One Baltimore #11, A Single Life


What happens next week in the Clarence Mitchell courthouse at Fayette & St. Paul could save or end the world. It makes sense to believe that if you’re Kelly Davis, and your husband’s future hangs in the balance. It’s a weirder thing for some random person like me to believe, but I do, with all my heart.

In the Talmud, it says, “Whoever saves a single life is considered to have saved the whole world.” That passage is one I’ve thought about often in relation to Keith Davis Jr.’s case, and it’s taken on a meaning for me beyond the metaphysical. It’s like this —

The endless trials to which the state has subjected Keith following his shooting by the police have been a shocking miscarriage of justice on many levels. You can read about it as I laid it out (, or as Brandon Soderberg did last week in the Baltimore Beat (… I won’t be mad if you choose him, he’s been published in The New York Times, Vice, Rolling Stone, and a ton of other places, plus he’s writing a book on the Gun Trace Task Force, so he REALLY knows what he’s talking about.

All of this has taken place within our so-called justice system in Baltimore, which is widely known for its depths of unjust, racist violence. Here’s the 10-page summary of the 163-page DOJ report (, but if you want the real quick version:

“(1) making unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests;

(2) using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African Americans;

(3) using excessive force; and

(4) retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally-protected expression.”

So much more has become public since then. Officers routinely planting guns and drugs, as well as stealing and selling them. The State’s Attorney’s office alerted many times yet still relying on those same officers’ testimony to put people away. The corruption is KNOWN, yet the system remains in place, increasing the deadly chaos of our streets rather than ameliorating it.

If Baltimore is ever to have justice and peace, something major has to change, and Keith Davis Jr.’s case could be the making of that change. This is a man who was shot in the face by cops, one of whom has since been connected to interstate drug trafficking and illegal guns. He’s been persecuted through five consecutive trials, with more and more wrong-doing by the state uncovered each time, more contradictions, more evidence withheld and mishandled. This is a case in which they left a murder uninvestigated so that they could instead pin it on an inconvenient man they couldn’t seem to kill, despite leaving him to literally rot in jail (he was denied healthcare, and had to change his own stinking bandages) with a bullet stuck in his neck for TWO YEARS that doctors had been ready and eager to remove.

What does all that tell us? That this is a man who can take down massive numbers of the people responsible for DOJ findings #1-4 above… IF he is exonerated and given the chance to fight them.

We all know that this problem is much, much bigger than Charm City, that it recurs across the states. Is it possible that as goes Baltimore, so goes the nation? Of course. History shows us again and again how one domino sets off the chain. If a system like ours can be successfully fought and forced to change, at the very least it will help the efforts of others.

So while I’m by no means saying that it’s a foregone conclusion, I can see clearly a scenario in which Keith’s freedom helps bring justice to Baltimore, and justice in Baltimore helps bring justice to the nation. And that’d mean we have a chance, a CHANCE to save the planet.

I’ve worked in environmental policy for over 14 years, and I feel confident saying that —

  1. Without swift and massive changes within the next 5-10 years MAX, people alive today are going to witness the ascent of one of those rare big spikes on the ‘Mass Extinction Events’ graphs that scientists make based on the fossil record, instead of just one of the small ones, and
  2. Those changes cannot come without justice.

We cannot save the habitability of the planet without justice. If you don’t want our lives to get a lot suckier and for the next generation to deal with some real Mad Max bullshit, then the number one priority before you is justice.

What the hell do I mean by that?

The people who profit from the systems that must be changed in order to save the planet — let’s call them the 1% — refuse to do it. The only POSSIBLE way to stop them is to build more power than them, and that means uniting a much larger portion of the 99% than has ever stood together in this country before. That means working across the lines of skin tone, nationality, gender, and class, truly becoming partners in each other’s struggles.

The first step of working with someone? You HELP THEM. Imagine that you’re in a war, and you look over to see that your buddy is in a shootout. Do you immediately move into position to support him because A) you love him, B) they’ll be after you next, C) it’s your duty, or D) all of the above? The correct answer is D, but any of them will do. What you don’t do is ignore it. There’s no unity, no partnership that way, certainly no victory.

So yes, I believe that saving Keith Davis, Jr. could save the world, literally, which means that losing him could doom the world, literally. It’s a strange thing to believe that and to go about my normal life, spending most of my days just a couple of blocks from where his trial unfolds.

So far, I’ve taken off one day to be there, the first day, Friday, July 12th. When I learned it would only be pre-trial motions, I figured I’d see nothing of real import, but boyyyy was I wrong.

Meet Deborah Levi, Director of Special Investigations for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, Keith’s new defense lawyer. I was in awe, y’all. She had a huge book in front of her jammed with colorful pieces of paper sticking out the sides, from which she quoted case law like a Rabbi quoting scripture, as easy as breathing, never missing a beat.

Let’s look at what Ms. Levi had to say on that first day about just one, crucial thing — the ballistics-matching evidence, the ONLY thing linking Keith to the murder of which he’s accused other than cell phone tower data (which also places 1,000 other people “at the scene”). Below are my notes from the trial, compiled from various places throughout the transcript and presented in order:

Levi said that in December 2018, she found there were missing pieces of evidence. She went through the discovery process, but the state did not respond at first, she had to ask multiple times. She eventually found that the ballistics test fire for the gun Keith had allegedly possessed at the time he was shot by the police, the thing which supposedly links him to the murder, had not been retained. There was an envelope taped to the gun where it was supposed to be, but it was empty.

She said that:

  • In April, BPD did a new test fire on the supposed murder weapon and found that it did not fully match the first,
  • In May she asked to do a physical examination of the re-test evidence, but received no response, and
  • She then sent two requests in writing, but still never got it.

Levi said that by law, the defense is entitled to that evidence. She said that BPD claimed the defense couldn’t look at it without a prosecutor present. The state responded that it was fine, that wasn’t required – but BPD still wouldn’t let the defense see it. On 6/29/19, they finally got the ballistics evidence.

Then, she said that at 4pm yesterday afternoon, the day before the trial, she received Internal Affairs files on the firearms examiners who worked on the case. That was when she learned that a fellow firearms examiner had accused one of them of being incompetent, and that in response he picked her up bodily and threw her a full eight feet across the room.

Levi went into great detail about the firearms examiner’s office, including how they cheat on their proficiency exams. She learned that BPD hasn’t shared (possibly hasn’t kept?) the examiners’ actual test results, just a report from a reviewer within the department who gives everyone an ‘S’ for satisfactory. She said she found that one examiner, maybe two, had in fact failed their proficiency exam, misidentifying weapons.

Levi said that she and her staff had been up all night trying to figure out how to access this evidence, how to deal with this culture of bullying and incompetence..

“What they’ve done is shifted the burden to provide evidence and put it on the defense.”

“The burden ought to be on the state that’s trying to take someone’s liberty… and, in fact, it is.”

Levi discussed a manager from the firearms examiner officer with “terrible eyesight,” saying “Wagster can’t see” and yet was in charge of making crucial determinations on very fine details of the evidence in this case.

She read through the standard operating procedure for BPD’s firearms analysis, explaining that it’s based solely on the analyst’s experience, and that it’s very subjective and vague. Therefore, there must be scrupulous documentation of how the analysis was done, by law. But that documentation does not exist in this case.

In order to be accredited, Levi said, a lab of this type must have procedures for documentation. In this case, those procedures were broken, and the only documentation done was very, very skimpy notes and photos. All the documentation says is “Casings 1-9 match each other. They all match the gun in question.”

Levi continued, “This was a rubberstamp.” She said that Wagster re-examined the evidence, but because he did the initial report and already testified under oath, he should not be the one performing the re-examination, because of course he would not want to say that the expert opinion he gave before was false. She said that this was a case where one similar tool-mark was enough to claim a match, but a later, dissimilar tool-mark was not enough to disqualify a match… why??

My full notes are here — — feel free to copy/paste/share.

Court continues this week, and your presence will continue to remind the state that we are watching. Other ways to follow the case in near-real-time include the indispensable Baltimore Court Watch ( and the Undisclosed Podcast ( Tell your friends, especially any in media or politics — they should REALLY, *REALLY* be on this far more than they are.

One crucial way in which justice in our city has been frustrated is via gag orders — those who receive settlements in cases of brutality by the police are prevented from speaking about them. Today, Monday 7/22, in front of City Hall at 4:15pm, Tawanda Jones will stand alongside Council President Scott and Council Member Sneed as they introduce a bill to make such gag orders illegal — Please join if you can, and contact your own council representative to let them know you support this bill.




Cultural Event of the Week: Ever wanted to try burlesque and/or explore your body and soul? Here’s your chance! Starting this Sunday, Jacqueline Boxx, Nona Narcisse, and Cherie Nuit are running Essential Tease: A Transformative Burlesque Class | Workshop. These instructors are incredible, highly-trained veteran performers who’ve wow’ed around the world, and working with them is an amazing opportunity. /

Green Event of the Week: This Saturday, 7/27, Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement and Sunrise Movement Baltimore are co-hosting a political strategy session on saving the planet that looks very well thought-out and strong, with free food, childcare, and action steps.

Song of the Week: “Hands Up” by Vince Staples

Payin’ taxes for some fuckin’ clowns to ride around / Whoopin’ n****s asses, scared to man up / Handcuffs givin’ n****s gashes on the wrist / I use to lift my fist to fight the power with / Older homie told me in his day the pigs was plantin’ bricks / In the trunks of n****s’ Chevrolets them traffic stops and shit / Raidin’ homes without a warrant, shootin’ first without a warning / And they expect respect and non-violence / I refuse the right to be silent

Photo: A light projection onto the Northeast Police District station, where the 311th #WestWednesday was held on 7/17/19, the day before the sixth anniversary of the murder of Tyrone West at the hands of police.

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