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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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