One Baltimore #7, Keith Davis, Jr.

6/16/19

Note: Contains a description of a man being shot in the face by the police. Read at your own discretion.

When I mention One Baltimore to people, I always try to drop in that it’s a weekly column. It can be hard for me to motivate without a boss or an external deadline. At least if I’m putting an expectation out there, I can imagine people waiting, eyebrows raised, to see if I do what I said.

So far, this pace hasn’t been a problem. I draft during the week, clean it up on Friday or Saturday, and post by Sunday if not before. This is the first week I’m really struggling. Not because there’s not enough to say, but because there’s too much. How to tell Keith’s story?

I’ve tried it a few different ways. One draft is in the form of an open letter, written to any and all state and local elected representatives with whom I’m passingly familiar, in which I start out by asking –

“If I told you that I could guarantee that your presence by my side for one day could save an innocent man, would you do it? If I begged you, and swore that what I was saying was true, would that be meaningful to you?”

I might still do something like that, but for now I’m just going to commit to writing them individually before the end of the week.

In another draft, I laid it all out as if it happened to me, with no preamble, beginning –

“On the morning of Sunday, June 7, 2015, I stopped for a pack of cigarettes at a convenience store on Reisterstown Road, just above Belvedere. On my way out, as I was lighting up, I heard somebody say something about a gun. I looked up and saw a man in the alley across from me with a big silver gun in his hand, people scattering. I spun and ran, turning down a different alley.

I saw a set of open metal doors in front of me, some kind of auto garage. I ran inside and it was dark, all the lights were off. That’s when shots started ringing out, pop-pop-pop and then the ricochets. I turned and it was the police. I yelled for them to stop, but they kept firing.

A bullet tore straight through my arm, everything was heat and pain. I ducked behind an old refrigerator and used my other hand to call my girlfriend Kelly. Somehow it was the only thing I could think of to do.”

When I first considered writing about Keith in the first person as a way to get people’s attention, my heart started racing and I felt a little sick. I’ve cried some, reading about and listening to Keith’s story, but this was the first time I’d had that type of physical reaction. The idea felt too visceral, not to mention way too presumptuous.

I tried it anyway, but well, the text above is cold. Fiction is much harder for me than writing about my life, and what Keith went through isn’t close to my own experience. I’ve never even been in a fistfight. Keith was shot that day in his right cheek, his face torn open, jaw shattered, the bullet trailing metal fragments as it made its way down the side of his neck and lodged there. I’m supposed to represent how that feels?

I thought about opening with a positive, excited vibe, like – friends who are into true crime, hooo boy! If you’ve enjoyed Serial or Making a Murderer, if you like twists and turns, courtroom drama and villainous officials, this one’s for you! Friends eager for a chance to get involved in something that really matters, who love Baltimore and are sick to the death of the corruption and lies, now’s your chance to help expose the very worst of it!

None of that’s untrue, but it’s also way far from where my emotions are at right now. I want to be truthful in this space.

So let me just lay it out plainly –

An armed robber tried to hijack a hack (unlicensed taxi) one morning in June 2015 in Park Heights, in northwest Baltimore City. The hack driver happened to pull up to an intersection where two cops were present, and jumped out, flagging them down. The robber fled, causing panic and confusion. The cops chased the wrong guy.

There is no doubt that Keith is not the robber. The hack driver’s description of the man who stuck him up is in almost every respect different from how Keith looked – different age, different hair, different skin tone, tatts vs. no tatts, different clothes, etc. The driver could not pick Keith out of a lineup, and said plainly in court that Keith didn’t look like his assailant to him.

Keith just happened to catch the eye of the cops at the exact wrong moment in relation to where they thought the robber had gone. Assuming they thought at all. I don’t know. When my cat, Spooky, is hyped up, he’ll twitch his paw out and strike at anything in his field of vision that moves. Maybe it was more like that.

Backup was right around the corner. Two more cops rolled up within a minute, and more after that, though only the first four shot their guns. They would say later that Keith had been shooting at them, and in fact the state charged him for that crime… despite the fact that the ballistics evidence showed that the only bullets fired had come from the cops themselves, forcing them to drop that charge.

It’s totally plausible that, in the moment, once the first officer fired the first time, the cops thought that they WERE in a firefight. Their own bullet casings would’ve been crashing loudly against the metal bay doors and concrete floor, echoing in the dark open space of the garage, and their sirens still wailed, making everything more confusing.

They shot him at him wildly, blindly, 30 or 40 times (initial reports said 44, later ballistics results suggested 32), tearing three holes in him, lodging that one bullet in his neck. He fell unconscious and dropped his phone, cutting out on the confused and frightened Kelly, who called him back over and over, with no answer.

The cops searched him, cuffed him. They called for a medic but entered it as a non-serious injury. Then they sat around and talked.

When the medics arrived, they saw Keith in a large pool of his own blood, face shredded, and called for backup, realizing they needed much more help to save his life. .. which, miraculously, they succeeded in doing. They got him stabilized and rushed him to Sinai Hospital, where the doctors cleaned out and stapled up his face, wiring shut his jaw. The bullet stayed in place for the time being – he was too fragile to risk a second surgery yet, it would have to come out in the following weeks.

Except that it didn’t. The bullet wouldn’t come out for another two years, because Keith was going to jail, to be held without bail for years, and the state would fight his treatment every step of the way.

The cops were at Keith’s bedside when he woke up, guarding him, not letting anyone in at first. A week into his recovery, they took him down to Central Booking, wearing nothing but his hospital gown. When his loved ones called, they were told he was being charged with 16 counts related to robbing the hack driver and shooting at the police.

It turned out that the cops had produced a gun which they said he’d been brandishing at them. It was unloaded, hadn’t been fired during the incident, and had never in any way been attached to Keith. But hey, it’s not like Baltimore police would plant guns (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/baltimore-police-carried-bb-guns-plant-unarmed-suspects-shooting-victims-corruption-maurice-ward-a8189731.html), certainly not to shut up someone they’d harmed (https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/8xvzwp/baltimore-cops-carried-toy-guns-to-plant-on-people-they-shot-trial-reveals-vgtrn).

The trial was a joke, the officers contradicting each other, the evidence, and their previous sworn statements left and right (https://audioboom.com/posts/7253094-state-v-keith-davis-jr-episode-3-the-devil-is-in-the-details). The jury cleared Keith of all charges but one – being a felon in possession of a handgun, a mandatory five-year sentence.

But why settle for five when you can go for fifty? For their next trick, the cops said the gun was connected to a murder which had happened several hours before, so the state charged him with that. Keith had never met the man, and nothing put him at the scene of the crime, but who needs a motive or evidence, right?

The first murder trial resulted in a hung jury, 11 not guilty to 1 guilty. According to the other eleven jurors, the twelfth seemed to believe that it was the defense’s job to prove Keith’s innocence, and could not be dissuaded from this idea.

The state retried the case. They now had a witness to call, a fellow prisoner to whom Keith had supposedly confessed. The jury found Keith guilty, but the sentence was overturned when it was shown that the informant couldn’t have ever come into contact with Keith, and was also testifying in all sorts of trials in exchange for a reduced sentence (https://therealnews.com/columns/keith-davis-jr-may-face-fourth-trial-for-the-murder-of-kevin-jones-following-mistrial).

The case should have been dropped then, but instead the machine rumbled onwards. Keith’s third murder trial resulted in another hung jury. But this time a new piece of evidence surfaced – security camera footage from right before the murder, showing another man, with a different build, pulling up a mask over his face and moving towards the victim before they both go off-frame (https://baltimorefishbowl.com/stories/video-shown-during-keith-davis-jr-s-third-trial-suggests-other-suspect-says-davis-lawyer/). The state had withheld this footage from the defense for years.

Keith’s fourth trial for murder, fifth overall in five years, is now coming up on Friday, July 12th at the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse downtown at 100 N. Calvert at 9am (https://www.facebook.com/events/281353249417978/). It is clear that justice will not come on its own. We need to show that people are watching, and we need to take note of what occurs.

I don’t know how to get through to people about this case. When I mention it, I see wariness and weariness – one more depressing story of injustice in a town full of them, one more psychic burden to bear. But this travesty unfolding in front of us, it’s everything. I feel sure of that.

Oh, did I mention that one of the officers who shot Keith is now under federal investigation for drug trafficking (https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/crime/109727460-132.html)?

Go here to support Keith and Kelly Davis​, the woman I mentioned who was on the phone with him that day, now his wife, who has courageously led the fight to clear his name these four long years: https://fundrazr.com/FreeKeithDavisJr

#FreeKeithDavisJr

#OneBaltimore

Cultural Event of the Week:
Bedlam Brass is a pure and strange delight, an 11-piece brass band made up of wildly talented and playful musicians. This Tuesday night 6/18 at 6:30, they’re holding a potluck and practice in Wyman Park Dell and inviting the public to join them!
https://www.facebook.com/events/1011125009093319/

Green Event of the Week:
There’s a new monthly farmer’s market in town, with a beautiful lakeside view! The next Market at Montebello is this Saturday, 6/22 from 9am-2pm, with a free yoga class, a cooking demo, and a composting demo scheduled throughout the day.
https://www.facebook.com/events/2308809372721074/?event_time_id=2308809376054407

Song of the Week: “Mathematics” by Mos Def
Stiffer stipulations attached to each sentence / Budget cutbacks but increased police presence / And even if you get out of prison still living / Join the other five million under state supervision / This is business, no faces just lines and statistics / From your phone, your zip code, to S-S-I digits / The system break man child and women into figures / Two columns for who is, and who ain’t n****s

A t-shirt I got from #TeamKeith

One Baltimore #6, Pride

6/8/19

Cities have always been the refuge of gay people. At the end of the 1960s, a gay activist described San Francisco as a ‘refugee camp’ that had attracted gay people from all over the country — people who were running from the impossibility of living out gay lives in the hostile, hate-filled atmosphere of small-town America. …refugees who thereby helped to consolidate the reason for their coming: the existence of a ‘gay world’ that they joined and to which they brought the enthusiasm that characterizes new arrivals.”

“Insult and the Making of the Gay Self” by Didier Eribon

I was at the Double T on Route 40 recently for my friend Jude Asher’s retirement party. On one side of the table sat myself and some other friends who know Jude from the Charm City Kitty Club, our queer theater collective. Across from us sat a bunch of Jude’s yoga students (all of whom were deeply committed to her, which was really cool to see… I’ve been meaning to check out one of her classes, lmk if you’d like to go together some time), whose orientations I didn’t know but whom I generally read as straight.

The Kitties and I got into one of those always funny conversations where you’re discussing oppression by the dominant group in front of (presumed) members of the dominant group. Specifically, we were talking about our experiences as kids — River, who grew up on the Eastern Shore, had to explain the term “smear the queer” to our tablemates — and I was reminded of the Eribon passage above when we all agreed that moving to the city as soon as we could had been the obvious step into adulthood. 

There are a lot of reasons for GSM (gender and sexual minorities, h/t to the GLCCB for re-introducing me to this snappier acronym) to want to move to the heart of urbanity at the soonest opportunity… relative anonymity, dating prospects… but at its core, I think the concept of safety in numbers drives many of us. We know that we will be stronger together, able to walk at night in force rather than one by one, able to take each other in and help each other out as needed, in a world full of people that want us dead.

In nature, safety in numbers is accomplished in one of two ways (for the record, I’m not an animal behaviorist, I’m talking out my ass, but roll with me). There’s the herd model, in which members stick close together so that only those on the margins get taken. Then there’s the pack model, in which the members that can fight form a force to fend off attackers altogether. The question for the GSM community, here and elsewhere, has long been — are we a herd or are we a pack?

Respectability politics derives from a herd mentality. If our validity comes from conforming as much as possible — we’re just like you, with one small difference! — then those who won’t or can’t conform to the ever-shifting (and largely illusory) “acceptable” standard remain targets. Obviously this is hardly safety at all, just a way to delay the day on which you happen to be the slowest. Many fall into this destructive mindset reflexively. Rise above it. 

Then there are the bigots — racists, transphobes, and others who lurk in our communities. They tend to have a pack mentality, but they have defined their packmates as a much smaller subset of those around them, and they have a predatory, rather than a defensive, mindset, seeking to drive out or actively destroy those whom they see as intruders. I won’t bother explaining why this isn’t acceptable.

I found my pack, my litter, my pride, in the Charm City Kitty Club about a decade ago now. On a broader level, I see so many of you as my people, but these are my PEOPLE, y’knowhatImean? To quote again from Eribon, “Gay as well as lesbian sociability is founded on a practice, even a ‘politics’ of friendship.” To quote myself in Baltimore magazine (https://www.facebook.com/charmcitykittyclub/posts/10156388589315687), “After a while of supporting each other, you become a family.”

Man, that Baltimore mag thing is a trip! I appreciate them doing the piece, to be clear. They did a solid job, got good quotes from Rahne Alexander about our 17-year history and from Unique Mical Robinson about our show at the end of the month in which she’s appearing. The photographer (www.frankhamiltonphoto.com/) was a really fun guy and I love the shots he got (mega thanks to Chris Jay and the Baltimore Eagle Night Club and Bar for hosting the shoot!) 

On the other hand… well, ok, so they have a circulation of 50,000, which is amazing, but the average net worth of their readership is over $1.2M (dang, srsly? page 3: https://www.baltimoremagazine.com/assets/pdf/17MediaKit_AllInOne_email_norates_071217.pdf) and that’s not exactly where most of the radical artist/activist types who make up our core demographic are to be found. In the end, like I said to a friend: “If three people come because of it, we will welcome them with open arms, and it’ll have been very worth doing Baltimore Magazine for those three people.”

That said, hey, come out to our next show, “Claws Up, Walls Down”, on June 28th and 29th (https://www.facebook.com/events/268322887416917)!! Is it good? My friend, if you are EVER bored, it’s because you’re not hanging with us. Seriously, the level of GSM cultural creativity in this town/region/world is through the damn roof. The collective has put on 45 shows so far, and we’ve NEVER lacked for the most talented, fun, and wild singers, comedians, dancers, poets, queens and kings, performance artists, and assorted astounding uncategorizables, even though we usually feature different people every time.

The format is a cabaret/variety show. We put up queer women and trans artists in a range of disciplines, and do skits between their sets around a theme. Sometimes the theme is pure silliness (“Queerassic Park”), often it’s got a more serious edge, as this one will. “Walls” is a rich topic to explore when it comes to the nation, Baltimore, and GSM history. 

The shows happen to fall exactly on the fiftieth anniversary of the nights of the Stonewall uprising. In one skit, we’ll travel back to 1969 and talk to the folks at Stonewall about where we’re at now thanks to their efforts. On the one hand, life has improved for so many! On the other hand, what will be the reaction of the members of this uprising against police brutality led by trans women to hearing that, at Baltimore’s parade in celebration of them last year, trans exclusionists bearing signs saying “Dykes don’t like dick” and similarly bigoted slogans jumped out in front with the Mayor and marched the whole way, shielded by a heavy police contingent? 

Can we agree that that’s not going to happen this year?? No given individual dyke needs to like dick in the least, but some dykes HAVE dicks and some other dykes like them a lot. Marching in a Pride Parade with the aim of tearing down and erasing trans women is the worst sort of betrayal, not just of the historical event of Stonewall, but of the people who are both most in need of the solidarity of the pack AND who tend to make up its fiercest fighters and most inspiring voices, both on our behalf and for others (it’s no coincidence that GSM people make up a lot of the support on other justice issues — most of us have realized by now that an attack on one is an attack on all). 

If you see a homophobe at Pride (or anywhere), you kick them out. If you see a transphobe at Pride (or anywhere), you kick them out. Got it? Good. Let’s have each other’s backs! Happy Pride, my beloved GSM Baltimore!!

A PSA/unpaid advertisement: 
Why not celebrate the season with a party in your pants? I own six reusable cloth pads from Bleed Geeks and they’re the best; durable, comfortable, and absorbent. They’re currently taking pre-orders for a variety of beautiful new pride flag designs! Treat yourself while supporting local queer craftspeople and reducing your environmental impact: https://www.etsy.com/listing/698050656/pre-order-pride-flag-reusable-pads

Next week, I’m hoping to finally dive into the story of Keith Davis Jr. The column should go up on/around the one month mark before his next trial, which is on Friday, July 12th. For now, I’ll just ask that you come with me if you can (https://m.facebook.com/events/281353249417978/) (carpool, anyone? I know the relatively affordable downtown parking spots) (alternately, bike group?) and that either way you tell others. It can make an immense difference to have eyes on the process. 

A man’s life is on the line. He is being lynched before our eyes. Will we let them do it? Or is he too in our broader pack, in the circle of people who deserve our protection and support? If the phrase “One Baltimore” means anything, then he is and he must be. We can’t just let this happen to him. 

#OneBaltimore
#PrideTwentyBiTeen
#NoTERFsAtPride
#StonewallWasARiot
#FreeKeithDavisJr
#FreeAdnanSyed
#JusticeForTyroneWest

Cultural event of the week: Pride, duh!! Whether you’re after the official itinerary (http://baltimorepride.org/pride2019/), the alternative dance party (https://www.facebook.com/events/338313986877718/), or a few bucks (the Eagle is looking for bartenders and barbacks to work pride, email chrisjayphoto@gmail.com), it’s going down around town this coming weekend, the 15th-16th.

Green event of the week: This Sunday morning, 6/9, is Tour Dem Parks, Hon!, a great bike tour fundraiser. They’ve got short, medium, and long versions of the ride with refreshment/repair stations along the route, and you get to see some of the loveliest spots in the loveliest parks in the city. What’s not to love? Plus grilling and jazz after!
https://tourdemparks.org/

Song of the week: “Heterosexuality is a construct” by Onsind
I’m not a heterosexual man / I’m not ticking your boxes, that’s not who I am / I don’t fit into your neat little plan / And I never will / Love is not a crime / And I’d rather color outside of the lines / Love knows no gender, and it’s about time / You nailed your colors up next to mine

Photo: One of the unused shots from Baltimore Magazine’s photoshoot for their piece on the Charm City Kitty Club, which the photographer was kind enough to pass on to us. Credit to http://www.frankhamiltonphoto.com.

One Baltimore #5, Atiya Wells

Atiya Wells is a pediatric nurse, as well the founder of the Baltimore chapter of Free Forest School, Backyard Basecamp, and BLISS Meadows Farm. BLISS Meadows is currently raising funds to purchase a house adjacent to the farm for a community center, and there’s just one week left!! When she asked if I would help promote it, I proposed an interview, something I’d already been thinking about making a semi-regular part of the column.

Atiya walked me through the 2.5 acre farm site, which consists of a beautiful wildflower meadow, pond, shed, and growing space. Afterwards, we sat in the field and talked. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Abby: So, you said you grew up in Jersey?

Atiya: Yeah, in north New Jersey, which is sorta like the Baltimore of New Jersey. I grew up in the Central Ward, close to Prince Street Projects. We didn’t have much green space, actually I don’t think we had much trees.

Abby: And now you’re a Master Naturalist! What was that path like?

Atiya: I went on my first “official” hike when I was 22, with my now-husband. I was in school and I was stressed out, and after that 20-30 minute hike up to this overlook, I felt so refreshed and amazing, I was like “we need to do this more often!” So we started going almost every weekend.

When we had kids, we started taking our daughter with us, and she absolutely hated it. We would pull into a park, and she would be like “Is this hiking? I hate hiking, I want to go home!” So I began looking for other things that involved us being out together as a family. I thought, maybe she needs some activity to do, maybe hiking is just too boring for her.

I found Free Forest School, and I was like “Oh my gosh, this is amazing.” It’s free, which is exactly what I need. And the major theme is that it’s child-led and child-directed – where we hike, how long we hike, where we stop to play, that’s all up to the kids. We started doing that every Sunday, and my daughter loved it. She had the time to sit and be. The research I’ve read is that kids need that unstructured time to just play. They need to sit down and –

Abby: – start imagining.

Atiya: Yeah! Just use their imaginations and manipulate the environment.

We did it every week, even in the wintertime, and my daughter absolutely adored it! Maybe the second or third week, parents started asking me questions, “hey, what’s this, what’s that” and I knew absolutely nothing. I thought, if I’m going to be leading these groups, I should probably know a little bit about what’s around here!

Abby: So you started it?

Atiya: Yeah, there was no Baltimore chapter here. We now have three sessions running. I had never even been to a Free Forest School, I just read the stuff and was like “I can do this.”

Abby: That’s beautiful! So, how many people did you get out at first?

Atiya: It started off small, maybe twelve to fifteen families, parents and children – it’s not a drop-off thing – sometimes more, sometimes less. Summer, we usually have a big boom, spring break, winter break, because people are trying to figure out what they’re going to do.

Abby: And where did you find the families?

Atiya: Everything’s on Facebook. I invited people I knew from my daughter’s school, then they would invite people. I think we have maybe 300 families in the group [https://www.facebook.com/groups/FreeForestSchoolBaltimoreMD] now. I’m trying to make sure we have access across the city. We have the Double Rock Park session, Herring Run Park, and Cromwell Valley Park. I’ve been trying to get someone on the west side interested in starting one up.

So, I didn’t even know what poison ivy looked like at the time. I started looking for naturalist courses I could take online, because I was working Monday through Friday. I found this thing called the Kamana Naturalist Training Program that’s offered through the Wilderness Awareness School at Washington State. It’s basically a deep dive into your bio-region. They encourage you to find somewhere that’s hyper-local that you can get to every single day.

On google maps, I found Barbara and Parkwood Park, and I was like “we ain’t got no parks around here!” So I came one day, and it was amazing. It’s this seven acre patch of land that’s wooded, lots of birds. I saw hawks nesting, I saw a fox, and I was like “yep, this is the space for me.” So I was traipsing through there for the last two years, honing my naturalist skills, doing plant, animal, insect identification. If I find something interesting, I pick it up and bring it home.

I saw the Maryland Master Naturalist program was going up at Banneker House in the county, so I raised funds to attend that. It’s a very deep dive into Maryland’s ecology. It’s broken down into topics, the first one is geology, and I learned sooo much about rocks, I never knew so much about rocks! And then you do a course on insects, wildflowers, birds, fish. It was a really good program.

I did the Charm City Farms forager’s apprentice course, so I learned a lot about wild edible and medicinal plants. Plants became my life. I started doing the Mid-Atlantic Primitive Skills Meetup, it’s a camping trip, you’re making a fire, tanning a hide, making baskets out of pine needles and stuff.

Learning all these different things, I started noticing that… I’m the only Black person here! So that led me down another path of research – why is this so. And then I had to re-learn history in the process, I’m hearing from my family about the farms in the south that were stolen from them. It was just a rough, rough transition. There’s this thing I learned about called ancestral wounding that happens from these generations of systemic oppression. I may not have been directly affected by it, but my father was, or my father’s father, so I’ve heard these stories.

Then I started trying to think of ways I could get more people of color interested, and also bring nature education to the places it’s needed the most but where it’s not seen as a priority. So that’s when I started my own business, Backyard Basecamp [https://backyardbasecamp.com/].

Abby: When was that?

Atiya: I started officially in November of last year.

Abby: Oh wow! How’s it been going?

Atiya: Really well! I’ve been in some daycares and public schools across the city, introducing nature connection to teachers. Like with a kindergarten class, ok, the kids need to learn to count to five and we’re working on the letter “L”. We’ll lead the class outside, we’ll talk about the letter “L”, what sound it makes, we’ll point out things that start with it. Then I’ll have them collect five acorns, five of the same color flower. We just form a lesson out of nothing, and the teacher is like, “woah, this works!”

Abby: So you were already in the forest, and then at some point you were looking at this spot next to it for farming?

Atiya: I would come out of the woods and sit by the pond, but I had never come far in until about a year ago. That’s when we started trying to figure out who owns this land and how we get in contact with him, we were drafting a letter. One night I couldn’t sleep, so I googled him and just emailed the letter. We talked that night, and he was like “yeah, please, do something.”

This lot doesn’t have a water main, but the house does. One of the reasons we wanted to get access to the house was so we could get utilities. That’s the dream. We’re trying to renovate the house to have cooking classes, space for WWOOFers [https://wwoof.net/], holding workshops.

The ultimate goal for me is to have this be a prototype for how people in a community can invest in their own community by reclaiming space before the developers come and snatch it away and build that apartment building –

Abby: – and just make money off people.

Atiya: Exactly. We really want it to be community engagement, community space, community centered. That’s the framework and the goal of the prototype. I would love to have a Forest School eventually, that’s the five to ten year plan, running camps, a year-round school maybe for pre-school aged kids. Which is why we also need indoor space, you need a working kitchen and a refrigerator.

Abby: So when did you start talking to the woman who owns the house?

Atiya: Early April. We had some conversations, she said she already had a cash offer from a developer. I was like “oh my god, this house has been vacant for who knows how long, why now!” She said $50,000 is the offer, and she really wanted it gone before July.

I said, can you just give us thirty days to try to raise the money, and she agreed. June 9th is our thirty day deadline, then the next phase will be grant-writing to get the space renovated.

Abby: This has been a real whirlwind!

Atiya: Yeah, we’ve just been moving, moving, moving. We’ve got a land use agreement with the owner of the land that we’re finalizing the details on. He says his goal isn’t to own anything, he wants to give it over to the community. That’s another reason we want to have a community center, so it can all be under one entity, not a person.

Abby: So, if you raise the money, who will own the house?

Atiya: BLISS Meadows. It’s a non-profit, we have fiscal sponsorship through Strong City Baltimore while we’re getting it set up.

At first I was a little discouraged, like “oh, we’ve only raised $17,000…” and everybody else was like, “YOU’VE RAISED $17,000 IN 18 DAYS!!”

Abby: That’s pretty darn good!

Atiya: It’s not enough though!

Abby: What are you going to do if you don’t raise all the money?

Atiya: We’re going to tell people that they can request a refund from Gofundme if that’s what they want to do, or we’ll just invest that money into the farm, to building some structures, getting water and electricity, a greenhouse, indoor space for a kitchen. It’ll be what this house was going to be, just on this property.

Abby: Well thank you so much for walking me through it!

Atiya: Thank you for coming and wanting to see it!

This week, an anonymous donor pledged to match the next $10,000 that comes into the campaign, dollar-for-dollar!! Please, please consider donating and/or sharing ASAP — https://www.gofundme.com/believeInBliss/

#BelieveInBliss

#OneBaltimore

Cultural event of the week: Every first Friday, Baltimore Gathering of the Commons (a project of the Baltimore Gift Economy) holds a potluck, documentary screening. This Friday, 6/7, join them for a screening of Baltimore’s Strange Fruit by Eric Jackson of the Black Yield Institute, which examines food apartheid in our city. https://www.facebook.com/events/291533698403048/

Green event of the week: This Monday night, 6/2, is the inaugural meeting of the Baltimore Environmental Stewardship Summit, a loose coalition of activists seeking to move Baltimore forward through discussion. Will feature a screening of a TEDx Talk on climate change, public health, and injustice by a Nobel Laureate. https://www.facebook.com/events/296428134630785/

Song of the week: “I Am Willing” by Holly Near

There is hurting in my family / There is sorrow in my town / There is panic all across the nation / And there is wailing the whole world round / But I am open and I am willing / For to be hopeless would seem so strange / It dishonors those who go before us / So lift me up to the light of change

Photos: Atiya Wells at BLISS Meadows.

One Baltimore #4, Schools

5/26/19

My people tend to be the uncategorizable, those who cross social groups, genders, class boundaries and the like. I recently encountered such a person in Shawn Leak, and it’s been absolutely wonderful comparing notes about Baltimore and their home, DC. While the specifics of our upbringings vary greatly, we both moved through an odd stew of social circles in strangely and starkly divided towns, which gave us certain perspectives.

They asked me the other night about “the whole Baltimore county, Baltimore city thing.” Woooooo. As you may imagine, I went on for a while. I started by reiterating some of the stuff I covered in OB #1 (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/05/16/one-baltimore-1-introduction/) – growing up in Woodlawn, a ten minute walk from the city line on the west side, confused by how I did or didn’t fit into “Baltimore”.

After geography, I explained a bit about my schooling, an essential piece of understanding anyone’s Baltimore story. Much like land, good schools are all about who gets them and who doesn’t.

For kindergarten, I went to Mt. Providence, a private Catholic school around the corner from my house. Despite not being of that faith, my parents had heard good things about it, and wanted to give me a quality start to my education. Most of my memories of it are good, but the strongest is of the time a nun made all my classmates stand in a line and laugh at me for an infraction. Yeesh.

For a few years after that, I walked every day to the local public school, Edmondson Heights Elementary. I remember being a typical kid, living out childhood’s little dramas, making friends and nemeses. I wasn’t thriving, though, getting decent grades for academics but bad marks for focus (wild that it would be another 25 years before I realized I had ADHD).

In 3rd grade, a kid who was always looking for a new way to be mean called me a kike. We were in art class at the time. I had no idea what he was talking about, I’d never heard the word before. The teacher had though, and she sent us right to the office so that I could make a report. I didn’t mind the opportunity to get a bully in trouble, but still wasn’t clear on what we were talking about exactly. I got it when I heard him mutter that it wasn’t his fault that it turned out the art teacher was a dirty Jew too.

Based on that incident, and on my difficulties generally, my parents decided to make a change. I started fourth grade at Krieger Schechter Day School in the well-to-do part of Owings Mills. Caaaaaan you say culture shock? I was raised a reform Jew – religion was a meaningful part of our lives, but mostly confined to the weekend. Now I was steeped in the conservative strain of the tradition, praying in the chapel every weekday morning. Alongside kids who had spent their lives learning a language I didn’t speak and building bonds that I didn’t share, whose families had SO MUCH MORE MONEY than I was used to, and who, with a couple of life-saving exceptions, Did Not Like Me. The education were pretty good I guess, but it never got easy to be there.

Once middle school had finally, finally ended, I went back to my own neighborhood, to Woodlawn High. That school was of course made famous by Serial’s coverage of the case of Adnan Syed. I didn’t know him, but we were there at the same time, a few years separated. There’s a Netflix piece on him now, if you’re not yet familiar with the grave, ongoing miscarriage of justice being done to him.

I feel like it gets lost that Adnan’s case is another example of BPD malfeasance, one now known the world over. While he lived in the county, the murder he supposedly committed occurred in the city, so it was city cops and the city’s “justice system” that put him away as a teenager. His friend Rabia Chaudry brought his story to light and then started the unparalleled Undisclosed podcast, which is currently covering the persecution of Keith Davis, who has spent the last four years in jail for the crime of being shot by BPD. I learned from the podcast that Keith grew up just to the west of us, in Catonsville (https://undisclosed-podcast.com/episodes/state-v-keith-davis-jr/episode-1-sunday-morning/).

Anyway, things felt uhhhhhh a little less great back home than they’d been in third grade. The courtyard was tense, kids in tight clumps divided by lines that were sometimes visible to me and sometimes not. The classes were large and stultifying, the atmosphere very much that of a prison. I made a few cool friends, but I knew it was going to be, if anything, an even longer four years than the last had been.

But then something unexpected happened — partway through the year, I was offered a slot in the theater program at the Carver Center for Arts & Technology, a public magnet high school in Towson. I had auditioned there but hadn’t gotten in… apparently I was at the top of the waiting list though, and when someone dropped out, I got the nod.

Carver, Carver, Carver. I’m not saying it was perfect, but I couldn’t be more grateful for that school. I found my best friend to this day there (@Page Branson’s gorgeous full-color comic is free to read online and it’s wonderful!! https://www.legacyscall.com), as well as a big group of weirdos and queers who accepted me into their midst. The latter half of my freshman year was spent trying to figure out if it could possibly *really* be true that I had a thriving social circle.

All too soon, it was time for college… and I really mean too soon, in that I was late applying to a lot of the scholarships and aid packages. My troubles with focus hadn’t disappeared, but luckily there was a solid institution that accepted me and helped me out. UMBC, just around the corner from where I grew up, launched my adult life and career, and let me leave it without debt.

A contact at UMBC helped me get my first job, at a non-profit. Within a year there, I was working with teachers and students at city schools, helping them plant gardens and trees and such. I have been ever since, over different jobs and volunteer gigs.

To be clear, I’ve never been a teacher. I have three friends from high school and college who went on to become city teachers. Two quit for their mental health and the third is ready to do so. Uniformly, they explain that it’s not because of the kids, the kids have their challenges but they love them… it’s the painfully broken nature of the system, from the federal level to the local, the numbing piles of paperwork, the frustrating and ever-changing rules, the commonplace lack of basic necessities. So much respect to the people who are in it.

If our schools are hard on adults, they’re harder on kids. One could talk about that from a lot of angles, but in the interests of time, let’s look at just one — the infrastructure alone is a scandal. While a few of the city’s 172 schools have been rebuilt in recent years, in general none of the drinking fountains are turned on because of possible lead (yes, there have been “temporary” water coolers at all our schools for over a decade), heating and cooling systems frequently fail, understaffing and high turnover is chronic, social workers and health workers are desperately needed but infrequent, and materials and facilities are on average far behind what their peers in the other Baltimore receive.

Remember when the casino bill passed in ‘07, which dedicated some of their revenue to schools? Billions of dollars have come in from that, right, so why aren’t things better? Except it didn’t come in. O’Malley diverted large portions of the funds for other programs (https://patch.com/maryland/owingsmills/despite-campaign-promises-casinosnot-schoolsare-big-winners-financially) and Hogan has diverted all $1.4B that’s come in during his tenure (https://mseanewsfeed.com/fact-check-hogans-1-4-billion-hypocrisy-ab3ac3a6f330). The General Assembly passed a bill this year to stop that from happening, so there’s that, at least, only a dozen years late.

There is sooo much more to say about Baltimore City schools, but we’re running low on space, so we’ll leave it there for this week.

If you’d like to do something for our schools, try Reading Partners, where you read and do word games with kids who are behind on literacy skills. It’s easy to get started, you can do as little as one hour per week while still making a measurable difference, and you’re gonna fall in love with the kid you work with, it’s just gonna happen. https://readingpartners.org/location/baltimore/

Another way to help young people is to ensure they have safe places to play and learn outdoors. Time in nature has been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD and mitigate the effects of stress and trauma. Atiya Wells and the other organizers there are seeking to purchase a 2.5 acre lot for a community farm project called BLISS Meadows. They have two weeks left to raise the funds, please donate and share! https://www.gofundme.com/BelieveInBliss/

In order for everyone to be able to equally access good schools, they can’t be filled with guns. Women Against Private Police are gathering signatures for a ballot initiative to take away JHU’s private police authorization, and are holding an organizing/training session this Tuesday downtown, check it out! https://www.facebook.com/events/864242583925835/

Remember Shawn, from the first paragraph? They’re a young Black genderqueer activist, and also a Navy vet, who is facing imminent threat of homelessness due to poverty. They have an amazing spirit of hope and determination, but are in a real rough patch right now. They’re working hard to get back on their fee, but could really, really use a little money for basic needs and getting around. Any help at all, including sharing, is tremendously appreciated!! https://cash.app/$itsshawnnow

I know I just posted another fundraiser for a different friend in a similar situation (thank you so much for your support, please keep spreading the love!! https://www.gofundme.com/help-opal-stay-off-the-street-amp-deal-w-the-state), but what can I say, these are the people on the ground. When you ask “why aren’t people in the street right now?!” — these are the people who are. They were protesting Trump’s nomination, they’re leading the way now, and they’re at great risk. As we come to the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, let’s not forget that rowdy queer & trans activists are the reason we have anything today!!

#FreeAdnanSyed #FreeKeithDavisJr #JusticeforTyroneWest #OneBaltimore #StonewallWasARiot

Cultural event of the week: Daniel Kahn & the Painted Bird is coming to town, this is not a drill!! Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl is bringing them to 2640 St. Paul this Monday night, 5/27. Sliding scale, no one turned away for lack of funds. Alienation Klezmer / Yiddish Punk Cabaret. My god it’s good. Don’t miss it, seriously.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2082371415393290/

Green events of the week:There’ll be a Grassroots Townhall on the Central Maryland Transit Plan this Thursday evening, 5/30, at the Impact Hub. Transportation is crucial to a healthy city/region, and our system is not up to our needs!!

https://www.facebook.com/events/409114723017990/

Song of the week: “Freedom is a Verb” by Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird

And no one gets the freedom they were told that they deserve / ‘Til they realize that freedom’s not a noun / It’s a verb, it’s a verb! Freedom is a verb! / Something never finished, never done! / It’s something you must make, it’s something you must take / It’s something you must constantly become

Photo: Cartoon, shared with permission, by writer and artist Dale Beran, a city school teacher at the time of the Uprising, who witnessed the police provocation of students first-hand and gives a vivid illustrated account here: https://medium.com/the-nib/targeted-in-baltimore-665f5b003ee1. Follow him at https://daleberan.tumblr.com/ or https://twitter.com/daleberan.

One Baltimore #3, Love

5/19/19

How many people say the words “I love Baltimore” every day? The city and the county combined have a population of 1.4 million. Even if only a tenth of 1% of the population were to say the phrase on any given day, that’s 1,400 people right there, and of course countless others who don’t live here have deep ties. I’m gonna say at least a thousand people a day seems reasonable.

A thousand declarations of love, a thousand different meanings. Each person is different, and so each person has at least a slightly different image that rises to the top of their heart when they say those words.

One person loves the block they grew up on, another loves their grandma’s house that they visit every summer. One person loves the rolling map of the land in their mind, another loves the small village which they never leave. One person loves their corner of the arts scene, another loves their corner on the street. One person loves the potential for justice, another the potential for profit.

In the spring of 2015, shortly after the Uprising over the death of Freddie Gray, I got my first tattoo for love. I’d always liked the idea of getting one, but didn’t have an image in mind. People told me I’d know when it was time, and they were right. When I saw the Baltimore-heart tattoo that the Baltimore Tattoo Museum was giving out for $50 a pop, I knew.

I normally dither over important decisions, but this one was simple and clear, made with a surety that you don’t examine in the moment. I got the yellow and black hatched heart on my forearm, where I could see it every day. My partner J went with me, and got the same tatt in the same place. I’ve heard that hundreds of people have it.

(Are you one? Leave a comment or PM me if so, I’d be interested to check in. I think I know at least ten of us, mostly in the theater scene, for whatever reason.)

When we first heard about the big marches for Freddie Gray and read his story in the paper, a handful of friends and loved ones and I had joined the crowds in Sandown and marched with them. We knew there was brutality and corruption in the police force, we detested it, and it felt good to join a huge movement in progress.

The days that followed brought a lot of things. I had volunteer street medic friends who were maced by the cops for trying to help a struggling man on the ground, I had a friend in the National Guard horrified at taking up a gun to patrol the streets of his own city.

It was a strange and powerful time for a lot of people. A very revealing time, I think, for those of us who had thought we cared about the liberation of Black Baltimore before but hadn’t acted most of the time as if we particularly did. It made me ask myself what I mean when I say I love Baltimore, and whether I behave as if it’s true.

The tattoo was a brand, a way to ensure that I didn’t forget the passion that I felt in those weeks to listen better and to try to make change in myself and in my home. I love Baltimore and it’s hurting — I can’t ignore or forget that, ever. That love has to be a part of me.

In order to love a person, you need to really get to know that person. I think it works the same on the macro scale… in order to love a place, a tribe, a people, an idea, you have to seek to know it in all of its beauty and its struggles, including when it’s uncomfortable.

One thing I’ve been struggling to understand about Baltimore is its police department, so notorious for corruption, graft, brutality, and for contributing to violence on the streets rather than helping to quell it. It shocked me to learn that Baltimore City is in the extremely unusual position of not having local control of its own police force. How could it be that BPD is a state controlled agency, and what does it mean?

It was just before the outbreak of the Civil War that Baltimore City lost control of its police force. The city at the time was run by the American Party, aka the Know-Nothing party, so called because, when asked about the party’s activities, members were to say they knew nothing.

In reaction to a wave of poor Catholic migrants, the party was violently anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic, killing people and openly rigging elections. The state of Maryland took over the BPD to get it out of the hands of the Know-Nothings, and they’ve had it ever since. In 1978, the mayor was given the right to hire and fire the commissioner, and also sets the budget (which comes from city coffers), but that’s it.

So the state technically controls BPD, but doesn’t fund or manage it. The city only very nominally manages it. BPD alone manages BPD, at the end of the day. The officers largely come from far outside the city, commuting in to do their daily rounds.

All internal affairs records are secret. There is no transparency. No accountability. No trust. No love. And so many terrible, terrible stories.

That’s why the monitor for the federal Department of Justice’s Consent Decree with BPD said recently “The Baltimore Police Department is a dysfunctional organization, a highly dysfunctional organization.” That’s why an ex-cop turned corruption investigator said in response, “He’s right. There’s a bad, bad culture within the police department right now, that’s for certain. They still have that culture of isolation that’s been us-against-them, them being the citizens of Baltimore.” (https://www.baltimorebrew.com/2019/01/25/ex-cop-turned-corruption-investigator-on-what-it-would-take-to-reform-baltimore-police/).

The gang activities on the force, the casual brutality, the official reports often proven to be false, the innocent people held for months and years in the enormous downtown jail for no reason, the trail of bodies… these are the wounds that BPD inflicts, the way it fuels the cycle of poverty, violence, and incarceration in our town.

When an officer tries to speak up, he gets death threats and a rat pinned to his windshield, and is forced to flee the force (https://www.citypaper.com/news/mobtownbeat/bcp-whistleblower-cop-joseph-crystal-recalls-his-battles-with-the-baltimore-police-departments-blue-wall-20150120-story.html). Or if he tries to testify against fellow officers, he’s found dead the day before, his new partner the only person nearby, and then is declared a suicide… after the force puts the neighborhood under an unconstitutional lock down for weeks while looking for the killer they swore was out there (we all should have been in the streets for Sandown then) (https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/bs-md-ci-suiter-family-speaks-out-20190501-story.html).

This culture of silence or violence is why it took a cop from outside the city to finally report the Gun Trace Task Force to the FBI (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/when_cops_become_robbers). Residents were screaming for attention to the corruption and brutality, staff at the City State’s Attorney Office were doing the same, trying in vain to get Marilyn Mosby to do anything. There was not one righteous person in power here who did something.

In the last Annapolis legislative session, the state House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill sponsored by city legislators to give Baltimore back its own police force, like everywhere else has. But in the state Senate, Bill Ferguson and others shot it down, because we’d have less protection from lawsuits for civil rights violations (https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bs-md-local-control-police-20190405-story,amp.html).

Hey, I’ve got a wild idea. Let’s take a hold of the situation and REDUCE THE NUMBER OF CIVIL RIGHTS VIOLATIONS. That’s a winning cost savings strategy, right there (it actually is).

They say we have to look at it more. So ok, the session is closed until 2020, let’s look at it. Call your state Senators and ask them what kind of look they’re taking at local control for BPD between now and January, and how they’ll make sure it passes.

From there, I think we need to take the path of Camden, New Jersey, as Delegate Bilal Ali has suggested. They had a big brutality problem, and in response they finally disbanded their police force and completely rebuilt it with a big focus on community policing. While the city still struggles, the murder rate and the violent crime rate finally went down for the first time in a long time after they did that.

This is how I’m going to devote myself this year. Local control. Disband and reform. Break the cycle of ruining lives, breaking up families, and paying out huge sums of money that should be going to our schools and watermains. I love my city and I will see it be free.

Women Against Private Police is organizing a petition drive to repeal the authorization for JHU’s private police force, download and sign it here: https://noprivatepolice.org

I missed the most recent #WestWednesday because of a work obligation, but after hearing that Tawanda Jones was taunted that night by one of the cops responsible for the death of her brother, Tyrone West (https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2571140782898669&id=100000083181860), I’m all the more determined to make it out this Wednesday.

My dear friend Opal Phoenix, who was arrested when the cops shut down the JHU Sit-In the other week, needs help, please share and donate: https://www.gofundme.com/help-opal-stay-off-the-street-amp-deal-w-the-state

#LocalControl
#DisbandBPD
#OneBaltimore
#FreeKeithDavisJr

Cultural event of the week: The Baltimore Rock Opera Society opens its eleventh original full-length production, Welcome to Shakesville, this Friday 5/24 at the beautiful Zion Lutheran Church downtown! It’s a psychedelic 60s-style puppet-driven show about a Black woman dealing with a bunch of foolishness (topical!).

So so many incredibly talented people are involved with this production!! I really can’t recommend the experience of a BROS show enough. If you love music, great actors, spectacle, and having your face melted, you can’t get more fun for your buck.

I’ve done a few hours of volunteering here and there for sets and puppets for this show, and will be slinging drinks and taking tickets in the lobby the first couple of weeks. The run is a whole month, so there’s plenty of time, but they often sell out, so my recommendation is to buy your tix now!

https://m.facebook.com/events/428658361202386

Green event of the week: This Tuesday at 6pm at Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church next to Druid Hill Park, join BlueWaterBaltimore for a Pollution Reporting 101 & Outfall Screening Blitz training, where you’ll learn how to recognize water pollution in your neighborhood and what you can do about it.

https://bluewaterbaltimore.org/events/pollution-reporting-mtlebanon/

Song of the week:  “Sound of da police” by KRS-One
Take the word ‘overseer,’ like a sample / Repeat it very quickly in a crew for example / Overseer. Overseer. Overseer, Overseer / Officer, Officer, Officer, Officer! / Yeah, officer from overseer / You need a little clarity? Check the similarity!

Photo: My tattoo.

One Baltimore #2, Waves

5/11/19

I had a wonderful conversation last week with my friend Jason Weixelbaum. He’s got a doctorate in history, with a focus on when and how big changes happen. We talked about how economies experience regular waves over time, up and down. The history-watchers track those waves, calculate the average time between the crests, and then use that to predict how much more likely it gets each year that a big change will start.

We’re down way low on the graph in Baltimore. We don’t know if we’re at the bottom yet, but we know we must be close, that change has to come. We can feel the potential in the air, odds increasing every year. Question is, when the wave finally rises, will we ride it or will we be washed away? Will the children of Baltimore finally prosper or will they get pushed out?

Who is Baltimore FOR? Is it for its people, or is it for the rich landlords, be they…

It all comes down to land — who owns it and who pays for the privilege of existing on it. Since we’re talking history, take the Roman Republic. I was very affected, some years back, by the podcast The History of Rome by historian Mike Duncan. It’s a methodical but entertaining and accessible look at the cultural, economic, and military history of the Republic/Empire.

Rome was set up unequal from the start, with some citizens better than others, and many not citizens at all. Over time this led to excesses of corruption and extreme wealth concentration. Larger and larger farms pushed out small landholders, causing great misery and migration. The urban poor, lacking jobs, relied on charity from the city’s elite to survive.

Eventually, the anger of the people was great enough that they managed to elect a couple of representatives who fought for their interests… but any efforts at reform, particularly around the distribution of land, were met by the Senate with unyielding refusal. The elites refused to make a single meaningful concession, using any and all dirty tricks at their disposal to resist. The system broke down under the stress and dictators ruled.

Land in Baltimore City is a paradox. We have both too much of it and too little. Too many houses with no one living in them, yet too few places for people to live. What does it say about a community when it’s full of vacant homes with homeless people sleeping on the street in front of them? Who is that city for?

When the houses finally fall down, we’re left with vacant lots, posing another puzzle — too many patches of green, yet too few places for children to play, too few plots for people to cultivate their own food. We know our kids need to spend more time outside to develop properly (the research on this is deep and intense) and we know we need to grow more of our own food to be healthy and resilient.

In the face of all of the immense and immediate needs in our community, surely a city that was for its people would parcel out its “excess” land amongst those who need it and who’ll use it, right? Luckily, we do have many who think this way, and exciting things are underway.

One with which I’m familiar is Baltimore Green Space, which over the last dozen year has worked with neighborhoods to protect 14 spaces, including community gardens, pocket parks, horseshoe pits, and forest patches. If you want to see the most beautiful and cherished places in all corners of our city: https://baltimoregreenspace.org/preservation/our-protected-spaces/

Did you know that 53% of renters and 40% of homeowners in Baltimore City pay more than 1/3 of their income (the max considered “affordable”) for housing? I learned that from the Baltimore Housing Roundtable, which is focused on public housing, co-op’s, land trusts etc. Just the other week, Mike Tyson was telling me about the new Harbor West Collaborative in his part of town, doing similar things.

Let’s wrap with an update on the JHU Sit-In. After 37 days, rather than meet with the students, JHU prez R. Daniels called in the Baltimore Police Department. Fun fact, someone from UMBC told me that students there once occupied a building, and that Freeman Hrabowski rushed down to talk to them immediately. Another fun fact, a former JHU staff staff member says they spent years “hearing from people at a pay grade above me how difficult/micromanaging/bullying [Daniels] is.”

You can read more about the arrests in any of the many news outlets where they were covered:

Look at that list. The whole world is watching this. Are we?

On the eve of the arrests, there was rumored to be a police raid coming that morning at 3am and backup was requested. If nothing else, I have a phone and can document what I see, so I went and hung out, ate some fruit, led some stretching exercises, made conversation.

By 3:30, I went home. An hour and a half later, 80 officers removed the handful of unarmed protesters by force. Seven people were arrested, including one of my oldest friends, Opal Phoenix, who was subjected to degrading and bigoted treatment that completely violates BPD policy, which, as Jamie Grace Alexander points out in the Brew article linked above, just proves the point that there is no accountability.

All those arrested have since been released. In order to meet them as they came out, the weekly West Wednesday protest was held in front of Central Booking. For those just tuning in, West Wednesday, now in its 301st consecutive week, is a rally/protest/vigil for victims of police brutality organized by Tawanda Jones in honor of her brother Tyrone West, who died in the custody of BPD.

It was such a beautiful event, y’all. People shared food and spoke about the harm the had been done to them and others, the importance of continuing to fight. One man, Black, spoke passionately about how he never thought he’d see the day when we all came together like this. We took the street and walked down Fallsway, chanting “Free Keith Davis / Drop the charges!” and “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we will see this prison fall!”

If the waves of history teach us anything, it’s to pay attention right now. Student movements and solidarity move mountains. While the sit-in has ended, I think a lot of us are seeing this as a beginning.

#OneBaltimore

#FreeKeithDavisJr

Cultural event of the week: Up at The Peale Center through 6/2 is “No Walls, No Bans, No Borders”, “a benefit photography and art exhibit featuring the work of Baltimore-based activists connecting ideas of the violence of capitalism, colonialism, and the racist/fascist state both locally here in Baltimore and globally.”
https://www.thepealecenter.org/events/no-walls-no-bans-no-borders/

Green events of the week:
At the War Memorial on Tuesday night, hear Joshua Harris (a strong contender for Mayor in 2020 if he chooses to run), and others on the whys and hows of the Green New Deal: https://m.facebook.com/events/404293606819883
&
Wednesday afternoon/evening, the State DOT is having an open house on North Ave. about setting transit priorities for the next 25 years. After so many years of neglect, we NEED to be at the table. Special thanks to Richard DeShay Elliott for sharing. https://m.facebook.com/events/449004198978176/

Song of the week: “Subdivision” by Ani Difranco
And I’m wondering what it will take / For my city to rise / First we admit our mistakes / Then we open our eyes / The ghosts of old buildings are haunting parking lots / In the city of good neighbors that history forgot


Photo: Outside the massive downtown jail.

One Baltimore #1, Introduction

5/4/19

I’ve known for a long time that I need to fundamentally change how I interact with social media in order to stay healthy and still be on it. It messes me up, my brain chemistry is way too hooked by it. I’ve been so deeply distracted and tired and anxious, and yeah I’d probably/definitely be all those things anyway, but facebook in particular elevates all of it, even at the same time that it connects me to so much that’s going on around me.

So I’ve been changing up how I use it. Taking breaks, focusing on certain types of posts, making everything public to destroy the illusion of privacy for myself, adding people on the basis that they seem cool and are in my orbit (don’t sweat it if you thought all this time I must be an old friend you’d forgotten or something and you wanna hit that unsubscribe).

I’m an impulsive communicator by nature, I want to share everything and comment on everything. But when you share everything, no one sees your posts unless you’re already extremely popular – that’s the nature of the current news feed algorithm, you have to space things out. And when you comment on everything, you get hooked into a hundred conversations at once. It’s just too much to have as the background noise of my life.

Opening things up seems to help me be more judicious in my postings, most of the time, at least. I made a post yesterday about the kids in the concentration camps on the southern border and I think I went overboard with it in some ways, ended up deleting it. I’ll reiterate a few key things – 1) there is a massive crime against humanity happening to thousands of children, 2) we need to take it with the utmost seriousness and fight it if we can, 3) Hopkins has millions of dollars of contracts with ICE and is complicit, 4) JHU prez Ron Daniels (the 7th highest-paid private university president in the US, for the record, making twice what most of his peers make) refuses to meet with students about this despite a one-month sit-in and a letter co-signed by 100 faculty (https://www.facebook.com/TheGarlandSitIn/photos/a.359825954662357/364921690819450/).

So, yeah, follow JHU Sit-In and Hopkins Coalition Against ICE on social media. Stop by Garland Hall (if you put it into google maps, it’ll pop right up) to show support and drop off food, come for the open mic night tonight, stay for the dance party and board games. Write/call: president@jhu.edu / 410-516-8068 and provost@jhu.edu / 410-516-3355. Share the word about this. Public attention and pressure is needed on JHU’s relationship with ICE, overwhelming student and faculty objections to a private police force, and the failure of leadership of Ron Daniels.

Anyway, all of that is to say that I decided to start a column (thanks for reading my first column so far) and have that be the only thing I do on Facebook (other than interacting with events, groups, and sharing emergencies and occasional announcements). Once a week, 1,000-2,000 words a go. Framing it this way for myself, pretending that we got a new alternative weekly (RIP City Paper) and they offered me a spot, feels a lot more workable than just sternly telling myself that I should post less and be more focused when I do. This WordPress blog I added as an after-thought.

The name, One Baltimore, is a phrase I’ve been thinking about for years. I grew up in Woodlawn, by the I-70 park & ride on the western edge of Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park. It’s a mixed-race, working-class area, same redbrick rowhouses as in many of its sister neighborhoods to the east over the city line.

I was so confused by it all when I was small. We lived in Baltimore, I knew that, but other times people said “Baltimore” and they didn’t mean me and my family, they meant this place a few minutes’ drive away (which in my mental map, basically consisted of the twisting woods of the park, the Aquarium, the Zoo, the BMA, and the JCC in Park Heights, with some distinctive thoroughfares in between). How could we be in Baltimore but not in Baltimore? And, a more vague question in my mind: what was this place that seemed to encompass all the best places?

More on all that another time. It’s been such an intense week. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, I was in DC for this progressive political convention called People’s Wave. It was refreshing and intense, tons of people talking about climate change and mass incarceration with equal passion. A lot of the focus was on healthcare, which seems very wise to me. It touches us all, it’s terribly broken and exploitative, and the lack of it is debilitating our communities – how can we be effective on anything else when our communities are debilitated?

On Tuesday, Congress debated a Medicare for All bill for the first time. Along with friends from Progressive Maryland, the Maryland Progressive Healthcare Coalition and others, I went to a brief protest at Ruppersburger’s office, then to two long conversations with staff at Hoyer and Van Hollen’s offices.

You know the amazing thing about the group that organized the convention, People’s Action? Their underlying political organizing strategy is literally just for people to practice having deep conversations with other people in our communities and finding out how we can stand in solidarity with each other. There’s a lot of work layered on top of that, of course, but that’s the base. I’m really about it.

Then came Wednesday, when Tawanda Jones held the 300th West Wednesday vigil in a row for her brother, Tyrone West. It was the 70th Yom HaShoah aka Holocaust Remembrance Day, it was the 129th International Worker’s Day aka May Day, it was the 29th day of the JHU Sit-in and the first day the sit-in claimed the entire admin building, it was the eve of Mayor Pugh’s resignation, and everything felt like it magnified everything else.

That night was incredibly important to me. I wrote a long post about it (https://www.facebook.com/abby.cocke/posts/10216926160920258) but barely even touched on so much that was good about it. I know there were a lot of people involved, but I have to give special props to Baltimore Bloc for their role in safely blocking the street and running the mics.

The young man who was leading the chants as we walked down St. Paul and then around in front of the broad BMA steps had the most excellent energy. There was the familiar – “What do we want?” “Justice!” “When do we want it? Now! If we don’t get it, shut it down!” – and then we got more specific, calling for justice for a long litany of names from around the country and the city, and also for neighborhoods, Sandtown, Westside, Mideast.

Then came the equally familiar — “Show me what democracy looks like” “This is what democracy looks like!” – but after democracy, he asked us about community, motivation, dedication, kinship, friendship, and love. Each time we thundered back louder that it was us. What is solidarity? The state of being solid. That night, moreso than in a very long time, maybe ever in my life, I felt solid with all of Baltimore, not still straddling some weird and confusing line (though of course I still am, in many ways).

Later that night, I thought a lot about Keith Davis, Jr. He was attacked by BPD over a fake accusation of murder, shot 44 times and nearly killed, and now is being prosecuted over and over and over in a legal nightmare as they attempt to silence him. It is so, so, so bad. If you don’t know much yet, please check out some of the news:

I thought about my sister. I imagined this happening to her. I don’t know anything about Keith as a person, but I took all of the pain of imagining Miriam going through that series of events, and tried to merge it with my feelings about him. What if this man was my brother? What if he really was, like those crazy stories you hear sometimes about twins separated at birth and adopted out to different homes who only find each other much later?

Well damn, I’d at least show up for his court date on July 12th — https://www.facebook.com/events/281353249417978/ Please invite people, share, and join if you can!

You can also find this column on Facebook under the name Abby Sea. Please feel free to message me if you want to talk about getting involved in local political organizing, local DIY theater, and/or in local greening efforts, particularly around gardening, farming, trees, and schools (my day job).

Cultural event of the week: check out the Baltimore Mixtape all this weekend at the YNot Lot in Station North, this is such an amazing collection of local bands, it’s going to be wonderful and I can’t wait to stop by in a bit!! https://www.mt.cm/baltimore-mixtape

Green event of the week: The second annual Baltimore Wildlife Week just started, and there are a bunch of parties, art shows, tours, talks, and such going on. If you think nature is cool, it’s a LOT! Events this weekend are at Charm City MeadWorks in Johnston Square, love those guys and their drinks! https://www.nwf.org/Mid-Atlantic/Baltimore

Song of the week: “Pot Holes” by Ezra Furman 
And I admit it’s inconvenient /To get robbed in a combat zone / Well, shit, I had to cancel my credit card / Had to buy me a brand new phone / But it’s a beautiful city /And the cops are on our side / I mosey down to check out the angry mob / Just to keep myself occupied