I tossed myself into writing this column just over six months ago, not knowing for sure if I could keep it up or if people would be interested. So far it’s going strong on both counts! Thank you so, so much for following along with me this last half-year, I deeply appreciate it. With this being a minor milestone, twenty being a nice round number, and a LOT having happened on the topics I’ve covered so far, I figured this would be a good week for some updates.
#5, “Atiya Wells” (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/06/02/one-baltimore-5-atiya-wells/)
I didn’t set out intending to do many interviews, but it’s become one of my favorite ways to tell stories. My first was with Atiya Wells, founder of BLISS Meadows, a new agricultural and educational project in northeast Baltimore. Her group was then in the midst of a down-to-the-wire funding campaign to purchase a vacant building for conversion into a community center. Hundreds of people chipped in with donations large and small… and the project reached full funding in time to move forward!!
Phase one, the acquisition of the property, is now wrapping up. Phase two – putting in the major work necessary to get it open and running – will be beginning shortly. You can follow up with them and donate at https://blissmeadows.wedid.it.
#7, “Keith Davis, Jr.” (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/06/17/one-baltimore-7-keith-davis-jr/) and #11, “A Single Life” (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/07/22/one-baltimore-11-a-single-life/)
Many police and state actions in Baltimore shock the conscience, but this case defines the phrase. I find myself wanting to recap it all in detail again, but suffice to say that Keith Davis, Jr. was shot by the police over a robbery he didn’t commit and then sloppily framed for murder half a year later when they couldn’t connect him to the original case. Most everyone without a vested interest in the state’s success expected Keith to finally be exonerated this summer at the conclusion of his third trial for the same crime… but the jury found him guilty.
On the Undisclosed podcast, Amelia McDonnell-Perry breaks down some of what happened to tip the scales of justice (https://undisclosed-podcast.com/episodes/state-v-keith-davis-jr/episode-11-reasonable-doubt/). In closing arguments alone, there were multiple shady doings by Patrick Seidel, the state’s prosecutor, such as showing the jury a powerpoint that hadn’t previously been entered into evidence, misrepresenting how DNA analysis works, saying that Keith robbed a hack driver (the event which precipitated his shooting by the cops) despite the hack driver himself stating multiple times that Keith was not the right man and a previous jury clearing him of those charges, and bringing up irrelevant personal details of his relationship with his wife to smear his character.
On Thursday, November 14th at 9:30am, Keith’s sentencing hearing will take place in the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse downtown. The judge is also expected at this time to rule on the defense’s motion for a new trial in light of the state’s misconduct (of which the examples above are a drop in the bucket). Supporters will be packing the room in a show of solidarity – hope to see you there.
#9A & 9B, “Opal” (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/07/05/one-baltimore-9-a-opal/ and https://one-baltimore.org/2019/07/10/one-baltimore-9-b-opal/) and #13, “The Barricade” (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/08/09/one-baltimore-13-the-barricade/)
Over several columns, my friend Opal and I explored some of the events surrounding the JHU Sit-in this spring, in which students occupied and eventually shut down a main campus office building in protest against issues of injustice. Let’s review where things stand on the sit-in’s demands.
1) No private police – Ongoing. In July, administrators finally sat down with student protesters to discuss the university’s plan to create its own armed, private police force, a conversation which before they’d refused to even have. While all parties agreed that more meetings were needed, none have yet been scheduled, and the timeline for the rollout of the new force, as well as its footprint beyond the campus’s borders, remain unknown.
2) End contracts with ICE – A major win! After a year of resistance by students and supporters, notably the Hopkins Coalition Against ICE, JHU announced last month that it was ending its multi-million dollar contract with U.S. Immigrants & Customs Enforcement (https://thecollegepost.com/hopkins-university-ice-contract). However, much work remains to be done to dismantle the university’s other collaborations with state violence, as eloquently detailed by organizers here: https://www.facebook.com/ICEoutJHU/posts/383035579057978
3) Justice for Tyrone West — Ongoing. Tyrone’s family remains without accountability for his murder. However, all these months after the movement for justice for Tyrone West and the sit-in first connected, the two groups are still participating in each other’s events and uplifting each other’s messages, so chalk it up at least as a win for solidarity.
Last week, student organizers hand-delivered a letter to the JHU Board of Trustees detailing major concerns with institutional governance revealed by the response to the sit-in. Read it here — https://www.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=445233192788299&id=358651648113121.
#12, “World Class” (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/07/29/one-baltimore-12-world-class/)
All summer long, the Baltimore Symphony Musicians were picketing in front of the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall after the orchestra’s board abruptly canceled the summer season and locked them out. Last month, the musicians and the board finally agreed on a one-year compromise contract (https://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/bs-fe-bso-contract-ratified-20190923-nw6ekzgtgrfwrot7lwvuhudai4-story.html) that will see their season shortened but their salaries mostly remain intact.
The future is unclear, with revenues down and with Governor Hogan still withholding millions of dollars allocated by the state to support the symphony, but for now, at least, the music continues.
#15, “Highs & Lows” (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/08/26/one-baltimore-15-highs-lows/)
Back in August, I was suspended from my job with the City of Baltimore after coming up positive for marijuana on a random drug test. After seven weeks out on sick leave, I’m finally cleared to return to work this week.
In order to keep my job, I’ve been going once a week to a substance abuse group session. Literally every other person in the group is there because of a DUI/DWI charge, so I’ve learned a lot about the effects of alcohol on the body. I’ve also learned that while I wouldn’t prefer it, sobriety is a breeze for me, so… nice to have it confirmed for myself that I do not, in fact, have a problem. Great use of city time and money all around.
I’ve gotten a touching outpouring of support from colleagues, both publicly and privately, and I have some leads now on how I might challenge the policy that led to this wasteful and aggravating situation. But it turns out I might not need to take on that slog alone! A couple of weeks ago, Council Member Shannon Sneed introduced a bill to ban marijuana testing for new City employees (https://www.wusa9.com/article/news/local/maryland/baltimoremarijuanatesting/65-7ce3a5b4-88e5-4020-8595-75c0dad5314b). It wouldn’t help someone in my situation who’s already employed (I got caught up in a new policy of testing people with licenses to drive city vehicles), but I’m reaching out to her to see if she would be willing to expand the scope of her bill.
#16, Welcoming Committee (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/09/03/one-baltimore-16-welcoming-committee/)
For a few days in the middle of last month, the Republicans of the U.S. House of Representatives were in town for a retreat, and a bunch of us made it our mission to make sure they knew they weren’t welcome (shout-out to uber-organizer Cristi Linn). We organized events, slapped flyers up on poles all over town, made banners and costumes, and even built a big ol’ prop guillotine on wheels.
While it was a symbolic set of actions, it felt great to be out and doing something, and it also had some real, positive practical results. We got to know each other better, built new connections, created new art, and pushed out the messages that were most important to us. There’s a picture of me in USA Today with a Free Keith Davis, Jr. shirt, so that’s pretty sweet (https://amp.usatoday.com/amp/2303002001).
At the press conference we held for the Welcoming Committee events (watch it here: https://www.facebook.com/BaltimoreWelcomingCommittee/videos/618346698694345/), Opal and I debuted Baltimore for Border Justice (the page is still just a stub, but follow us for more), an idea we first developed while out west this summer, as described in OB # 10, “Borders” (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/07/15/one-baltimore-10-borders/). The “LGBTQ+ & Allies Dance Party Protest” we held on the waterfront outside the hotel was officially BFBJ’s first event, and was covered in Baltimore OUTLoud, the local gay paper (http://baltimoreoutloud.com/wp/lgbt-dance-party-held-outside-of-marriott-waterfront-hotel-to-protest-republican-congressional-retreat/)! Reading the article at Night Shift Nightclub, the area’s newest LGBT bar, was a special thrill (also, fyi, it ROCKS, I’m looking to interview the manager soon).
In this one, I examined a City Council bill that would end the practice of forcing victims of police brutality to sign gag orders in order to receive settlements. The hearing for the bill took place the week after the column went up and it was intense. Families and advocates shared emotional personal stories and pleas for almost two hours (video here: https://www.facebook.com/ACLUMD/videos/403623040294325/). The bill passed out of committee and will now go to the full Council for a vote.
This is an excellent step for fairness and transparency, but we’re not in the clear yet. Mayor Jack Young has the power to veto bills, and he has placed himself squarely against this one. Right before the hearing, he actually released an executive order which he touted as ending gag orders, thus appearing to render the bill unnecessary (https://www.wypr.org/post/mayor-young-bans-unreasonable-gag-orders-council-seeks-permanent-ban)… except that if you actually read the language, it only bans “unreasonable” gag orders, and the person who decides what’s reasonable or not is the City Solicitor, the very person writing the gag orders in the first place.
The Council needs a ¾ majority to overturn a veto, so every vote will count. I haven’t yet reached out to any of these folks to confirm their stances, so take it with a grain of salt, but I’ve been told by another advocate that Council Members who may hesitate to override the Mayor if it comes down to it include Pinkett, Bullock, Cohen, Reisinger, and Costello. Please reach out to your council rep about this issue whichever district you’re in, but maybe make a special point of it if you’re in one of theirs.
Cultural Events of the Week: Everything is on fire in 2019 – on this we can all agree. But can we do anything about it? Maybe while also having fun and drinking? This Friday, 10/11, the wonderful Grayson Gross has organized an evening of comedy, music, poetry, puppets, and mead at Charm City Meadworks to raise funds for Amazon Watch, which fights to save the planet’s lungs by supporting the indigenous populations leading the fight. There’ll also be open mic slots, which I’m definitely jumping on!
Green Event of the Week: Planting trees is so satisfying. You’re outside working up a mild sweat and then these big, beautiful living things are in the ground at the end, and you think about the lives they’re gonna live and all the good they’re gonna do. This Saturday morning, 10/12, the Friends of Herring Run Parks will be holding a tree planting and, as a bonus, DJ 4/4 will be in attendance laying down beats! Tools, gloves, and snacks provided.
Song of the Week: “Baltimore” by The Extra Glenns
Will you hold on for just a minute / Will you hold on while I catch my breath / Listen, in Baltimore / You’ll uncover what you’re digging for / In Baltimore, ah / You will find what you’ve been waiting for