One Baltimore #10, Borders

7/15/19

I talked a bit about the Charm City Kitty Club, that queer theater group I’m in, a few weeks ago (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/06/11/one-baltimore-6-pride/). Each of our shows features a variety of artists from our community, interspersed with short scenes around a theme. Back in the late winter, through our usual messy but productive collective creative process, we’d decided that our next show, the one at the end of June, would be about walls. We called it “Claws Up, Walls Down.”

We do cabaret in order to have fun and express ourselves, but, as a group ethic, we also strive to say things that are relevant and that matter to us, to be honest and real. As such, if we were going to tackle the topic of walls in 2019, we knew we’d have to really commit ourselves to doing it justice. We approached it from as many angles as possible, collaborating on a script that in the end covered everything from gentrification to Stonewall to emotional boundaries. I’m really, really proud of it.

I had the honor of drafting the Stonewall skit. In it, modern day reporters travel back in time and interview protesters who are heading to support their friends against the police. I played one of the protesters, innocently exclaiming “wow, so you’re really saying everything is perfect in the future?” upon hearing of the gains we’ve made as a community. This made Kris’s reporter character break and admit that, no, things are very, very not perfect. The skit ends with an admonition from ’69 to ’19 to keep fighting.

The other skit I wrote was a press conference with Lord Walltimore, head of Wahlco Development (shout out to The Bell Foundry). He has a plan to wall in the community gardens for profit, but is hustled off-stage by protesters shouting “Grow flowers, not corporate powers!”

So, that gives you a sense of where my head was at a couple of weeks ago, when the show was days from opening and Opal and I had just decided to go on a road trip to the border for Independence Day. With rehearsals, I had almost no time whatsoever to plan. Opal was busy too. We laid down the basic logistics for our trip, booked a room for two nights, but other than that we were flying pretty blind.

Why the urgency? Well, like I explained before we left (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/06/25/one-baltimore-8-freedom/), on the one hand it was an emotional reaction to the news coming out of Texas about the horrible mistreatment of refugee children, and on the other hand it very clearly connected to the work we’d been doing, the causes on which we’d been spending our time here at home. We left feeling hopeful, nervous, wired, and very much under-prepared.

Driving for a day and a half through middle America without really stopping except when we had to was… well, it was a trip. For several states in a row, nearly every gas station sold bumper stickers promoting building the damn wall, shooting people, Space Force (fucking Space Force??), and, bizarrely, unicorns (I suppose, for the ladies). As two small-ish, gender non-conforming city-folk, we were tense. But the trip passed without incident, and the sky on the plains was breath-taking.

Along the way, we did some research. Friends had given us various leads. I spoke at length with a woman who had volunteered at Annunciation House, a shelter for migrants in El Paso who are being released to US sponsors but who need short-term lodging and care. I also connected with Zackary Sholem Berger, a doctor and JHU professor who had himself been involved with the JHU Sit-In, and who turned us on to #CitizenPresence, a crowd-funded movement to bring people to the infamous child detention center in Clint, Texas, which, along with El Paso, we’d settled on as our destination.

Our first stop was at our lodgings in New Mexico. It was stunningly beautiful there, the land layered from desert to tundra to crags to forested mountains. At night, the milky way spilled across a broad sky bursting with stars.

In our small room, we made a sign and a banner. The sign said “Baltimore for Border Justice”, with a red circle with a line through it around the “ICE” part at the end. The banner we made from a large trans pride flag, on which we printed “Rest in Power, Johana Medina Leon”, in honor of a trans woman from El Salvador who died from lack of simple medical care after a month in ICE custody.

First, we went down to El Paso, to Annunciation House. We didn’t know what we’d find. The website for the House said that all volunteers would need to commit for at least two weeks, speak at least a little Spanish, and submit to a background check in advance. On the other hand, my contact had described a chaotic situation, hundreds of families continually arriving and continually in need of things as simple as running to the laundromat or picking up formula, where anyone could make a difference. Complicating the situation further, we read that things had abruptly changed while we were in transit, with the majority of families now being held on the Mexico side of the border

We weren’t sure at first that we’d arrived. The building was hiding in plain sight, the windows covered, no signs or markings of any kind on the doors. I called the number on the website, and a young volunteer came out. She was pleased to see us, but apologetic that they couldn’t use our help right now.

She confirmed what we’d seen about the sudden drop-off in arrivals. She said that all they really needed at the moment was money (https://annunciationhouse.org/support/house-needs/), but encouraged us to email the volunteer coordinator if we planned to come back. We gave her a wad of cash and went on our way.

Next, we tried to go to the nearby Santa Fe bridge, where migrants are being caged in the desert for weeks at a time. I’d read that a concerned citizen had walked up and actually managed to talk to some of the people there for a good fifteen minutes before being shuffled off by border agents (www.texasmonthly.com/news/border-patrol-outdoor-detention-migrants-el-paso/amp/). Maybe we could do the same.

It wasn’t to be. Google maps tried to take us down a closed road, and in attempting to turn around, we ended up accidentally going the wrong way down a one-way street for a block, and were immediately stopped by the El Paso police. I babbled away at them sheepishly, and they let us off with a warning, but we were spooked. We got some great Mexican food, and then headed down to Clint.

The highway from El Paso to Clint, about a half hour to the southeast, winds along the Rio Grande. It was odd to look to the right and see the city of Juarez across the river, the mountains rising above it. Another world so close, walled off from our own.

Clint was a dusty little town, as ordinary as any of the others through which we’d passed. We got to the detention center around 7pm, the start time of a rally we’d learned about along the way. Again, we weren’t sure at first that we were in the right place. All we could see from the road was a very long fence topped with barbed wire, with beige privacy screening blocking the view beyond.

We parked on the street nearby and contemplated the large compound before us, then walked up. A sign at the front entrance showed us that we were indeed in the right place, though we were the only ones there. We took a couple pictures to mark our presence.

Just then, more people started arriving, fifteen or twenty in total. Opal attached the banner for Johana to the fence, and I stood by the road with my sign alongside others with their own. A number of people gave us those small, supportive honks as they passed. A few blasted longer, less friendly honks at us, with the occasional middle finger or shout.

We chatted with the folks around us. People had come from Philly, DC, New York, Denver, Seattle, fellow city dwellers who’d driven or flown here to the desert for the same reasons we had. There was a small crew present from the New York Times. You can see our backs in one of the pix that goes with their subsequent article, “Hungry, Scared and Sick: Inside the Migrant Detention Center in Clint, Tex.” (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/07/06/us/migrants-border-patrol-clint.html).

A border patrol bus passed in front of us, carrying five or six teenage boys. It turned the far corner of the compound and went to a gate, taking them inside. We all hurried to the fence, peering between the screens, and chanted “Estamos con los niños” — we are with the children. It hurt to know that it wasn’t really true, that nothing we were doing would take them away from this place.

Zack, the doctor and professor whom I mentioned earlier, gathered us up in a circle and read poetry into a small pink megaphone. At that point, some people had left, and there were only a dozen of us still on site. It struck me that, of the group, a full quarter of us were from Baltimore.

I sat before the banner for Johana and chanted the mourner’s Kaddish, the ancient Jewish prayer for the dead. And then the most striking thing happened. A young Latinx person came up to us. He said he’d stopped because he saw the flag of our people, something he’d never expected to see here. He’d read Johana’s story on his phone after pulling over, and wanted to stand with us for a minute.

The whole trip felt worth it for that moment. To give hope, solace, and support to one sibling.

With night falling, we headed back to New Mexico. Under the stars, we talked about what we were doing here, what it meant. We got philosophical. As a trans feminine and a trans masculine person, we represented a crossing of gender borders that in other times and places had been considered sacred, indispensable. As opponents of the intersecting discriminatory systems that rule our lives, we fought against the walls and borders of redlining and jails back home, barriers just as deadly and hateful as the ones we’d come to confront here.

Baltimore for Border Justice — in that moment, the phrase seemed to encapsulate the purpose of our very lives, everything we cared about from the most personal to the most universal (and after all, didn’t I start One Baltimore by talking about the border between the city and the county?). We decided to give the name to a new org, possibly to be incorporated as a non-profit, one we’d build upon our return. BFBJ would center the plight of the undocumented, the most deeply oppressed in the time of Trump, but would also focus on racial and gender justice, on mobility and accessibility, on liberation for all.

The next morning, before beginning the drive home, we detoured to the White Sands desert, a strange and magical place that hurt my eyes but revived my spirit. Opal had been there once before, many years ago, and we found a twisted but vigorous tree that she’d sat under then, the place she goes in her mind’s eye when she meditates.

Now we’re back. Now the real work begins, and we’re far from alone. Two nights after returning, we went to Real Talk Tho, The Real News Network’s monthly community conversation, this time focused on immigration policy (will be posted here at some point: https://therealnews.com/real-talk-tho). There we heard a lot of intense and useful things, and gained new local contacts and information. The following night, we went to the 310th #WestWednesday (protest/rally for Tyrone West and other victims of police brutality) to find Tawanda Jones talking about our journey, and encouraging us to come up to the mic to share more about it (thank you!!).

We have a lot of groundwork to lay, a lot of planning to do. One of our first big goals is to get a van and return to the border with a larger crew, with the mission of building awareness and solidarity. If you’d like to join us, chip in, be part of a benefit show, etc., you know where to find me.

We’re also looking more into what we can do here, maybe providing meals and rides to recently arrived migrants at the Greyhound station. If you have a little time, one way you can help right now, no special skills required, is by offering basic court support to detainees going through the legal system. Sanctuary Streets Baltimore is organizing this, sign up at http://www.shorturl.at/kEH69.

Special thanks to those who made this first trip possible!! Before we’d ever heard of a project like #CitizenPresence that’s helping pay people’s way, Jo, Bonnie, J.D., and Shanna sent us money for gas. Charles baked cookies for us, and Dusty helped get us on the road when car trouble seemed about to derail us. Miriam and Alice gave us valuable connections that served as our roadmap. Bethany gave us a bed on the way home, a true life-saver. Thank you, thank you.

Watch this space for more. We’re never giving in, we’re never giving up. We will all be free.

#OneBaltimore #BaltimoreForBorderJustice #BFBJ #FreeKeithDavisJr #JusticeForTyroneWest #WeAreAllSiblings

Cultural Event of the Week: Man, I sure do love all the weird, immersive shit The Peale Center’s been hosting lately, especially the stuff by Submersive Productions, LLC. “Altar Ego is a completely self-contained 45-60 minute multi-sensory experience for a group of up to five people. You are invited to a unique house party to learn more about your “model citizen” Vietnamese-American neighbor, and explore the boundaries between home and not home. There may be ghosts. (Actualized by Kim Le)”. 7/17, 7/20, 7/21.

http://www.facebook.com/events/463942940841842/

Green Event of the Week: On Wednesday, 7/17 at 6:30pm, the National Aquarium is hosting a lecture on youth climate activism by the high-school aged co-founder of Zero Hour, with other young organizers and activists from around the country in attendance. Rad! $15 non-members, $10 members.

https://www.aqua.org/Visit/Activity-Calendar/mlb-youth-climate-leaders

Song of the Week: “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” by K’naan, Snow Tha Product, Riz MC, and Residente

Somos como las plantas que crecen sin agua / Sin pasaporte Americano / Porque la mitad de gringolandia / Es terreno Mexicano / Hay que ser bien hijo e puta / Nosotros les sembramos el árbol y ellos se comen la fruta / Somos los que cruzaron / Aquí vinimos a buscar el oro que nos robaron

One Baltimore #9-B, Opal

7/10/19

Last week, I posted the first part of an interview with Opal Phoenix about her experiences with the JHU Sit-In this spring, in which she describes why and how she got involved. Below is the second part of that interview, covering two attacks on community and student activists.

If you’ve never experienced anything like this, it may sound a bit fantastical. I stand by this account — I have spoken to multiple people involved in each incident, have seen video evidence related to the first, and was present for part of the second. Previously, I omitted information about the attacks from my writings about the sit-in because I was told that it could complicate potential legal cases against the attackers. This concern has now been cleared up, and it’s a relief to be able to speak freely.

Read part one here: https://one-baltimore.org/2019/07/05/one-baltimore-9-a-opal/

Me: So these Hopkins cops are not just going to be patrolling around the students, but also would have jurisdiction over a certain number of blocks outside the campus. You’ve lived in this area, very close to the campus, for a very long time, this is your home. So this was very personal for you, you’re organizing with the students, and they move to take over the building.

Opal: Yeah, I was involved with the escalation. I knew it was dangerous but also I knew it was within the realm of historical civil disobedience.

Me: In this very building, even [https://twitter.com/ar_holter/status/1114972482266697735].

Opal: I left that night [May 1st, the night the students took over Garland Hall] when Tawanda Jones wanted someone to walk her to her car, and that’s when I ran into Tony Millon [this individual was unknown to Opal and the others at the time, but they found him on Facebook later], who was hanging out by the statue. He’s a bulky dude with a beard and a cap on his head. First he says “which side are you on?”, and we’re like, “Justice,” and then we said “No private police.” And he said “With all the rapes and murders in Baltimore City, you’re worried about the police?”

Me: Such a common sentiment.

Opal: One group was trying to talk to him, like “please leave us alone”, and another group keeps taking Tawanda to her car. I’m kind of in the middle of those two groups, unsure of what to do. I see he’s in my friend’s face and I hear him yell “Black on Black crime is the real problem in Baltimore City!” I stepped up to him a little bit briskly and was like “That’s racist!”

He sees me, gets this look of “Waaugh!” on his face, just surprise and anger, and he straight up punches me in the face. I fall to the ground and I look up and he’s fighting my friend. So I jumped up and hit him, and then a big scuffle happens and somehow he pushed his child into me or something and that’s when I backed up, like “oh my god, child.”

Me: So you’re first seeing the kid then? [Millon had his son with him, who appears ~10 years old]

Opal: Yeah, I was like “oh shit, child!” and the kid’s just like “let’s get out of here, let’s get out of here” and I’m like “yes please get out of here” and then he backs up. I see the light come on of his camera and he’s videotaping us.

Me: Right, he creates that weird video [since taken down].

Opal: He’s backing away, and he put that online like “antifa activists are violently attacking me” when literally we were just —

Me: He was the one punching.

Opal: There were punches in defense, I’ll own that, I fought back. Y’know how many times I’ve had men completely flip out on me because they realize I’m trans or some other reason and they feel like their masculinity is attacked? And he’s attacking my friend, so there were a few punches thrown, but at the point of him taking the video we were just like “please go.”

Me: Yeah, it was clear you were, like, herding him away without touching him at that point.

Opal: So that thing happened, and then the night of [the arrest, a week after the night just described], I was at my friend’s house and I see a big emergency post that they’re gonna shut down Garland Hall, so I went down to do support.

Me: Yeah, and I showed up around midnight, because I saw that same post. We saw each other, we hung out outside the building.

Opal: We’re sitting down and eating clementines, it was kind of a cute moment, I was like “this is really nice.”

Me: Yeah! I led some stretching exercises, it was actually a very chill atmosphere.

Opal: I was expecting it would just be a sort of hang out all night thing, wait for the cops to come if it happens. Hang out outside, the people in the building have control. I actually hadn’t really been in that building after they locked it down, I needed a break after the attack.

So I get there, we’re talking, and then I hear this scuffle. I turn around and I see a whole group of people pushing their way into the building. I didn’t know what was going on, so I come closer to see if I can help these people work this out. Then I hear scuffling down below and screaming, and I run down and that’s when I see [Daniel] Povey attacking [student activist, name redacted] with bolt cutters, and [redacted]’s holding onto the bolt cutters.

Me: Who’s Povey?

Opal: Povey is a professor at Hopkins.

Me: Whaaat?

Opal: He’s trying to claim right now that he was counter-protesting because his servers were in there. They got fried apparently, because the school, one of the ways they responded to the shut-down was to turn off the AC, which was very dangerous, really putting the kids’ lives in danger.

Me: Oh man, that would be such a weird addition to this plotline, so to speak, if his life’s work was on those servers and he lost it and attacked you guys.
Opal: That’s basically what they’re trying to claim. But it was obviously… he had like “liberalism is cancer” and other hateful signs.

Me: Wow.

Opal: Yeah. So it’s obvious that he was racist, to me, the way he came in and was attacking [redacted].

Me: Attacking in what way?

Opal: Like, coming at them with the bolt cutters, and [redacted] is holding them and they’re like struggling over them. I think he attacked [redacted] before I saw this too, that’s what [redacted] said, I didn’t witness that part.

Me: And Shawn Leak has attested to being attacked by him too.

Opal: Yeah. And also there was a man with Povey, a bigger white man who literally was punching students, and they have that on videotape. So I grab the bolt cutters and kind of do like a spin maneuver real fast and he let’s go, and with a bunch of people helped push him out of there, deescalated.

Me: And that’s where I can add to the narrative because I was outside the whole time. And I should say, there‘s gotta be at least 6 guards around the building, like 3 on each side, maybe more, on the south and north side. We’re on the west side of the building, that’s just sort of how we’ve congregated. And there’s also ones patrolling around, so this place is crawling with security, and we hear someone screaming inside, a young sounding voice.

We’re all tense, standing around, unsure of what to do, and a bunch of people come pushing out the doors. So it’s this moment you’re talking about, and not a single security guard comes around the corner to interact with this situation. Someone is screaming, a student is screaming, and they just completely ignore it, which is fascinating.

There’s people forming a chain at the door, blocking them, doing a really good job of non-violently keeping these older-looking people from getting back in. Then they [the intruders] sort of set themselves up and start repeating lines in a really weirdly scripted way.

One woman is trying to push back in the building, saying “that’s my baby daddy, that’s my baby daddy.” Another woman is leaning in the doorway sort of blocking the door from being able to be closed without hitting her, saying “you can’t touch me, I’m not touching nobody.” And a guy is standing off to the side, sort of gesturing at the woman who’s trying to push in, saying “back off, she’s pregnant yo.” And they just kept repeating these things, so people are filming but it’s like any moment that you catch on camera that can be edited down to a short video will show something that could look very bad.

Opal: Interesting

Me: More people come out and successfully herd them away, and those of us who were outside, we follow up behind them, like, ok, we’re extra layers blocking these people.

Opal: That woman might’ve been pregnant though. She looked like a woman I saw down in the park, like she was staying there.

Me: I gotta say, whatever this means exactly, they looked homeless.

Opal: Well they were. And they were actually paid by Povey.

Me: Wow.

Opal: Yeah, when people were walking them out, they admitted to being paid. I swear, this man just hired extremely vulnerable people and put them in this fucked up situation. It upsets me because I do a lot of work helping people in these positions, and I’ve been homeless, and it just… it’s disgusting, it’s like bum fights.

Me: Absolutely. No regard for people’s safety, because you know they’ll do whatever you tell them if you have the money.

Opal: Yeah. It was really intense and it’s along the lines of what I’ve read about with the history of Hopkins protests.

Me: And the history of protests in this country in general. People are sent in to disrupt. Talk about paid protesters, there’s much more of a history of paid counter-protesters and infiltrators and people fomenting violence and attacking protest, and that’s what that was.

Opal: A protest where literally all they want is a meeting with President Ron Daniels.

Me: Yeah, and once or twice he’s like “We can do it but it has to be tomorrow morning and you don’t have time to tell anybody!” and they’re like “How about we look at other dates in a few days,” and he’s like “no, no meeting!”

I think it’s important to recognize, for people who might not be as familiar with this situation, that he is doing these extremely transparent, half-assed attempts to manipulate the narrative. If all you’re hearing is that Daniels offered to meet with the students and they turned down that meeting, that’s not technically wrong but it’s an incredible mischaracterization.

Opal: Yeah he does not come in good faith at all. What I’ve gained from this whole experience is an understanding that I’m terrified of Hopkins having a police force.

There’s a story I didn’t tell you about. Back in the early days when they first enforced the whole ID thing, I come in and there’s a student who’s a woman of color and she’s like “hey, they’re not going to let you past them without your ID but you don’t really have to do that anyways. Here’s this flower, I’ll give it to them and you can go past.” When I walked past her, the guard grabbed her by her arm and wouldn’t let her go. Then Isaac yells in the manliest voice possible “get off of her!” and the guy let’s go. He attacked her basically, and that was one of the only incidents I know of where the guards attacked anyone, so the big story there is that students of color –

Me: Students of color are targeted, and that’s why they led the sit-in to be a shut-down.

Opal: Yeah. They chose to shut it down.

Me: That’s what you say in the streets, right, “No justice, no peace, if we don’t get it shut it down,” and the question is, do you mean it or not? What does that look like, to shut something down? This is what it looks like. You can’t occupy something without causing disruption.

*

And that, along with part one, covers about an hour’s worth of conversation between Opal and myself. We actually need to sit down again to cover the thing I wanted to talk about in the first place — the police raid on the sit-in (which occurred just a couple hours after the attack by Povey) and her experience being held in Central Booking. You’d think we’d have had plenty of opportunity to do so on our recent trip to the border, but that was very intense in its own right, and I wanted to wait until a calmer time to grill her further about that traumatic experience.

That being the case, I think the next column will be about our trip… both what happened, and how the issue of border justice connects both philosophically and materially to our struggles here at home… and after that we’ll return to wrap up (for now) the saga of the sit-in.

Tonight, please join us at Greenmount & 33rd at 6:30pm for #WestWednesday, a weekly ongoing protest/vigil for Tyrone West and other victims of police brutality! A serious presence is especially needed now, as one of Tyrone’s killers, Officer Nicholas Chapman, has been seen stalking the protest in recent weeks.

And this Friday, please, please, please be aware that Keith Davis Jr.’s fifth trial for a crime he didn’t commit is starting at the downtown courthouse. If you can make it out to witness for even a single day over the course of the trial (which is likely to be about a month), it would be huge. Thank you to Baltimore Bloc for organizing court support for him, they have all the answers you might want in terms of how to show up and what to expect. https://www.facebook.com/events/281353249417978/

#OneBaltimore #NoPrivatePolice #JusticeForTyroneWest #FreeKeithDavisJr #BaltimoreForBorderJustice

Cultural Event of the Week: A bunch of bands are playing at Ottobar tomorrow night, 7/11, including one of my local faves, Snakefeast. What’s their music like? Hard to describe… hard-on-the-throat doom vocals, killer percussion, a saxophone… I remember, once when I was listening to them play at a show, I closed my eyes and imagined some leathery prehistoric beast soaring above a desert canyon… it’s like that, surreal and haunting and threatening but beautiful.

https://www.facebook.com/events/429049867677239/

Green Event of the Week: Time to learn about the birds and the bees! This Sunday, the Friends of German Park in Reservoir Hill, Reservoir Hill Improvement Council, and St. Francis Neighborhood Center are hosting a bird banding demo, with an optional part where you get to paint and take home a bee hotel. Support citizen science and conservation in a lovely little tucked away neighborhood space.

https://www.facebook.com/events/514005135806433

Song of the Week: “Tear Me Down” by Hedwig and the Angry Inch

I was born on the other side / Of a town ripped in two / I made it over the great divide / Now I’m coming for you / Enemies and adversaries / They try and tear me down / You want me, baby, I dare you / Try and tear me down

Photo: Opal in the White Sands desert of New Mexico last week, just before we headed back home from our trip to the border. It was a very healing place (tho it hurt my eyes… gotta bring sunglasses next time), and was exactly what we needed.

One Baltimore #9-A, Opal

7/4/19

Welcome to a special edition of One Baltimore! The following is the first part of an interview with Opal Phoenix. Opal and I have been friends since we were teenagers, and she was crucial in making me aware of the JHU Sit-In this spring, which culminated in her and six other students and community members being swarmed by 80 cops and arrested.

Opal’s arrest was covered by the ACLU (https://www.aclu-md.org/en/news/trans-people-are-not-sad-story-we-are-strong-resilient-story), and while it was a strong article, I noticed that they left out a lot of details that she had mentioned to me. It got me thinking – it’s easy for cis people to hear “the cops are shitty to trans people” or for anyone to hear “wow, a lot of shit went down at that protest” and not really get what that looks like. The details matter, and I’m honored that Opal agreed to entrust me with this story.

Our conversation ended up covering a lot of territory beyond just the arrest, and I decided to keep the majority of it, as I think it provides valuable context regarding the violence faced by marginalized people, by trans people, by activists. In order to keep the column a consistent length, and to give my wrists a break, I will be posting it in sections over the next several days.

I’m writing from the road – Opal and I are actually on a road trip to the border currently! As I write this, we’re returning to our hostel in southern New Mexico from Clint Texas, where we joined a Fourth of July protest outside the infamous child detention center there with other activists from around the country. More on that in the near future.

This interview has been edited for length, clarity, and privacy.

Me: Tell me just a little bit about yourself, where are you from?

Opal: I kind of grew up all over. Spent my early life in Virginia and then moved to Maryland in my teens, came to Baltimore around 17. I’ve been here for the most part ever since.

Me: And what got you involved in the JHU Sit-in?

Opal: Quite a few things. I’m one of the founders of a group called Food Rescue Baltimore, and through that I made a friend who’d been working to bring students to protests, basically putting themselves on the front lines, which I found very impressive. They were helping out with the West coalition, bringing hot chocolate on the cold winter days, because Tawanda Jones never stops, she doesn’t miss a Wednesday, rain, snow, or shine.

Me: That’s so sweet!

Opal: Yeah. I was very inspired by Tawanda’s story and by her stand. I was doing food support during the Uprising and I saw her doing work then, and really felt like, especially as a white person, that this kind of work is necessary if we’re talking about anything close to reparations. So we started getting involved more, and I initially saw Tawanda post about the students storming the Alumni Breakfast (video: https://www.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=305531933475010&id=260566734638197). Then, through another friend’s post, I saw that they were having a sit-in, so I went to just go check it out.

I kind of sat down and observed for a while. They had Black Lives Matter DC with them and they were going over recommendations, and one of them was “you should talk to Occupy Baltimore”, and I was like “Gosh, how many people are even left from Occupy Baltimore? Gosh, I’m one of them.”

I guess I was expecting from Hopkins to see mostly students who are privileged, but I saw a lot of students who are marginalized and got to this point and were still putting it on the line. I was really inspired by that, so I ended up staying the night with them. I’m the kind of person where it’s hard for me to rest when others are putting themselves on the line.

Me: You want to make sure everybody’s ok.

Opal: Mmmhm. A few of my other friends were also involved and I kind of got sucked into the organizing. I wasn’t representing any org, I was just doing it on my own. I’m normally the quiet, supportive type, but also I’ve found that, being trans, I bring a perspective that isn’t always at the forefront. I found myself doing things that the normal college kid may have been trained not to do.

Me: What do you mean by that?

Opal: Like when we decided to take back the doors because they were ID’ing everyone who came in, primarily to create a divide between students and non-students, they were trying to intimidate people like me, the non-students, into not coming in.

Me: Not to mention the West Coalition and Black Lives Matter folks.

Opal: Yeah, we talked about taking the doors, everyone was really nervous about it and felt like it could be dangerous, and while yes, that danger is real, Hopkins guards are first and foremost paid not to do anything, they’re supposed to report.

Me: Yeahhhh, I definitely saw that [more on that in the next part of the interview].

Opal: So I went up to the doors, swung them open, somebody was blasting club music on the mic, and I just start booty-dancing in the middle of the doorway, and everybody’s like “yeah!!!” I think on a level me being a trans woman boldly taking that door speaks to even the privileged people like “yeah, ok, we can do this.”

Me: Yeah, like “I can now imagine it because I’ve seen it, I know what it looks like, and I’ve gotta believe that if you can do it, I can do it.”

Opal: I did face aggression from the guards. There was this one moment when I was coming to the doors, the group was having a guided meditation inside, so they couldn’t immediately let me in, and the guards showed up and started being really nasty. They were telling me I wasn’t allowed in the building, and at that point, people were in fact allowed in the building, y’know, they were just giving me false information.

Me: It was an open to the public building.

Opal: Yeah. Then literally the dean shows up at the same time! And he’s got this really creepy smile on his face, it was very disturbing, honestly. And the attitude I took towards these guards, and even the administrators… I felt like the Garland students, they created their space, and at that point the administrators are visitors, and so I was just like “Hi, can I help you? Do you have any identification?”

Me: HA! I love it.

Opal: He got really upset about that.

Me: I can imagine.

Opal: They were getting up in my face, and then [redacted, a student activist] came out and stood them down, said “hey, we’re allowed to come in and out of here, you can’t…” They had my back, and I just had to step away for a minute. It really felt to me that they were targeting me because I’m trans.

Me: You’d also, of course, been leading.

Opal: That might have been part of it too.

Me: I mean, I don’t know if they knew that at that point.

Opal: They were definitely monitoring us, taking pictures. So yeah, stuff like that… I feel like we often create our own boundaries, we —

Me: We think we have to live by a line someone else has drawn, but we can draw a line.

Opal: Yeah. They drew a line, but it’s actually not a solid line.

Me: And what if we said “no, the line is here,” how about that, what if we had power?

Opal: It’s hard for people to get out of that mindset.

Me: Right, of course. It’s scary, it’s terrifying, you’ve spent your life living within lines that are strongly enforced.

Opal: So, me as random community member who’s really upset because I know what more private… private or public, whatever… more police means more trans deaths. I was also really hurting from a friend of mine, a trans woman, who had just died.

Me: Brittany.

Opal: Brittany. I witnessed violence that she went through that really hit home to me, the level of difference in how someone initially responds to a trans woman of color and how someone responds to a white trans woman, and why that difference is so important.

I witnessed a man, Brittany was sitting on a stoop, just trying to, like, live, y’know she was homeless. There was also a white woman right next to her. And he comes out and he really focuses on her, he’s like “get the fuck out of here” and she’s like “ok, give me a second, I’m going to get my stuff and get out of here” and he picked her up by her neck –

Me: Oh, goodness!

Opal: — to the point that her feet were off the ground

Me: And she wasn’t short.

Opal: He’s a big man, very big man. He was the owner of that funeral home that was next to the old Red Emma’s, as far as I could tell. My friend pointed it out, then I saw it happening. So I ran into Emma’s, grabbed [redacted, local community activist], we came running out, and at that point he literally had blue gloves on his hands –

Me: WHAT!

Opal: — and a gun in his hands. He was going to shoot her until he saw us coming, and then he backed down and went into his building. She literally had bruises on her neck, it was terrible. So we allowed her to get herself together, asked her if she wanted the police to be called. She wasn’t really wanting to do it at first, but then she decided to. We had 8 witnesses lined up all saying it was a hate crime.

The police come and I remember feeling very much like they weren’t taking it very seriously. I didn’t get why they didn’t knock on the guy’s door, try to go into his building, respond at all about him. Nothing ever really happened from that. I spoke about it a year later at a vigil for another murdered trans woman of color, and the LGBTQ liaison cop came up to me and was like “why don’t we know anything about this?”, and like…

Me: …because your people didn’t bother to report it, obviously.

Opal: And the thing about Brittany is that she went through a whole other incident with the police when they shot and killed her friend [Mya Hall, RIP]. So I just see how the police are already treating us, and then to have a whole other level of police with another level of protection and non-accountability, not even being part of the city…

Me: Yeah, owned by an entity that’s not by or for the public.

Opal: And the thing I’ve seen from this whole Hopkins fiasco, literally these kids were just trying to get the president to meet with them. It was supposed to be a day, a single day. They were going to occupy, they were going to sit in, and then obviously he would say, “Of course I’m going to meet with you.”

And then nothing happened, so the students of color were like “No we’re not going to sit in for just a day and then go home, we want justice” so they kept coming, and then at that point [JHU President] Ron Daniels basically treated them like terrorists, like “We’re not going to negotiate with them.”

There’s a lot of things that inspired me to get in on this, it really matters to me. I also have faced violence. We had a home invasion at my house, two men tied me up at gunpoint and got into an altercation with my roommate and shot him [in the arm, he’s ok].

Someone called the police and I hear them march-march-march, and I hear my friend yelling “she’s our friend, she’s our friend, don’t shoot her, don’t shoot her,” but they still all pull out their guns and point them at me, and she runs past them, and just blocks me and grabs onto me and if she hadn’t done that I don’t know if I’d be alive. Y’know, I’ve never heard back from those police.

Me: And that’s a very serious crime, home invasion!

Opal: Honestly, I’m so terrified of the police, I’m not even calling them. I feel very much like there is no situation in which it is safe for me to call the police, which puts me in a very dangerous world.

To be continued.

#OneBaltimore

#JusticeForTyroneWest

#NoPrivatePolice

#BaltimoreForBorderJustice

Cultural event of the week: See the incomparably fun David London and Harley Newman play with illusion and bend reality, tell stories and contemplate life in The Tricksters! This Fri. 7/5-Sun. 7/7 only, at the Theatre Project.
https://www.facebook.com/events/726282007827989/

Green event of the week: Holy heck, they’re doing a lot at the Druid Hill Farmer’s Market!! It’s every Wednesday from 3:30-7:30 near the Conservatory, and at this week’s market on 7/10 they apparently have guided bike rides, guided horse rides, a mother goose thing, AND yoga!
https://www.facebook.com/events/2995951497112144/

Song of the week: “To Young Leaders” by Guante & Big Cats
Remember, people who have not accomplished half of what you have / Are gonna tell you that you work too hard / And they’ll support ya yappin’ but when you propose action / They’ll tell you that it goes too far / But if you really want change, be prepared to make war / Whether physical, spiritual, cultural or something more / ‘Cause if we are the ones we’ve been waiting for / What the hell are we waiting for?

Opal at the child concentration camp in Clint, TX, holding a banner we made honoring Johana Medina Leon. She was a registered nurse but couldn’t practice in El Salvador because of prejudice. She came here for a better life. ICE detained her and refused her access to healthcare for a month, despite her pleas that she knew how to save her life if they would just listen. She died the day they released her. She was 25.

Announcement

This week’s One Baltimore column will be an interview with local activist Opal Phoenix about her experience with the sit-in against private police at JHU this spring (as well as with the police in general), and will be released as a special two-part edition mid-week.

I’ve got the interview with Opal recorded and partially transcribed, and I hate to delay. However, after talking it over with my boss (me), we agreed that the only thing that made sense was to spend my time now packing and my time on the road this week writing.

For context, in case you missed the most recent column (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/06/25/one-baltimore-8-freedom/), Opal and I are going to El Paso, TX to witness and see if we can give any aid to the situation at the border, prior to the big nation-wide rallies planned for next week by Lights for Liberty (there are Baltimore events up now, at City Hall https://www.facebook.com/events/491481034925943/ and in Towson https://www.facebook.com/events/373047776896225/).

We’ll be leaving in the late evening tomorrow, after the JHU Sit-In’s rally/march starting at 7pm in Wyman Park Dell (https://facebook.com/events/2175599969219651). Please come join us! Our institutions of learning should not be militarized, policing should not be privatized, this is not OK!!

Plus it would be nice to see you before we leave.

One Baltimore #8, Freedom

6/24/19

I promise we’ll get to Baltimore before the column ends, but I want to start this week with an announcement, one that made me delay posting this by a day (nooo, my on-time streak ;_;) so that I could check in about some time off work first. Now that that’s a go… 

My friend Opal and I made a big decision last night. Next week, we’re going to drive to Clint, Texas, where the U.S. government is warehousing hundreds of infants and children who have been separated from their families in direly unhealthy conditions, (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/a-firsthand-report-of-inhumane-conditions-at-a-migrant-childrens-detention-facility), and then on to El Paso, where refugees are being caged by the thousands in the desert (https://www.thecut.com/2019/03/migrants-being-held-under-bridge-in-el-paso-what-we-know.html). 

We’re both so deeply furious and sad, and we can’t ignore it any longer. I’ve always asked myself how average Germans who didn’t love Hitler could see the Jews disappearing and the concentration camps going up and not even go take a look at them. I don’t see any meaningful difference between those old camps and these new ones in terms of the dehumanization of vulnerable people for political gain, the criminalization of simple existence, the crowding and mistreatment, the separation of families for no reason but cruelty, and the potential endgame. 

So now I can understand something of the answer to my question, based on my own actions. They were just so busy, there was so much going on, so much impossible news, so many different groups being targeted, they didn’t know what to do, they were pretty sure they couldn’t do anything at all, they were scared. Easier to hurt about it but not try to fix it, to just keep going roughly as normal for as long as you can, to let your mindscape get bleaker and bleaker.

For the record, I’m not saying you don’t care if you don’t take this particular action, which granted is kinda spur of the moment and random on our parts (though I assure you, we are working out the necessary logistics and safety is at the forefront of our minds). For me, I’m just at a point where I have to go look it in the face, and I have enough freedom right now that I can do so. And if not now, when? I can’t think of a more appropriate place to spend the Fourth of July in 2019 than the southern border.

What we’ll do once we get there is less clear. I’m thinking of it mainly as a fact-finding mission. We’ll be bringing relief supplies, seeing if we can get them to anyone, meeting people on the ground, and documenting what we find. Maybe it’ll be useful, maybe it’ll just be a weird roadrip. Please let us know if you’re interested in coming along in a caravan, if you know people out that way, or if you otherwise want to support this effort.

Our journey will come a week before a much larger organizing effort that I’m seeing from Lights for Liberty for Friday, July 12th. They’ll be out around the country, including in DC (https://www.facebook.com/events/660338147748249/) and Frederick (https://www.facebook.com/events/2595640143803515/). They’ll be in El Paso too, but I can’t go then, of course, as that’s the start of Keith Davis Jr.’s trial (https://www.facebook.com/events/281353249417978/), which I’ve committed to attending about as hard as I’ve ever committed to anything. It’s cool though, me and Opal are, like, the advance scouting party. 

What about here at home though? Baltimore was one of ten cities on the list for the ICE raids originally planned for this weekend. While we and many others around the country got a temporary reprieve, they did in fact hit DC over the weekend, as per Sanctuary DMV (https://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/city-desk/article/21074694/ice-activity-reported-across-northwest-dc-saturday-resulting-in-at-least-two-arrests). 

Even as ICE atrocities are compelling me to travel halfway across the country, I realize that I know far less than I should about the status and safety of our local immigrant communities. Something to remedy, and hopefully to speak to more in a future column. For now, I can at least share that CASA is holding a Bystander Training this Tuesday night near Patterson Park designed to help people resist such raids (https://www.facebook.com/events/456074175191476/). 

When it comes to this trip, in addition to the horrifying news stories, the personal cultural-historical angst, and being personally emboldened by Opal’s passion on the topic, part of what inspired me, as it so often does, was the most recent West Wednesday. It was the 307th week in a row for the protest/vigil, organized by Tawanda Jones to call attention to the murder of her brother, Tyrone West, at the hands of the Baltimore Police Department, as well as to other cases of police brutality locally and across the country.

This past Wednesday was Juneteenth, the celebration of the day when African-Americans enslaved in Texas finally found out they were free, two years after the rest of the country. We met up at a park in west Baltimore, chatted, ate for free thanks to the generosity of Shorty’s Bootleg Barbecue. There was a special charge in the air, a larger group out than normal, feeling maybe a little more ready and eager to connect.

For hours, members of the crowd took the mic, and it was riveting all the way through. People of all ages, genders, and shades spoke powerfully about injustices, about physically unlearning privilege, about awesome local programs like Roots of Scouting and the Free People’s Co-Op, about our environment. Rain started to lash down, but there were pop-up tents for the audience and umbrellas for the speakers, and we didn’t stop. A woman named Angel sang a beautiful, original song over an instrumental track, crooning out the refrain, “My Black life matters,” with power and grace through the storm.

I jumped up not long after that. Just as I was getting into my spiel about how and why we need to re-take control of BPD from the state this coming year, someone pointed out that a BPD officer had pulled into the alley alongside us and was sitting there with his window down. Perfect, I cried, exactly who I wanted to hear it! Special thanks to Opal for capturing a solid two minutes of me yelling my speech at a cop (https://www.facebook.com/drew.coyne/videos/688764464888153/). It was damn cathartic. 

After all the talking was done, we gathered up and watched videos projected against the wall of a garage. One that particularly struck me was a music video by Prime Meridian about Tyrone West – if you don’t know his truly egregious story, they cover it thoroughly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHM1AJqFduQ I’ve mentioned Tawanda many times, because I think her leadership is so important and transformative, but I’ve yet to really focus on her brother. Another thing to remedy soon.

Following the videos, we watched Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary, The 13th. It starts with Juneteenth and then examines the consequences of a loophole in the abolishment of slavery – the thirteenth amendment allows involuntary servitude as a punishment for a crime – and how our systems of oppression have successfully morphed in response rather than dying out.

Meticulously researched and full of fascinating interviews with historians, civil rights leaders, and others, The 13th compellingly and chillingly lays out how America hyper-policed and criminalized African-Americans post-slavery as a way to suppress their power and continue to extort free labor. From Jim Crow to the war on drugs, it takes us to the present day, examining the terrifying ways that “tough on crime” politicians of recent decades have exploded the prison population, setting the framework for the for-profit prison corporations and others who thrive off of this disgusting industry, and who then buy access to our politicians and shape laws that send yet more people into their mills.

I’m barely touching on the content of this stellar film. It’s a hard watch, for obvious reasons, but it will absorb you, that’s for sure. Seriously, check it out (it’s on Netflix).

At the end, The 13th makes the connection between our incarceration-nation and the mass detention of migrants. People are profiting off of building and operating these camps, both politically and economically, just as they have with the prisons. This is all one system, which grips us ever tighter while committing worsening atrocities and dragging us deeper into fascism. We confront it now or confront it never.

I’ve never been to Texas. What do I know about it? It’s big and hot. It’s at the epicenter of the humanitarian refugee crisis we’re facing and of our government’s sadistic response. It might well still be part of Mexico today if its white settler population hadn’t been so adamant about their “right” to keep slaves that they fomented a bloody revolution. And of course, it was the last place to grudgingly tell its enslaved population about abolition. Not super promising.

I’m gonna shave. I’m not too proud to do that (for anyone reading who doesn’t know what I look like, I’m thick and curvy and so is my beard, a combination that can cause consternation among people concerned with gender classification). Someone asked me recently how long I was gonna grow out the beard, and I said “until canvassing season starts, I guess,” but looks like the expiration date on these locks is coming earlier. Someday maybe I’ll be able to find out what happens if I just let it go indefinitely, someday maybe I truly won’t care, but for now you can read something about my relative freedom by the state of my face, and, bummer though it may be, I’m not privileging that freedom over my ability to walk out of this situation intact. 

#AbolishICE

#NoOneIsIllegal

#JusticeForTyroneWest

#FreeKeithDavisJr

#OneBaltimore

Cultural events of the week: 

Who wants to see Paris is Burning with me on Tuesday night at the Senator Theatre (don’t worry, it starts after the Bystander Training, you can do both)?? One show only! I’ll crib from the event description, cuz I can’t say it better — “Where does voguing come from, and what, exactly, is throwing shade? This landmark documentary provides a vibrant snapshot of the 1980s through the eyes of New York City’s African American and Latinx Harlem drag ball scene”. 

https://www.facebook.com/events/2173112416314293/

And I know I’ve mentioned this one before, buuuuut the Charm City Kitty Club’s next show, “Claws Up, Walls Down!” is nearly upon us!! Two nights only, Friday 6/28 & Saturday 6/29! We got burlesque, poetry, drag, puppets, comedy, music, we got all your hot local art. Baltimore’s premiere queer cabaret brings it every time, but I’m especially excited about this lineup. It’s also a pretty powerful feeling to be doing a show about bringing down walls, and then to immediately be going to the U.S./Mexico border afterwards. 

https://www.facebook.com/events/268322887416917/

Green event of the week: 

Sunrise Movement Baltimore, which is dedicated to fighting climate change, is holding a watch party for the first Democratic primary debate this Wednesday evening at HomeSlyce Pizza in southeast! #changethedebate

https://www.facebook.com/events/2317974578521272/

Song of the week: “We Rise Again” by Gogol Bordello

For the love of you / For the love of me / For the love of everyone / Who’s yet to be free / Borders are scars on the face of the planet / So heal away my alchemy man / Even atheist holds up the candle / We rise again / We rise again

Photo: West Wednesday #307, before the storm.

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