, State Delegate Curt Anderson had made an aborted bid for local control. He submitted a bill for it during that year’s state legislative session (which runs from January to April), but then withdrew it after a state lawyer opined that it could open the city to a higher degree of liability in cases of police misconduct, due to the loss of something called sovereign immunity, which shields state entities from certain claims.

The next year, there was another try for local control, this time initiated by State Delegate Talmadge Branch. The prospects for passage then seemed much stronger. In addition to the COTF’s call for action, advocates organized themselves around the cause.

The charge was led by the Campaign for Justice, Safety & Jobs (CJSJ). Made up of more than thirty local organizations, they issued powerful appeals to the public, such as an op-ed co-signed by the executive director of the ACLU of Maryland, the lead organizer for Baltimore CASA and the rabbi at Beth Am Synagogue and member of the leadership council of Jews United for Justice – Baltimore:
https://www.marylandmatters.org/2019/03/29/opinion-baltimore-needs-control-of-our-police-department. In it, the writers called local control a “crucial step toward justice and toward trust between Baltimore residents and the BPD” and pointed out that the bill had the support of the Mayor, City Council, City Solicitor, and the full House of Delegates.

And indeed, on March 18, 2019, the House of Delegates passed Branch’s bill unanimously, 137-0. I was particularly struck by that fact — no one else in the state had any interest in keeping Baltimore from controlling its own law enforcement. The House GOP leader even said at the time, “I can’t imagine why anybody would oppose fixing this” (https://www.baltimoresun.com/politics/bs-md-ci-police-control-20190124-story.html).

But there was still the State Senate to consider. Things started out looking good there too. State Senator Mary Washington spoke forcefully about the bill, pointing out that “If Hopkins can have and control their own private police force, why can’t the people of Baltimore City” (https://www.facebook.com/mary.washington.507/posts/2565011053540610). Maryland State Senator Jill P. Carter and Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (now retired) also came out in support.

Unfortunately, there were also three city Senators opposed — Cory McCray, Antonio Hayes, and Bill Ferguson — and that was enough to kill it. As in the previous year, it came down to money. While City Solicitor Andre Davis said he didn’t think the city would in fact see any change in payouts, McCray said “I approach any change to the City’s funding and/or liability scheme with great caution” (https://www.baltimoresun.com/politics/bs-md-local-control-police-20190405-story.html).

I gotta take a second here and say what a foolish argument I think this is. Ok, so we might (or might not?) pay out more on misconduct cases. That would only be the case if a jury decided a defendant was owed said payout… meaning that, as things stand, we may be denying people the fair chance to receive compensation for their harms. That isn’t right. Moreover, if your goal is saving money on brutality payouts, blocking reforms that could actually STOP the brutality isn’t the way to do it.

On a hopeful note, though, McCray did say that he was “looking forward to a more robust conversation during the interim” (https://baltimorefishbowl.com/stories/advocates-city-senators-punt-to-2020-on-push-to-bring-bpd-under-city-control/). The implication was clear that local control wasn’t being denied, just delayed. CJSJ affirmed this narrative, stating that while they found the result “deeply disappointing,” they had “secured commitments from the Senators who withheld support for the bill to work with us to address their concerns. Baltimore residents can finally have hope that control of their police department will return to them during the 2020 General Assembly” (quotes from the same Fishbowl article linked above).

Well, now we’re in the midst of the 2020 General Assembly session, so… something should be happening right? If only. The promised conversations, it seemed, never materialized. I connected with several of the groups from CJSJ, but they chose to focus this time around on bills with a better chance of passage, things like changing the Maryland Public Information Act to allow access to records of officer misconduct (http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/mgawebsite/Legislation/Details/sb1029) and enacting stronger community oversight of BPD (http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/mgawebsite/Legislation/Details/sb0972), the overarching aim of the COTF report. I can in no way fault those priorities, and I encourage everyone to show up for these and the other important bills being supported by these groups this year.

But I found that I couldn’t let local control go. I’d developed a passion about this blatantly unfair manifestation of our powerlessness… a powerlessness that I was even more infuriated to learn was self-imposed, solely the choice now of our own leaders. I took everyone’s words seriously, that local control was crucial and necessary, that there was no time to wait.

So I kept trying to work on it. I figured, hey, whether it passes or not, continuing to advocate for local control can help spread awareness about the issue, can make the Senators who said we needed more time to study the issue answer for the fact that they’d made no attempts to do so. Hold them to account, keep the pressure on.

But in order to advocate for passage of a local control bill, there’d have to BE one. So, I sat down with Delegate Branch to gauge his plans and hit another roadblock. He was unwilling to introduce the bill again unless the Senate introduced it first, since they had defeated it last time. I met with a staffer for Senator Washington, in the hopes that she would introduce — but I was told that, while she was still supportive, she was just too busy this year to take the lead. Next I emailed Delegate Boyce, hoping she would introduce the bill in Branch’s stead, but she deferred to his judgment.

Finally — FINALLY — I found one person in the General Assembly who said she’d move the bill forward, Senator Carter. She committed to pursuing it on the phone with me, but I waited to make an announcement, wary that it might not come true. We met in person at the beginning of this month and I asked her about it again then.

It was an interesting conversation. She thought that the bill didn’t have much of a chance, since none of the Senators who were opposed had changed their stances (and of course one of them, Bill Ferguson, is now the Senate President). She acknowledged that, even for her, it was tough to think about letting go of the power to make changes to BPD. No one wants to give up control. But she said she would do it. I asked her a couple of times, phrasing it in different ways, like, “So, it’s ok for me to say publicly that you’re going to introduce this bill? Because I’m going to work on it publicly if you’re definitely going to do it.” And again, she said yes.

So, with the backing of Baltimore For Border Justice, and in partnership with the awesome local org Circles of Voices, we’re going to have a meeting on it. We’re getting together this Friday, 2/21 from 6-8pm at Impact Hub Baltimore (https://www.facebook.com/events/2581638691934113), and we’ll also be looking at a bill to end for-profit immigrant detention in Maryland. Please join us!!

I don’t know whether or not we do have any chance, but this whole story above, this whole long process of trying to find a sponsor, the fact that the bill might be doomed simply because of timing — while the session isn’t yet half over, and it’s still totally possible to get a bill passed if it’s introduced soon, we’re already well past the point where it’s ideal to have it filed — the fact that huge competing state-wide issues like Kirwan (another thing we should all be getting out there to support, https://one-baltimore.org/2019/11/26/one-baltimore-25-kirwan/) are sucking the air out of the room, the fact that our state rep’s can claim they’re going to work on something and then just completely ignore it… all of that is EXACTLY why we need local control.

I’m not saying that the City Council is perfect, but they sure as hell are more accessible. There are fourteen of them instead of just six. They meet twelve months of the year instead of just three. They hold hearings downtown, rather than over an hour away in Annapolis. They consider far, far fewer bills at a time than the General Assembly does. They sometimes even hold hearings at times that are accessible to the working public, rather than at 1pm (and if you go to a hearing in Annapolis at 1pm, trust that you’re going to be there for many hours).

Which process is easier for us to have a say in? Which is more likely to invite participation from everyday Baltimore residents? Which is more likely to give us more control over how we’re policed, to potentially lead to major reforms, maybe even a complete redo of the force from the ground up (which I think is what’s needed), rather than leaving the department the unaccountable, graft-filled, murderous, systemically corrupt, and ineffective horrorshow that it’s been for so long now?

Case in point, the shooting and subsequent mistreatment and framing of Keith Davis Jr. (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/06/17/one-baltimore-7-keith-davis-jr/). His next hearing is a week from Friday, 2/28 (https://www.facebook.com/events/602379147260136/), and if you care about justice and can possibly get there, be there.

#OneBaltimore

#LocalPoliceControl

#LocalControl4Baltimore

#DisbandBPD

Cultural Event of the Week: Oh maaannnn, this looks like a hell of a show!! This Saturday, 2/22 at Ottobar, it’s Santa Librada – Baltimore, F City, Gingerwitch, and The Selkies! Sorry to play favorites, but the first two are probably my favorite local bands in the whole damn citayyyy aaaaa!

https://www.facebook.com/events/611397313022669/

Green Event of the Week: Y’know that iconic smokestack that you see when you’re coming into town from 95, the one that says BALTIMORE on it? It belongs to a trash incinerator, and it’s currently where most of our waste goes. But new clean air standards mean that it’ll likely have to shut down soon, and what we’ll do then? The city’s plan is to truck our waste out of town, an expensive proposition. Another option, which would also create lots of local jobs, would be to ramp up recycling, composting, and reuse of materials. I expect those are the sorts of things we’ll hear about on Saturday, 2/22 at the unveiling of Baltimore’s Fair Development Plan for Zero Waste, developed by United Workers, south Baltimore communities, and national experts.

https://www.facebook.com/events/204315524073875/

Baltimore’s state legislative districts, with those of Ferguson, Hayes, and McCray, the three local police control opponents, circled in red with their contact info. Please reach out and let them know how you feel about this issue!! It can make a bigger impact than you’d think. If the print’s too small to read, you can find em all here: https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/05sen/html/sendist.html

One Baltimore #36, Losing Control

2/10/20

Content warning: description of a first-hand experience of gun violence in the first paragraph below, and some other, less graphic descriptions of violence throughout.

“…I was struck from behind a severe blow on the back of the head, which would have knocked me down, but the crowd which had gathered round us, some thirty or forty in a cluster, was so dense that I was, as it were, kept up; after I received this blow I drew a dirk knife, which I had in my pocket, with which I endeavored to strike the man, who, as I supposed, had struck me, I then felt a pistol placed right close to my head, so that I felt the cold steel upon my forehead; at that moment, I made a little motion of my head, which caused the shot of the pistol to glance from my head; my hat showed afterwards the mark of a bullet, which I supposed to have been from that shot; the discharge of the pistol, which blew off a large piece of the skin of my forehead and covered my face with blood, caused me to fall…”

— The testimony of George H. Kyle to the Maryland state legislature, describing his experience when attempting to vote in downtown Baltimore in 1859 (as quoted in “The Baltimore Police Case of 1860”, published in Maryland Law Review in 1966, to which I’m largely indebted for many of the tidbits below, https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/56357172.pdf). 

Imagine yourself, for a moment, as Mr. Kyle. You knew, going to the polls, that it was likely to be a dangerous struggle, but you and your brother (who didn’t make it — I didn’t include that part of the testimony, because I thought it could be a bit too upsetting) had decided to brave it anyway. Maybe you thought that Mayor Swann’s promise to quell the violence was credible, or maybe exercising your civic duty just meant enough to you that you didn’t care about the potential consequences.

Not so long ago, for you and your fellow Baltimoreans of the mid-1800’s, the biggest danger associated with attempting to vote was “cooping” — being snatched up and stowed away in a basement, forced to drink way too much cheap whiskey, and then brought out by your captors to vote multiple times at multiple polling places (or even at the same polling place, after swapping clothes — voter registration wasn’t a thing in Baltimore until 1856). In fact, Edgar Allen Poe was said to have died after being cooped in 1849, having vanished after a drink with a friend and then appearing four days later on election day, passed out in the gutter in clothes not his own.

Yet as fearful as the practice of cooping was, things had gotten dramatically worse in the last few years. The streets of Baltimore had long been violent, but it used to be that all-out street battles were mostly just between rival gangs of volunteer firemen. That changed during the September elections of 1856, when gangs of partisans of the political party popularly known as the Know-Nothings had started a riot by attacking the home of a prominent local Democrat in Federal Hill. The street was described as being piled high with bricks that had been pulled up from the sidewalk and thrown. Fighting across the city lasted on and off for weeks, through the subsequent elections in October, and in total at least fourteen people were reported killed and hundreds more wounded.

The efforts of the Know-Nothings to keep their opponents from voting were brutal and creative. There was the notorious Blood Tub gang, whose members would get pig’s blood from the slaughterhouse and fill a tub with it, dunking anyone who showed up to vote for the other party and sending them running down the street as a warning. And then there was the widespread use of awls, sharp shoemakers tools that were easily concealed. Some of the gang members would strap them to their knees and jab people in the legs and backsides who showed up at the polls with the wrong voting ticket. There were even reports of cannons in the street on election days. 

Now flash forward a little over 160 years. It’s Tuesday, February 4th, 2020, the day of the special primary election for Maryland’s 7th District Congressional seat, and you, the ghost of Mr. Kyle, are watching me, the humble author of this column, work the polls outside of Waverly Elementary School, handing out bright green flyers for State Senator Jill P. Carter (who, though she lost that race, will be on the ballot again in April, https://one-baltimore.org/2020/01/30/one-baltimore-35-jill-p-carter-the-7th/). The first thing you might notice is the quiet. It’s a peaceful evening, with people slowly but steadily trickling in and out of the doors of the school, unmolested except by volunteers like me asking them to please consider our preferred candidates. 

After that, I imagine you might notice the way that, in between interactions with voters, I’m chatting amiably with a volunteer for a rival’s campaign. Rather than trying to brain her with a brick, stab her, shoot her, or dunk her in blood, I’m giving her tips about homebuying incentives in the neighborhood — she lives out on the edge of the city and has been on the hunt for a new home, and she’s been impressed by the good spirit and friendliness of the voters here. 

Both of us are also having a friendly conversation with Joe Kane, who’s catching people as they walk back to their cars and reminding them that there’s another election coming up in April in which he’s running for City Council (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/12/02/one-baltimore-25-the-14th/). The only hint of animosity comes from the fact that none of us are talking to the volunteer for Thiru Vignarajah who’s handing out literature a little further down the sidewalk. Still, the height of conflict that occurs is me muttering “Free Adnan Syed though” as he passes at the end of the night.

What an amazing turnaround, you might think! How free we are, how lucky, how blessed with tranquility! The bad old days of political violence are a far-distant memory!

Of course, it figures that, as I was drafting this tale of contrasts, I read that Council President Brandon Scott had been punched by a campaign volunteer for Sheila Dixon outside of a Mayoral forum the other night (https://www.baltimorebrew.com/2020/02/07/punched-by-a-dixon-campaign-worker-brandon-scott-files-charges/). I guess politics does still have the power to arouse a fight in our town. And to be fair, the special election was just among members of a single party… if out-and-proud Trump supporters had shown up, things plausibly could have gotten rowdier. Still, I think we can all agree that things have changed — incidents of election day awlings are, today, practically non-existent. 

The issue that spurred that violence though (and not just in Baltimore, there were similar riots in at least eight other major cities during those tumultuous years) is still all too present — anti-immigrant sentiment. See, famines and failed revolutions in Europe led to massive immigration to the U.S. in the 1840s. In Baltimore, Irish and German immigrants were especially common, and foreign-born individuals made up fully a quarter of the city’s population in 1850. In reaction to this trend arose The American Party, popularly called the Know-Nothings because members, when asked about the purposes and activities of the party were to say “I know nothing.” 

The Know-Nothings started as a secret society, making members pledge never to vote for immigrants or Catholics (they REALLY hated Catholics). As their ranks swelled, they slowly transitioned to become a public (though still notoriously secretive) political party. 

In Maryland, the Know-Nothings found success such as they rarely saw anywhere else in the country. We were the only state in the nation that sent in its electoral college votes for Millard Fillmore, then the Know-Nothing candidate for president, in 1856. In Baltimore in particular the party did extremely well… not so much because they were extremely popular, though they did have a large number of followers, but rather because they were extremely violent. They seized upon the existing local institution of street gangs and organized new ones — the Rip-Raps, Plug-Uglies, Blood Tubs, and others that helped give us the name Mobtown — to ensure that only the people they approved got to cast their votes. They were so successful that in many wards, only one or two Democratic votes were recorded, presumably because a result of zero would have been a little too obvious.

Mayor Thomas Swann, a Know-Nothing candidate elected in the midst of this chaos, refused to do a thing about it, despite officially disapproving of the violence. As for the Baltimore Police Department? Well, it had just been formed three years before, replacing an earlier system of night watchmen, and its members were themselves often engaged in the mayhem, having been infiltrated just as thoroughly by the Know-Nothings as the other organs of city administration.

The Know-Nothings reigned supreme in the state legislature for a while too, but by 1860, they were finally in the minority, and the reformers who replaced them were damned if they were going to let this chaos continue. They kicked out some of their Know-Nothing colleagues, declaring their elections to have been invalid, and they disbanded the nascent city police force, setting up a new Baltimore Police Department run by a four-person commission appointed by the Governor in its place. The commission was responsible for drawing up the budget, which the Mayor would then be obliged to levy taxes in order to pay.

The number of officers in the state-run BPD was set at 350, with the ability to increase it to up to 450 if needed. I find that an interesting statistic in light of the total population of the city in 1860 being approximately 212,000. Today, there are approximately 3,100 members of the Baltimore Police Department and the city’s overall population is approximately 614,000, meaning that while our city is just under three times as large as it was then, the force is almost nine times as large. 

I digress though. The point is that this wild set of circumstances is how Baltimore City lost control of its power to police itself. We, the city’s residents, have basically NEVER had direct control of our law enforcement. It’s an extremely unusual situation — while other cities also had the state or the federal government take their police force from them, especially during the Civil War, almost all of them got them back eventually… as far as I can tell, though my research may be deficient, Kansas City may be the only other major city where this state of affairs still persists today.

It’s past time for that to finally change. Next week I’ll talk about why, how it could be achieved this year, and what the next steps could look like. For now, though, if this topic interests you, mark your calendars for the evening of Friday, 2/21, when Baltimore for Border Justice is holding an organizing meeting to talk about pending state legislation for local control, as well as a bill that would end private immigrant detention in Maryland. https://www.facebook.com/events/2581638691934113/

OH, also — Keith Davis, Jr. is still innocent and still in prison and that fucking sucks. Free Keith!!

#OneBaltimore

#LocalPoliceControl

#LocalControl4Baltimore

#DisbandBPD 

Cultural Event of the Week: This Friday, 2/14, Bunns of Steele is presenting V-Day Baltimore 2020, a production of The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler at the Downtown Cultural Arts Center. Proceeds will benefit Force, the powerhouse local activism outfit that fights rape culture. If the cause or the awesome people who’ll be onstage (shout-out to River! <3) isn’t enough to send you there, then go for the piece itself, which, if you haven’t already seen it, is a unique and powerfully moving masterwork.

https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4503415 / https://www.facebook.com/events/2630387740518642/

Green Event of the Week: This Thursday, 2/13, join Flowering Tree Trails of Baltimore and TreeBaltimore for their first Mulch & Munch event. Volunteers will be caring for trees in Druid Hill Park along the Jones Falls Trail; afterwards, attendees will hang out together for lunch (bring or buy your own).

https://www.facebook.com/events/655534061643545/

A 1951 illustration by Baltimore Sun cartoonist John Stees.

One Baltimore #35, Jill P. Carter & The 7th

**SPECIAL EARLY EDITION**

1/30/20

In five days, on Tuesday, 2/4, voters in Maryland’s 7th District — covering portions of Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Howard County (to see if that includes you: http://mdelect.net) — will choose a new representative to send to Congress in place of the late Elijah Cummings. Well, technically this is only the primary, but, considering how past races have gone in this district, it’s safe to assume that whomever wins the Democratic nomination has the seat.

It’s disturbing how many people have no idea this is happening. Would it be too much to ask for the Board of Elections to send out a notice? And of those who do know about it, so far I’ve run into few who’ve made up their minds, with such an overwhelming array of options and so little time to research. That’s why I’m putting out this column a few days early, because I’ve made my choice and I want to talk about why before election eve.

So, there are **24** candidates in the Dem primary race (can we PLEASE have ranked choice voting???), including a lot of people who suck, some people who seem cool, and some people who I frankly know nothing about. Take this advice in that context — I’m not claiming to know it all here — but I’m supporting State Senator Jill P. Carter based on her record in the state legislature, the way she shows up in the community, and her strong, progressive stances on national issues, including Medicare for All and a Green New Deal.

A couple of the other biggest names in the race include former Congressman Kweisi Mfume and Elijah Cummings’ widow Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, both of whom are non-starters for me. After his time in office, Mfume had a troubled tenure as head of the NAACP, facing allegations of sexual harassment, nepotism, and mismanagement. He also was a key force behind the passage of the devastating 1994 crime bill. Cummings has literally no policy platform on her campaign website (how could you think it’s ok to run like that??), mingled the finances of her non-profit and her business in very ethically murky ways, and drove the Dem party into debt during her tenure as its head.

Jill, meanwhile, pushed for greater transparency in UMMS finances after a complaint from a minority contractor that their procurement process wasn’t fair, which ended up being the only reason that former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s financial misdeeds were uncovered. She’s been in public office for well over a decade, focusing on nuts and bolts bills to advance justice causes, and without a hint of scandal. She has committed (to me verbally, at least) that she’ll introduce a bill for local police control for Baltimore City once the primary is over (an issue which I’ll talk about more in the near future).

Is she a 110% perfect candidate? Nah, one can fairly point to missteps she’s made, things like when she co-sponsored a marriage equality bill in 2011 and then held up the vote in an attempt to draw attention to school funding. But imho, she’s by far the best person for the job with a shot at actually getting the seat. She’s the first and only person I’ve canvassed for so far this campaign season, and at one door I ended up speaking to someone who served with her when she was the Director of the City’s Office of Civil Rights and who had glowing things to say (always a good sign when those who’ve worked with you first-hand say positive stuff behind your back) (also, say it with me: oh, Smalltimore).

For more about Jill’s legacy and what she hopes to accomplish, let’s hear from her in her own words. In between forums and canvassing, she found a few minutes to sit down with me on Sunday. This interview has been lightly edited for length.

*

Abby: Senator, thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it. So, take me back to 2002. What prompted you to run for office in the first place?

Jill: I was working with a group of minority contractors and we went to Annapolis to protest a bill that was going to expand the minority business enterprise goals to include white males in rural areas. The bill had actually passed the House of Delegates and we were protesting it before the Senate. We testified, and actually the Senator for my district, Clarence Blount, was the chair of the committee and he killed the bill.

After that, some of the contractors prodded me to run for House of Delegates, even though I didn’t really have an interest at first. I filed and I had the intention of withdrawing, and then some people that knew me in the community reached out and said “This is wonderful, I support you.” Once I had support, I stayed in the race.

I can honestly tell you that I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to the Maryland legislature before that. I paid some attention to the City Council, and some national issues, but the Maryland legislature was just something I didn’t really focus on. I got there and found out that it’s where most of our attention should really go, because more than nationally, these are the laws that govern our state, these are the laws that govern our public schools, the laws that govern our criminal justice system, which affect us most.

Abby: I’ve had that same experience of being like, I can pay attention to the crazy story of national politics, and I wanna know about local politics, but do I really have to look at that middle level? I have to do that too? And then the more you get into it, like you said, the more you realize how crucial it is.

So, what would you say you’re proudest about about your time in the legislature?

Jill: That I endured it and survived.

Abby: Ha!

Jill: I say this a lot, so it may not be new news, but when I got there in 2003, I was the only Black female Attorney in the House, the third ever elected to the entire General Assembly, and I found it to be a bit of an unwelcoming environment. So, there was an adjustment period, and in addition to that, when I ran, I ran against the establishment. I was not endorsed by anyone in my first race except for a group called Acorn, which then was grassroots. But none of the unions, none of the politicians, nothing like that, and then I came in first.

I was also a younger woman coming in independently of the machine. And it was hostile a lot of times. Couple that with the fact that I was a criminal defense attorney and I discovered the data around the number of arrests that were happening in Baltimore City under O’Malley, his “zero tolerance,” or I call “illegal arrest” policies. I began to advocate against it, and so my career just started off with me on the whole opposite side of the coin of the establishment Democrats. It wasn’t planned, it was just how it happened, and it kind of continued in that realm for the whole time.

So, even after working for automatic expungement of uncharged arrests without having to sign a waiver, which did pass, it was really when I discovered this report from the Malcolm X Grassroots organization that every 28 hours, a Black man, woman or child was killed by law enforcement in America. I read that report probably around the time of Trayvon Martin, and I pulled the data for Maryland. It wasn’t a lot in Baltimore City, but it wasn’t just in Baltimore City and what was really, really crazy is sometimes the data would just have “Anonymous,” it wouldn’t even have a name of the person.

Abby: The person who was killed?

Jill: Yes! So, I talked to the ACLU and said, “You guys have to start taking on this issue of law enforcement reform, at the very least they should not be killing people.” If someone does something wrong, they should arrest them, death should not be the result.

We just passed the death penalty repeal, and so the argument was that we don’t have the death penalty here, and so this is pre-adjudication, and that’s why they call them extra-judicial killings. We as a state have decided that we reject the idea of a death penalty, but we’re allowing people on the streets in uniform with guns to kill people.

So, that was the thing that got me. And then, Christopher Brown happened some time subsequent to that. He was a teenager in Baltimore County, and he was a beautiful young man who was in ROTC, played football, good student. I spoke with his mother who reminded me that we were in elementary school together, and I asked her how could I help and she said, “Well you know, the thing that troubles me is that they used a chokehold on my son, which is a policy that they’re not supposed to use. And we’ve been unable to get information on the officer statements.” So, that whole issue of the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights and the length of time that they have before they have to speak, that came up in that discussion.

It took us two years, but we got Christopher’s Law passed. I named the bill after Christopher Brown, it was important to me to humanize a Black young man in our state that was killed by law enforcement. This was a bill that required enhanced training in diversity, use of force, life-saving skills, and handling issues with persons with disabilities. Then I went on to push modifying the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights in various ways, like how long an officer has to talk. I’m very much a proponent of allowing other entities to investigate the police, not just inside, internal investigations.

Abby: Absolutely.

Jill: I think that there should be outside, independent investigations and those should be civilian-led. Before it became popular, the idea of having civilians on the trial boards was one of the things that I pushed for. It’s happened now, but in a very one-and-done fashion.

Now here’s what’s interesting, we did this for two years. The second year we thought we were gonna get it passed because we had a lot of support, we had mothers and families come to Annapolis to testify about their experience with law enforcement, many had lost children at the hands of law enforcement. I really thought because we had built a coalition, we had all these advocacy groups and all this strong testimony, that we were gonna get it passed, and I was informed at the end of session that the Speaker was not gonna allow any of these bills to pass, and I was devastated, really.

And then, very short time out of session, Freddie Gray happened. The leaders of the body pulled together a legislative workgroup. And they basically looked at the bills that I had pushed that didn’t pass, put them in front of the workgroup, watered them down, and then passed something to say we did something. But I was excluded from the workgroup, intentionally —

Abby: Oh wow!

Jill: — so it was after that I decided to leave the legislature. That wasn’t the sole reason, but it was the last straw. I was out for two years, I was Director of Civil Rights and then I was pushed to run for Senate last year because people didn’t wanna see O’Malley’s son-in-law be the Senator of our district. So, that’s how I came to the Senate.

And thank goodness. I’m happy, I like the Senate better. The culture is changing in the General Assembly, it’s much better than it was when I was starting out and for most of the time I was there. The change of the Speaker and the Senate President for two things, the change in the Baltimore delegation. The Baltimore delegation in the House was a nightmare for me when I was there, and now you look and you have the wonderful Stephanie Smith that’s the new chair, and Melissa Wells. When I was there, it was solely oppressive to me, the elder legislators were hostile. So, it’s completely changing.

Abby: I’m really, really glad to hear that. One more question, what do you wanna do in Congress?

Jill: Oh my goodness. This is gonna sound maybe trite, but it’s true, I want the people to have a champion. I was a little girl when I campaigned for Parren J. Mitchell [the first African-American elected to Congress from Maryland] and what he represented to our community at the time was hope, someone that lifted people up, someone that made people feel proud, someone that made people in communities feel that they had an advocate and a champion in the Congress.

In addition to the fact that he actually used his position as a very strong, articulate, civil rights minded person, he was a Democrat but something of an independent. He was not the type of person to go there and just follow the lead of whoever was in leadership, which is the same kind of legislator I’ve been. He left the Congress every night from Washington and he came to Baltimore and walked the streets of his neighborhood, he walked West Baltimore, he talked to people on the street, he tried to find out what people’s needs were, if he could help them, get them jobs.

He talked about, near the end of his career, how he actually had to stop doing it at the end because the problems were too many, the needs were too great, the lack of employment was too great, and it was just too much. He couldn’t help enough people.

The point is, we haven’t had that type of representation in a long time. Even though we’ve had people who’ve had their strengths, like Elijah Cummings, the truth is, this concept of fighting for equity, of putting the needs of your constituents first, before what the agenda in the legislative body is, whether it’s Annapolis or Washington, is something that we need.

I do think there are a lot of smart people in the race for Congress, but my concern is that they won’t be able to withstand the seduction of the powerbrokers. And I know this because I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years, and you can tell it’s difficult to do. But we need someone who will do it, we need someone who will stand up and fight for us, and not just the regular establishment Democrat who’s down there to suck up to leadership so they can get a better office space or a better committee assignment.

*

For more on Jill, visit her website at http://www.jillcarterforcongress.com. And if you wanna come canvassing with me on Monday, I’d love the company!! https://www.facebook.com/events/990126621370451

#JillOnTheHill

#JillCarterforCongress

#JillPCarter

#OneBaltimore

I’m already over my word-count, and have limited time to get this out before I go camping for a few days in a location without internet service, so this week I’m afraid we’re skipping the cultural event and green event of the week sections. Find your own fun, friends!

Photo: Jill P. Carter, shared with me by her campaign (I meant to take my own picture when we met up for the interview, and totally flaked).


One Baltimore #34, The Raid, Part 4

1/27/20

Up until now, no matter how much material I’ve had on a given topic, I’ve worked hard to trim it down to one or two columns. Not this time. There’s just too much story here, and each new layer has needed the previous ones in order to properly unfold.

In part one (https://one-baltimore.org/2020/01/06/one-baltimore-31-the-raid-part-1/), my anonymous interviewee explained how she went to BPD about someone on her block selling hard drugs and possibly running guns, only to find herself targeted by the police. In part two (https://one-baltimore.org/2020/01/13/one-baltimore-32-the-raid-part-2/), we watched the raid on her home play out, the cops threatening her and her family with guns, smashing up the place, and trying to turn her husband against her son. In part three (https://one-baltimore.org/2020/01/20/one-baltimore-33-the-raid-part-three/), amidst ongoing harassment, she went to Internal Affairs and the State’s Attorney, but found no help.

This week, we wrap things up as Anon and her family accept reimbursement for their expenses and try to move on. Doing so won’t cost much — just their voices.

*

Abby: So I guess at some point, you use your lawyer, yeah?

Anon: Well yeah, she and her partner were trying to get them [the officers involved in the raid] to send them information, trying to get them to give depositions, and Internal Affairs as well was supposedly getting the runaround, couldn’t get them to come in and give statements and blah, blah, blah. They dragged it out for three years, I guess hoping…

Abby: Most people give up by that point, I imagine.

Anon: Yeah. By that time, my husband had had it, and Trump got elected, and believe it or not, it has everything to do with why we wound up just settling the way we did, because then Jeff Sessions is an office. They’re threatening immigrants, my husband’s an immigrant.

We’re under the Consent Decree, but Sessions is saying, “I don’t give a shit, I don’t even believe in them.” Yeah, so it happened under Obama and we were in an ideal situation being put under a Consent Decree to actually have leverage, but the police dragged it out and dragged it out and dragged it out so that they wound up with the leverage.

So then my husband was like, “What if they dream up some reason to deport me, I can’t go through a deposition.” And we made the mistake of watching The Kalief Browder Story and saw what they did to him during his deposition and my son was like, “I can’t do it either, Mom, I just, I can’t… “ So I was the only one willing to do it and their lawyer was like, “If we don’t get depositions from all of them, we don’t want depositions from any of them,” so I couldn’t be the spokesperson.

They wanted to rake us over the freaking coals, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my family for that. So we started weighing the options and my lawyer was like, “I don’t know what to do without you guys giving depositions, ’cause they’re entitled to that,” and she’s like, “I’m going to push to at least get you the money you paid out back for your son going to therapy and you going to therapy and some of the things that they broke when they were up in your son’s room,” and I was like, “Fine, whatever.” And that’s how we wound up all having to sign a document that had a gag order at the end of it.

Abby: So, may I ask, how much was the settlement?

Anon: I wanna say it was like $15,000, and it was so weird because we were in there, their lawyer and my lawyer, and then this retired judge, you could tell he was like, an elitist, and he was like, “Well, I presume you could provide receipts if I wanted them..” So I was like, “Yeah, no I kept every receipt of every dime that I had to pay out.” And I’m like, “I also have pictures of what they did. I also have pictures of the real drug dealer. I also have lists of license plate numbers. You wanna see all that?” And he’s like, “That’s not necessary.” “Because a proper investigation was never done.” And he was like, “Uh, fine, whatever.”

So I was given the paper. I was the only one in the room and then I had to get my husband to sign it, I had to get my older son sign it, even though he wasn’t home at the time, and they made me have my younger son sign it and he’s still a minor.

Abby: And this was one of those that said you won’t say anything disparaging and you won’t talk about things that weren’t legally filed [which means absolutely nothing could be said, since this case hadn’t gotten to the point of legal filings]?

Anon: Yes, but it also said that they could come after me for part of the settlement back. [City Solicitor] Andre Davis had claimed that they tweaked the wording, but when I brought it to the ACLU and they read it, she said this is like a hybrid of the new one and the old one, and it has the worst aspects of them both. They said it was like he was working on it but hadn’t honed it, and she’s like “This looks cut and paste sloppy.”

And I’m thinking, wow, these people were effing lawyers and judges, and they’re okay with this!

Abby: Maybe you could tell me a little about the impact of all this on your younger son, if you’re up to talking about that.

Anon: Before that happened, he was just the happiest child. He would have never been able to go to a therapist and say we did anything to break him. And I was so proud of that, you know? And he was really into baseball, he was a really great student. It’s like he is the personification of my heart walking around.

So, I was fine in the living room until I saw him brought around the corner and his eyes were as big as saucers. I knew he was terrified, I knew I couldn’t comfort him, and then he looked at his father and he almost wanted to cry and that made me break down because I was like, “What did they do to him, what did they do?” I didn’t know until they left, what they did.

Abby: Because you couldn’t ask him.

Anon: Yeah, I couldn’t talk to him and they brought me in the kitchen, they separated me from them. And I kept looking out the doorway and the officer was like, “Why don’t you just have a seat,” like I was totally irking the guy.

But yeah, he was a totally different child, as of that moment. Anger. Sadness. Unsure about himself. He hasn’t played baseball while he was in high school, and that was like his entire life, he’s been baseball his entire existence.

So, yeah, the typical withdrawal of things that bring you pleasure, which is why I immediately put him in therapy. He was in therapy for a year, and then he was like, “Okay, I think I’m okay.” And this took him into his freshman year of high school, and he totally floundered, and I’m like, “No, you can’t. We can’t flounder, we can’t flounder at this juncture.” So I had to find him another therapist. And that’s not easy because there’s a shortage of them, especially ones that specialize in childhood trauma, ’cause you have to specifically look for that.

Abby: We’ve got a lot of childhood trauma in Baltimore City.

Anon: I know, because how many witness things like this, go through things like this and don’t get put in therapy. I think it should be immediately offered, if you’re going to execute this warrant, if there are any children in the household, you must get them services.

Abby: Well, then they might have to admit that they’re terrorizing people…

Anon: Yeah, which they won’t.

Abby: Yeah. So, did the gag order end up affecting you guys?

Anon: Well, it didn’t really affect my husband because he wasn’t talking about it anyway. He never talks about it, he totally buried it. My son actually asked me, “Am I allowed to talk about this with my therapist?” ’cause he thought once that paper was signed, he wasn’t allowed to talk about it. I’m like, “You can talk to your therapist about anything you want, she’s not broadcasting stuff in the newspaper.”

And then with me, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen me when I’m speaking at anything, but I’ve gone to a couple of different forums and I have to speak cryptically, because I’m like, if I say the wrong thing, there could be somebody in this room that can turn me in. I don’t know who all these people are, so I have to watch what I say. A lot of the times I’ll talk about other people’s stuff because I’m afraid to talk about mine. And keeping that internal eats you away, it keeps you up at night, it rattles around in your brain and you can’t get over it because you’re not allowed to release it.

Abby: Is there any other thing you would wanna say?

Anon: My closing statement wants to be just, free Keith Davis, Jr.

Abby: Hell yeah, that’s my closing statement for everything.

*

What Anon experienced is by no means unique. Ever since the start of the racist drug war (which is, of course, a war on people) in the 80’s, police raids to search for illegal narcotics have been a common pretext for breaking down anyone’s door unannounced on the flimsiest of suspicions. Countless families have gone through this trauma and much worse, with nothing recovered to warrant (so to speak) the damages.

Add to that the systemic corruption in BPD and the potential for abuse skyrockets. After publishing last week’s column, an acquaintance reached out to say she’d had a very similar experience to Anon’s, to the point that reading about it made her ill. She told me that in the course of trying to make progress on her complaint with Internal Affairs, she was asked to get corroborating witnesses and wound up finding twelve other women who had experienced at least some of what she had. She shared more, but asked me to hold the rest back, out of fear of retaliation.

It’s hard to say what’s worse, the actions of the police themselves, or the system that’s supposed to hold them accountable and instead shields them. One major tool of that system has of course been gag orders, restrictions on speech like the ones that Anon and her family were placed under. If we can’t hear from victims, we can’t uncover and stop the patterns of victimization.

Just as of this month, though, it seems this is finally changing. Baltimore’s gag orders were found unconstitutional by a U.S. Appeals Court this summer, and were then banned by the City Council in the fall. Rather than accept this change in policy at the time, though, for months Mayor Young and his spokespeople maintained that the bill was illegal, that it took power away from the City Solicitor in contravention of the City Charter, and that the administration would refuse to comply with it.

But then, at the West Wednesday Speak-Out Session on police brutality and gag orders at City Hall on New Year’s Day, after over an hour of testimony from victims, Deputy City Solicitor Dana Petersen Moore took the mic and announced that her office will no longer be writing gag orders into settlements, and, crucially, will NOT enforce such clauses written into settlements signed in the past. She also said that her office will be releasing a report on the past five years of settlements, another requirement of the new law, to be released this Friday, 1/31. I want to thank Dana for doing that, and I’m looking forward to reviewing the forthcoming info.

So… it’s all over, right? People like Anon can, in fact, speak freely now? Well, maybe so, maybe not. After the Mayor spent so long saying the exact opposite, what I’m hearing is that, in order to begin to feel safe, people need to see this in writing from Young himself. And that sort of clear, written statement from the top is something that we still don’t have.

Moreover, people who’ve been impacted by gag orders in the past need to be proactively told that they are now free to speak, rather than just expecting them to hear through the grapevine that their rights are no longer being violated. The Solicitor’s Office should send letters to everyone previously under a gag order letting them know that they are now formally released from that part of their contracts — they can start, conveniently, with the list of people in their new report.

Oh yeah, and to echo Anon’s point… Free Keith Davis Jr. and pack the courtroom at his hearing on 2/28 (https://www.facebook.com/events/602379147260136/)!!

#OneBaltimore

#ForcedSilenceCondonesPoliceViolence

#BaltimorePoliceDepartment

#DisbandBPD

Cultural Event of the Week: You know what’s wholesome as heck? Baltimore Brews and Board Games (run these days by excellent human being Erika Thomas), a no-cover space where people can get together with friends or strangers, play a favorite game or learn a new one, eat a slice of pizza, have a drink, and win prizes. BABG has finally moved into their new digs at No Land Beyond, which, with a library of 300+ games, is a perfect fit. Catch them this Thursday, 1/30, and every fourth Thursday going forward.

https://www.facebook.com/events/163354931620907/

Green Event of the Week: We need renewable energy and we need it **yesterday**. If this is something you’re passionate about, get yourself down to the House of Delegates in Annapolis on Wednesday, 1/29 at noon for the introduction of the Community Choice Energy Act, a new state bill that would give municipalities and counties the control to make the switch themselves. Hosted by Food & Water Watch – Maryland and the Sierra Club Maryland Chapter.

https://facebook.com/events/174508023895337/

A sign I made.

One Baltimore #33, The Raid, Part 3

1/20/20

So far in this mini-series, my anonymous interviewee has tried to do what any good citizen is exhorted by our system to do — work with the police to address crime. But this blew up in her face when the cops busted into her home with an unsigned warrant instead, trashing the place and traumatizing her family.

This week, Anon continues to try to go through the proper channels… and spoiler alert, it continues to not go well.

Part one: https://one-baltimore.org/2020/01/06/one-baltimore-31-the-raid-part-1/
Part two: https://one-baltimore.org/2020/01/13/one-baltimore-32-the-raid-part-2/

*

Anon: I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know who to call, I didn’t know who to talk to or anything, I was a mess. I was like that the whole weekend, like a zombie. Then by the time Sunday night came, I was pissed. I was livid-angry once I started to really think about it and process, so then I started writing stuff down, and I started doing what I do and research.

First thing I did, I looked up every single representative that I had and I did a blast email. I didn’t think to contact the State’s Attorney’s Office yet, but every elected official. And then on Monday I went a little deeper into my research and I started finding other stories. I found Ashley-Overbey’s story and then I found Ms. Green, the older lady who was beat up in her house and she locked the cop in the basement.

Abby: What a badass.

Anon: And I was like “Oh wow. Well okay, apparently this is the sort of thing that happens.” I got the number for Internal Affairs, and I asked them “What do you do to file a complaint?” And they said, you come in here and give a statement. And then I started noticing vehicles driving by my house, parking in the lot across the street, that weren’t supposed to be there, and I started getting really paranoid and something just said “Call the news stations,” and it was the best decision I ever made because they were going to continue to harass us.

Once the news truck was out there, a van parked directly across the street from my house, a nondescript white van. And the guy who was driving it actually looked like, believe it or not, one of the officers that was in my house. I have no doubt they were using some kind of listening device to see what I was saying. And I looked at the cameraman, and I’m like, “…you all see this, right?” and he’s like, “Yep.”

They did an ok job with the story. Of course you only get the obligatory minute and thirty seconds that they chop it into or whatever, but in part of the video, you actually see the white van that I’m talking about.

Oh, and within the search and seizure warrant they claimed that they observed people buying drugs walking up steps, somebody coming out dealing the drugs and then going back in, going down steps and leaving… I don’t have steps in front of my house.

Abby: Oh shit!

Anon: I have literally one step onto my porch and that’s it, there’s no “steps.” So even the house that they described was not my house.

So after that I went into Internal Affairs and that was a mess. They’re nuts.

Abby: What was nuts about it?

Anon: Well, it’s a nondescript building, number one. You would never know it belongs to the police. I was kind of wandering around a parking lot and then I saw a callbox on the side of a door and I pushed the button and asked if was in the right place. They buzzed me in between two vestibules and then I had to pick up a phone and get the guard to buzz me into yet another entryway.

They kept me in the vestibule area and the guard demanded that I tell him in a nutshell why I was there. I’m like, “I wanna file a complaint.” And he’s like, “Based on what?” He was being really nasty, he wasn’t being concerned or anything like that. He called back and Good-Cop/Bad-Cop comes out, which is two females.

They ask me why I was there, so now I had to try and put the story in a nutshell again, and Bad Cop was like, “Well, was your son selling drugs out of there or were you selling drugs out of there?” And I’m like, “Why would I be standing here if that was happening in my house, that would be stupid to come here and try and file a complaint.” And she says, “You don’t have to get smart, ’cause we don’t have to take a statement from you if you feel like getting smart!” And then Good Cop kind of stood in and was like, “We need to make a couple of phone calls, just go have a seat.”

So they left me out in the vestibule, and then I just am noticing all of these big, burly cops coming in and out in street clothes. And the first thing I noticed was a bunch of them had really inappropriate t-shirts on. Like, things that insinuated the right to brutality. And then I saw a couple of the vehicles and even some of the stickers that they had on their cars and trucks were just really inappropriate, glorifying being a gun-toting, like… you know what I mean, it just… and I was really appalled by that.

So then, Bad Cop comes back out and now all of a sudden she’s being nice and she asked me, “Were you or your son made a confidential informant some time before this incident?” And I’m like “No, what are you talking about?” and she’s like, “Hmm… alright,” and walks away.

Finally, Good Cop comes back out, she’s got an older guy with her and they bring me into this back room and they’re like, “We’re going to record this, is that okay?” They went through a more detailed interview than we’re doing right now. By that time I had spoken to all my immediate neighbors who said they would give statements, they’re like, “Yeah we’ll give a statement that you guys weren’t doing anything, and who it was, where it was coming from.”

And then before I was leaving, she said, “Okay, well, we’re gonna type up a transcript of this, get your approval, we’ll send you a card telling you who the detective assigned to your case is, and we’ll investigate it,” and… nothing. None of that ever happened. I never got a transcript, I was never contacted, I just was blown off, and that’s when I contacted the State’s Attorney’s Office because I knew that they had a Police Integrity Unit.

So, that’s the unit I called, and I got put in touch with [redacted], who is a total piece of crap who refused to do her job, would basically ask me what I thought she should do about the predicament.

And I said, well seriously, if nobody wants to investigate this, I’m just gonna have to get a lawyer because nobody seems to wanna look into this and this is obviously some kind of misconduct here. I don’t know if these guys were selling drugs and running guns and I blew up their little plans, I don’t know what is going on, but there’s just something not right.

She would call over to Internal Affairs, and I was apparently assigned to Detective [redacted], who was the one who handled, or mishandled, I should say, the Freddie Gray case. So she was in the middle of that and was using that as an excuse of not getting back to me.

They wanted to interview my husband and my son. Months went by and I had to keep reminding them, “When are you going to interview them, details are going to start falling out of their heads.” They didn’t get around to interviewing my husband and my son until late January and early February of the following year. And this happened in September.

They made my husband go in separate and then they wanted to interview my son and I said, “Well I wanna be present.” So I was told that I could not speak or intervene, but what I observed was a detective, actually two detectives in the room that could not interview a child.

Abby: In what way?

Anon: Their questions were too big. They didn’t give him a proper frame of reference. They weren’t detailed in how they were asking him questions. It was just super, super vague. And my husband said their questions to him were super, super vague too. It was like they were doing it just to go through the motions.

So then I went back to my neighbors and I asked them, has anyone come out to interview you or have they called you? No, none of my neighbors were ever questioned, interviewed, like no investigation was done, none. So I had retained a lawyer and that didn’t even put pressure on them to do the right thing.

They stalled for years, and put us through it, but in the meantime, our mail was being tampered with. My son, by that time he had gotten a car he was sharing with his girlfriend, he was being randomly pulled over for no reason. The same kind of stuff that happens to Tawanda [Jones, local police brutality survivor/activist] and her family. Random vehicles pointing their cars towards our house in the parking lot across the road, to the point where the people who bought the building wound up cordoning off the lot, because they didn’t know it was police.

Boxes that my son was expecting in the mail would go missing and the next day it would be thrown on our porch, ripped open and gone through. So I’m like, “Well no, somebody didn’t just decide they didn’t want the boots and do that.” We were afraid to bring anything in the house, ’cause we thought they would plant drugs. So we’re like, taking stuffing out of the boots that he ordered and shaking it out on the porch to make sure or whatever, ’cause we were afraid to touch anything. Even after going to the news and getting a lawyer, they were doing whacko stuff.

My husband was afraid he was gonna get pulled over every time we saw any weird vehicle, we were just afraid that something was gonna happen. So, yeah, it’s a constant paranoia. They terrorize you.

*

Next week, we’ll wrap things up with how Anon and her family ended up accepting a settlement and being placed under a gag order. We’ll also look at why she and many others have chosen to remain anonymous despite a declaration by the Deputy City Solicitor that gag orders will no longer be enforced, as well as how her story fits into national and local patterns of over-use and abuse of power by law enforcement.

Speaking of which, there’s an important update on the case of Keith Davis, Jr. — he has a new sentencing date, February 28th, which is also when he will receive a ruling on his motion for a new trial. Keith has been languishing in jail since 2015 after being shot in the face and subsequently set up by the BPD (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/06/17/one-baltimore-7-keith-davis-jr/). Please consider showing up in support: https://www.facebook.com/events/602379147260136/

#OneBaltimore #ForcedSilenceCondonesPoliceViolence #BaltimorePoliceDepartment #DisbandBPD

Cultural Event of the Week: Is there a building with a more beautiful interior in all of Baltimore than the Peabody library? The shapes, the levels, the light, the books! Not that I’ve ever done more than peek inside… which is what makes In the Stacks, a series of free shows in the library, so cool. ITS #9 is this Thursday, 1/23, and promises to “explore how gender conformity has been subverted since the earliest forms of music and film,” via a mix of live performance and videos.

https://www.inthestacks.org/performances.html / https://www.facebook.com/events/543000083221089/

Green Event of the Week: I tryyyy to shy away from mixing this column up too much with my day job, but I just gotta share that Baltimore Beyond Plastic (a student group with whom I have the privilege of working) is putting on an Art & Action Extravaganza this Saturday evening at the 2640 Space, focused on environmental activism. If you know young people who’d wanna check it out, please pass it on!! Details and registration at: http://www.bmorebeyondplastic.org/

Cop cars in the rain.

One Baltimore #32, The Raid, Part 2

1/13/20

This week, the second installment of my interview with a woman whose home was raided by the Baltimore Police Department after she tried to report a dealer on her block who they seemed determined not to touch. Her story is anonymous because she was placed under a gag order as a condition of settling her case. When we left off, black-clad men had just burst into her home, made her lie down on the floor at gunpoint while screaming at her, and made her young son think that he was about to die.

Read Part 1 here — https://one-baltimore.org/2020/01/06/one-baltimore-31-the-raid-part-1.

*

Anon: One of them points at me and he’s like, “Miss [redacted]”. I’m like, “How does he know my name?” I didn’t give my license at this point or anything. And he’s like, “I told you to shut the fuck up and I’ll tell you what’s going on when I’m ready,” and then he has a piece of paper in his hand and he flashes it in my face, and he’s like, “We have the right to be in here because somebody in here is selling drugs.” And I said, “You’re wrong, there’s no drugs being sold out of this house, it’s across the street.”

Then it was just chaotic, they were bringing my son up, my husband was handcuffed on the couch, they were attempting to separate us. The one who I found out later was Detective [redacted, who was also involved in a notorious police brutality incident that ended in death for an unarmed civilian] slammed the battering ram in the middle of my living room and was like, “Damn, I was really hoping I was gonna get to use this tonight,” like he wanted to bust down my door, he got his rocks off with that.

They sat my son on the sofa next to his handcuffed father and his hysterical mother being brought out of the room, so I couldn’t even console him. They wouldn’t let us touch each other, they wouldn’t let us engage with each other, talk to each other. They turned the TV off, and then it was odd because the game that night, I remember was the Steelers and somebody else, but they were saying that this lead detective was a Steelers fan, and trying to get us to say stuff.

Abby: What kind of stuff?

Anon: Like, derogatory stuff, because we were Ravens fans.

Abby: HA!

Anon: Like, they’re trying to get you to start something, run your mouth.

Abby: And that was his plan, to try and play to the Steelers/Ravens rivalry??

Anon: Yeah. So then, he claimed that he got the okay from a judge that they were going to execute the search warrant on my house. He threw a copy down, and he’s like, “The name of the judge isn’t on there because they don’t want reprisals against judges,” but I don’t know if a judge ever really even signed it. And if so, you gotta worry about that, judge, because once you actually read it, it’s a joke, it’s like a cookie cutter, they just fill in random information.

They tossed my basement, they ripped it apart, drawers out, stuff thrown all over the place, cabinets opened. They trashed my yard, I had beautiful tomato plants, they ripped them all out.

Abby: What?

Anon: Yeah, it was so random. We had tiki torches that we had stacked to put back into the garage, and they were strewn and broken all over the place. There was an extension from a hose from our sump pump that just was like thrown, ’cause I guess maybe one of them must have tripped over it in the dark.

See, and that’s the thing, our lights in the back weren’t turned on, so it was really black back there, and if my son would have made it out of that doorway, they probably would have shot him. But he told me a voice, a female voice came into his head and said, “Stand still, don’t run,” so he did, he listened, thank god, because they totally would have killed him, and then we wouldn’t even be sitting here, ‘cause… I don’t even know if I’d be sitting here.

They said “Who else lives here?” And I was like, “My son, who’s at work, his room’s upstairs.” They trashed his room, like demolished his room, but they touched nothing on my first floor. That’s not proper protocol –

Abby: Right, if you’re actually looking for something, and not just trying to cause havoc, you look through the whole house.

Anon: What was even funnier was the piece of furniture that he dropped the search and seizure on was a big trunk, a wooden trunk. They didn’t even go in my medicine cabinet! They went through nothing on the first floor, they touched nothing.

I served on the grand jury, so I have read the reports from actual search and seizures, where like they cut open teddy bears and found drugs and… you know what I mean? So, I was like, “There’s really something off here,” but they kept screaming in my face telling me not to talk to the other two.

They wound up bringing me in the kitchen, separating me, and I just started chattering because I was scared. I was annoying them, because I wouldn’t shut up, I just was asking all kinds of questions, and then one of them was sitting there trying to convince me my son was the drug hustler.

Abby: Your son in college?

Anon: My son in college, who’s hardly ever even in the neighborhood. Like even though he lives in my house, he was hardly ever there. And he had an iPhone at the time, so he was easily traceable,’cause he checked in everywhere.

So they came down from his room and they put these two items on the table and one was a little cylindrical thing, and it was a grinder.

Abby: Gasp!

Anon: Yeah, so I said, “Okay well, I know he’s smokes weed, but he’s not supposed to have it in my house.” And they opened it and there wasn’t even any residue in it, and then the other was a Coke can, but it was a false bottom Coke can, and there was no residue in it. I said, “So are you gonna arrest him based on that?”

And he was like, “No we can’t arrest him.” And I’m like, “…because you haven’t found anything.”

So they were getting irritated with me that I was pointing out the obvious, and the one was screaming in my face, “We saw him, we were over there observing and we saw him.” And I’m thinking in my head, it’s im-fucking-possible that they saw him ’cause I haven’t even seen him, with as much as he’s been working!

Abby: And you’re taking all these notes on everybody going in and out of the house, and the makes of the cars, so you’re very aware…

Anon: Yeah. So then they started saying stuff like, “Have you seen some of the things that he has up there?” and I’m like, “What are you talking about?” And they’re like “Hats and sneakers, and they’re not cheap,” and I’m like… “He has a job, his girlfriend has a job. I have a job, we buy him those things, he buys them for himself.”

And then they were like, “Yeah well he needs to be careful who his friends are,” and all of this stuff. And then they brought down this piece of paper that they found, it was a jail ID for this childhood friend of his, they’re almost like brothers, who got wrapped up in some craziness years and years ago, and he was sending him some of his things to hold while he was in jail. He would collect comic books and would send them to him, like “Just hold on to these for me.” He wasn’t sending him anything illicit or whatever. So he’s like, “Who is this person?” And I’m like, “He doesn’t live here, it’s none of your business.” And he wasn’t arrested for drugs, so you know what I’m saying.

Like, they’re not trying to make some shit up but they stayed there for two and a half hours, and by the end they had me so mentally fatigued. They were working on my husband in the living room and they were convincing my husband, who’s not my son’s father — my older son, he’s my younger son’s father but not my older son — they worked on convincing him that my boy was selling drugs out of there. And then when they, of course, didn’t find anything, they started filing out my front door and literally, their parting shot was: “Sorry for the inconvenience.”

Abby: What a punchline. So, what sorts of things were going through your mind as all this was happening?

Anon: I was trying to fight the urge to be convinced that my son was selling drugs, because they just repeat stuff and they’re yelling at you, like different people are yelling at you at different times, and telling you you’re wrong in your truth, that what you know to be a fact is wrong, and then you realize they’re trying to goad you into being combative, so then you’re trying… like, calm yourself down, don’t raise your voice, don’t get snarky. It was just trying to go through an inventory of every possible flaw they could find in me, in order to beat me up, lock me up.

I had to actually go pick my older son up from work later that night, right after. I was really, really quiet, which is not my nature and he was like, “What’s wrong?” and I’m like, “We need to just get home.” I sat him at the table and I put the warrant in front of him and he was reading it and he said, “Mom, this doesn’t even make any sense,” and he’s like, “Wait… are they trying to blame me for selling the drugs around here?” and I’m like “That’s what it looks like,” and he’s like, “You have to know…” And I’m like, “You haven’t even been here.”

Abby: What do you do after that?

Anon: I stayed up all night, hysterical, crying. I couldn’t go to sleep, my child couldn’t go to sleep, my husband tried to go to sleep. I wound up, by the time six AM came, I had to call my boss and tell her I was non-functional.

*

Next time, Anon decides she isn’t going to take this lying down.

On Saturday, Circles of Voices (a conversation group about which I’ve heard really great things) is hosting Tawanda Jones at Impact Hub Baltimore. If you’ve been wanting to get to know Tawanda’s work better, or just to have a real conversation about racism and the local justice system, check it out. There’s a $10 registration fee, but if you don’t got it, ping me, it can be waived. Hope to see you there!

https://www.facebook.com/events/749404708879289/

You know what I’m about to say — Free Keith Davis, Jr.!!

#OneBaltimore #ForcedSilenceCondonesPoliceViolence #BaltimorePoliceDepartment #DisbandBPD

Cultural Event of the Week: Have you been to Night Shift LGBTQ since it reopened? Located in an industrial corner on the southeast edge of town where 95 and 895 intersect, the once and former adult entertainment venue is now run by some of the coolest queers in town. This Saturday night, 1/18, Night Shift and the Clifton Pleasure Club are hosting A 90’s Deep Lez House Party, featuring a slew of awesome local dancers and performers, including the inimitable Andre Shakti!

https://www.facebook.com/events/583326142458871/

Green Event of the Week: Surrounded by pollution and concrete, city trees have it tough. If we want to reap the many benefits of a healthy urban tree canopy, we have give them a hand! This Wednesday, 1/15, join Blue Water Baltimore for a Pruning Party where you’ll learn about tree care and help ensure that recently-planted trees have the love they need to keep going.

Green Up: Tree Care Volunteering

The New Year’s Day West Wednesday Speak-Out Session against police brutality and gag orders. Courtesy of Opal.

One Baltimore #31, The Raid, Part 1

1/6/20

Happy new year, everyone! 2020’s gonna be something else, yeah? Talk about your best of times, worst of times… I mean, with the world on the verge of so much disaster and ruin, how weird is it to say that I just had the most hopeful and inspiring start to the new year I’ve ever experienced?

At midday on the 1st, close to a hundred of us gathered up on the sidewalk and cobblestones in front of City Hall for a special West Wednesday Speak-Out Session. West Wednesday, of course, is an ongoing protest organized by Tawanda Jones on behalf of her brother Tyrone West and all victims of police brutality. This was the 335th consecutive week.

This particular day was focused on gag orders, i.e. restrictions, now illegal, which Baltimore City had long placed on people settling brutality and misconduct cases to keep them from telling their stories. A bunch of groups collaborated on it, including Runners4Justice, the ACLU of Maryland, and the little org. that Opal and I have been developing, Baltimore For Border Justice.

A big part of the event was readings of anonymous stories from people who’d been gagged. It was powerful stuff, painful but important and cathartic. If you want to see videos, clips, photos, and news coverage, it’s all collected here: https://www.facebook.com/BaltimoreForBorderJustice/posts/171449590907121.

Prior to the event, I interviewed a woman whose whole family had been gagged. There was only time at the Speak-Out Session to read a brief excerpt of her story, but I really wanted to share the whole tale. I’m very grateful to the individual in question for allowing me to do so in this space.

When we think of police abusing their power, we usually think of beatings and deaths. This story, thankfully, isn’t one of those. Instead, it demonstrates how even incidents that don’t leave marks can terrorize you and your loved ones and change your lives forever.

*

Abby: How did things start?

Anon: Well, there was a house across the street from me that was the issue of the block. I actually suspected it was guns and drugs being run out of there.

Abby: What made you suspect that?

Anon: It was the nature of the traffic that was going in and out. Weird shaped big black bags and big pieces of furniture were being brought in, but then being brought right back out a couple days later. It was very odd, and then an obvious drug dealer wound up moving in there, this white guy and his girlfriend. It became really evident with the nature of the people that were going up and down off the porch and stuff, but I was minding my own business.

That went on for about three months and I finally got tired of it, because he started walking up and down the street like he owned it and pretty much daring anybody to intervene, and I’m feisty. So I started calling up the precinct, asking who do I talk to? And I was getting the runaround, like nobody wanted to help me.

I actually drove up there one evening, I was prompted to go up in the evening because I was told “Nobody that deals with drugs and guns is here during the day.” So I drove up there and the guy at the front desk said, “No, everybody’s out on the streets and stuff, there’s nobody here to talk to.”

I was really, really frustrated and he said, “Hey, how about I get your name and I can text this detective.” And that’s where everything kind of went awry.

He put me in touch with Detective [redacted], who at first seemed interested but then seemed like he was ignoring me, and then he seemed interested again. In retrospect, I kind of know what was going on, but at the time I didn’t. He was trying to find out how much I was paying attention, how much I knew. And then I got set up for pretty much a home invasion.

Abby: When you say you got set up, what do you mean?

Anon: Well, Detective [redacted] contacted me, telling me that he was going to be in a parking lot across the street observing the house. He was actively texting me, asking me who the players were, like, “Who’s the blonde, who’s this person, who’s that person?” And then he asked me a really curious question, he said, “Are you interested in pitbull puppies with papers?” It was so out of left field. I was like “…no?” And I didn’t even think, I had a “Beware of Dog” sign on my fence, he was trying to see if I had any dogs. And then, another time when he was talking to me on the phone, he asked did my husband know that I was talking to him, which I thought was another curious question. I was like, “Of course, he’s sitting right over there in the living room.”

He started to make me feel uneasy, like my little Spidey senses were going off. Then, about a week and a half after, he was in the parking lot and the guy’s girlfriend, the guy who was selling drugs, got taken out in an ambulance. And later that day, a young African-American male walked up to the house, pulled the screen out the window and dove through the window like Michael Phelps, in broad daylight, in front of me. So I called the police. He comes out the front door, pops the screen back in, and when he saw the police car turning onto our road, he went the other direction.

All these other cops came, but then this big black SUV came and the guy just had a polo shirt that said Commander on it. It didn’t have a name, it just said Commander. There was a female cop that was going around the perimeter of the house with her gun drawn, and I said, “You could just tell her that the person’s gone, I sent another officer after him.” And he’s like, “Did you see anything?” And I’m like, “I’m the one that called.” And I said, “While I have you all here, they’re selling drugs out of that house, and like, it’s hardcore drugs, it’s not weed, I can tell by the nature of the people going up there and how frequently they go, it’s definitely not weed, otherwise I wouldn’t care.”

And as one of the uniformed officers was about to approach me, the Commander’s like, “Okay, we’re done here,” and shoos them all away. But the female cop that went around the perimeter of the house must have been bugged by what I said, ’cause a few days later, I saw the guy and the girl on the stoop of the house, and she apprehended them. And then all of a sudden, big black SUV comes again. Commander guy takes the girlfriend, drives off with her.

I was running an errand and happened to stumble upon that scene, but when I came back 20 minutes later, the guy was still walking around the neighborhood. And I was like, “What is going on??”

Abby: Because you thought he had just been taken away by the police.

Anon: Yeah, I thought the marked unit took him, like they separated them, but no, just the girlfriend disappeared.

That was Labor Day weekend, and I saw now he had a rental car in the driveway and was literally going up to it with armfuls of stuff, throwing it in the car. It had the little Enterprise sticker on the back, which is how I knew, ’cause I was taking down license plate numbers, makes and models of vehicles that were pulling in and out of there, just in case anybody actually tried to investigate it. Then he disappeared. And then, that following Thursday, my house got raided.

Abby: And how did that go down?

Anon: We figured he was gone and went about our business. We are very boring people. My husband went out to work. I would stay home ’cause I telecommuted. It was the beginning of school, so my husband would make sure my son got back and forth from school, and my oldest was in college so he would spend a lot of time at his girlfriend’s, which was closer on the bus line to get out to school. He was hardly ever there, he was either working or at school.

We went to run an errand before the Thursday night football game. We brought the groceries in. I still had bags on the table with stuff in it. He sat on the couch, turned the TV on. I sat at the computer. We happened to leave the front door open, ’cause it was a nice September night and we have a screen door.

All of the sudden all hell broke loose… just people in black piling in my house yelling mixed commands. They never said they were the police. One seized my husband and slammed him face down onto the couch. One was holding me at gunpoint. Then my living room was full of people and shields and battering rams and more people, they were spilling into my dining room and they told me to get on the floor at gunpoint.

I started asking questions and I was being told “Shut the fuck up, shut the fuck up, shut your fucking mouth, we’ll tell you what’s going on, just shut the fuck up.” And then it hit me, my 12-year-old kid is downstairs hearing all of this. I believe you’ve read part of his take on that.

*

What follows is an excerpt of a statement about the raid written by Anon’s youngest son.

*

I hear the door upstairs open. In my mind, I’m thinking “oh my brother is home from work or my mom or dad opening the front door to throw something in the recycling.” Well, I was wrong by a long shot. After the door opens, I hear screaming “HANDS UP AND GET ON THE GROUND!!!!!!!!”

I have no idea who that is and my heart is racing. I feel like I’m gonna cry, and I’m worried about my parents. I grab my phone and try to run out the basement door. I open the door (I forgotto add that I thought we were getting robbed so I was gonna run outside, go under my pool deck, and call the police) but I’m stopped by a guy with a flashlight shining in my eyes. So, I back up away from the door because that guy also has a gun pointed at me. When I back up to the middle of the room, I’m feeling absolutely hopeless. I thought this was it, this is where my life ends. I get a shitty end to my life.

My heart is racing, I’m sweating, and I’m scared shitless. At this point I’m thinking, “I’m gonna be dead soon, so there is no point in doing anything.” Then, there is someone coming down the stairs with a gun pointed at me and there is nothing I can do. So, what do I do…? What any smart person would do in this situation, I surrendered. I’m just a kid (12 years old) with 3 guns pointed at my face. When my brain starts coming back to reality, I look up at the person who is walking towards me. You’ll never believe who these people were. Here, I’ll let you take your guess. I’ll give you 10 seconds. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Ok, time’s up. These people were the damn POLICE. Ugh I was about to run outside and call the police on the police.

*

Why the sudden, terrifying invasion? Anon hypothesizes that it’s because the cops had, in fact, been working with the dealer across the street, the one that they had seemed so loathe to apprehend. Next week, we’ll pick back up with more of her account.

And, of course — free Keith Davis, Jr.!!

#OneBaltimore #ForcedSilenceCondonesPoliceViolence #BaltimorePoliceDepartment #DisbandBPD

Cultural Event of the Week: Holeeeeee shit, are you kidding me?!? Coming this Friday, 1/10, “Experience The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars in a way you never have before — in 360-degree sound and visuals on the expansive screen of our planetarium dome.” See you at the Maryland Science Center!

https://www.facebook.com/events/3118867958140297/

Green Events of the Week: This Thursday, 1/9, join the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement, Clean Water Action, Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, Neighborhood Sun, Baltimore Blue+ Green+ Just, SURJ Baltimore, Sunrise Movement Baltimore, and others to discuss what’s coming up for environmental justice in Baltimore in 2020. This meeting will be held the day after Maryland’s legislative session begins, so the focus will be on state-level action.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2741912892527046/

Nicole Pettiford, daughter-in-law of Anthony Anderson, an unarmed man who was killed by the police in 2012, speaks passionately about how we have to move forward, rather than back, in the fight for racial justice. If you listen to one speech from the event, listen to hers: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=455240381830315