Happy new year, everyone! 2020’s gonna be something else, yeah? Talk about your best of times, worst of times… I mean, with the world on the verge of so much disaster and ruin, how weird is it to say that I just had the most hopeful and inspiring start to the new year I’ve ever experienced?
At midday on the 1st, close to a hundred of us gathered up on the sidewalk and cobblestones in front of City Hall for a special West Wednesday Speak-Out Session. West Wednesday, of course, is an ongoing protest organized by Tawanda Jones on behalf of her brother Tyrone West and all victims of police brutality. This was the 335th consecutive week.
This particular day was focused on gag orders, i.e. restrictions, now illegal, which Baltimore City had long placed on people settling brutality and misconduct cases to keep them from telling their stories. A bunch of groups collaborated on it, including Runners4Justice, the ACLU of Maryland, and the little org. that Opal and I have been developing, Baltimore For Border Justice.
A big part of the event was readings of anonymous stories from people who’d been gagged. It was powerful stuff, painful but important and cathartic. If you want to see videos, clips, photos, and news coverage, it’s all collected here: https://www.facebook.com/BaltimoreForBorderJustice/posts/171449590907121.
Prior to the event, I interviewed a woman whose whole family had been gagged. There was only time at the Speak-Out Session to read a brief excerpt of her story, but I really wanted to share the whole tale. I’m very grateful to the individual in question for allowing me to do so in this space.
When we think of police abusing their power, we usually think of beatings and deaths. This story, thankfully, isn’t one of those. Instead, it demonstrates how even incidents that don’t leave marks can terrorize you and your loved ones and change your lives forever.
Abby: How did things start?
Anon: Well, there was a house across the street from me that was the issue of the block. I actually suspected it was guns and drugs being run out of there.
Abby: What made you suspect that?
Anon: It was the nature of the traffic that was going in and out. Weird shaped big black bags and big pieces of furniture were being brought in, but then being brought right back out a couple days later. It was very odd, and then an obvious drug dealer wound up moving in there, this white guy and his girlfriend. It became really evident with the nature of the people that were going up and down off the porch and stuff, but I was minding my own business.
That went on for about three months and I finally got tired of it, because he started walking up and down the street like he owned it and pretty much daring anybody to intervene, and I’m feisty. So I started calling up the precinct, asking who do I talk to? And I was getting the runaround, like nobody wanted to help me.
I actually drove up there one evening, I was prompted to go up in the evening because I was told “Nobody that deals with drugs and guns is here during the day.” So I drove up there and the guy at the front desk said, “No, everybody’s out on the streets and stuff, there’s nobody here to talk to.”
I was really, really frustrated and he said, “Hey, how about I get your name and I can text this detective.” And that’s where everything kind of went awry.
He put me in touch with Detective [redacted], who at first seemed interested but then seemed like he was ignoring me, and then he seemed interested again. In retrospect, I kind of know what was going on, but at the time I didn’t. He was trying to find out how much I was paying attention, how much I knew. And then I got set up for pretty much a home invasion.
Abby: When you say you got set up, what do you mean?
Anon: Well, Detective [redacted] contacted me, telling me that he was going to be in a parking lot across the street observing the house. He was actively texting me, asking me who the players were, like, “Who’s the blonde, who’s this person, who’s that person?” And then he asked me a really curious question, he said, “Are you interested in pitbull puppies with papers?” It was so out of left field. I was like “…no?” And I didn’t even think, I had a “Beware of Dog” sign on my fence, he was trying to see if I had any dogs. And then, another time when he was talking to me on the phone, he asked did my husband know that I was talking to him, which I thought was another curious question. I was like, “Of course, he’s sitting right over there in the living room.”
He started to make me feel uneasy, like my little Spidey senses were going off. Then, about a week and a half after, he was in the parking lot and the guy’s girlfriend, the guy who was selling drugs, got taken out in an ambulance. And later that day, a young African-American male walked up to the house, pulled the screen out the window and dove through the window like Michael Phelps, in broad daylight, in front of me. So I called the police. He comes out the front door, pops the screen back in, and when he saw the police car turning onto our road, he went the other direction.
All these other cops came, but then this big black SUV came and the guy just had a polo shirt that said Commander on it. It didn’t have a name, it just said Commander. There was a female cop that was going around the perimeter of the house with her gun drawn, and I said, “You could just tell her that the person’s gone, I sent another officer after him.” And he’s like, “Did you see anything?” And I’m like, “I’m the one that called.” And I said, “While I have you all here, they’re selling drugs out of that house, and like, it’s hardcore drugs, it’s not weed, I can tell by the nature of the people going up there and how frequently they go, it’s definitely not weed, otherwise I wouldn’t care.”
And as one of the uniformed officers was about to approach me, the Commander’s like, “Okay, we’re done here,” and shoos them all away. But the female cop that went around the perimeter of the house must have been bugged by what I said, ’cause a few days later, I saw the guy and the girl on the stoop of the house, and she apprehended them. And then all of a sudden, big black SUV comes again. Commander guy takes the girlfriend, drives off with her.
I was running an errand and happened to stumble upon that scene, but when I came back 20 minutes later, the guy was still walking around the neighborhood. And I was like, “What is going on??”
Abby: Because you thought he had just been taken away by the police.
Anon: Yeah, I thought the marked unit took him, like they separated them, but no, just the girlfriend disappeared.
That was Labor Day weekend, and I saw now he had a rental car in the driveway and was literally going up to it with armfuls of stuff, throwing it in the car. It had the little Enterprise sticker on the back, which is how I knew, ’cause I was taking down license plate numbers, makes and models of vehicles that were pulling in and out of there, just in case anybody actually tried to investigate it. Then he disappeared. And then, that following Thursday, my house got raided.
Abby: And how did that go down?
Anon: We figured he was gone and went about our business. We are very boring people. My husband went out to work. I would stay home ’cause I telecommuted. It was the beginning of school, so my husband would make sure my son got back and forth from school, and my oldest was in college so he would spend a lot of time at his girlfriend’s, which was closer on the bus line to get out to school. He was hardly ever there, he was either working or at school.
We went to run an errand before the Thursday night football game. We brought the groceries in. I still had bags on the table with stuff in it. He sat on the couch, turned the TV on. I sat at the computer. We happened to leave the front door open, ’cause it was a nice September night and we have a screen door.
All of the sudden all hell broke loose… just people in black piling in my house yelling mixed commands. They never said they were the police. One seized my husband and slammed him face down onto the couch. One was holding me at gunpoint. Then my living room was full of people and shields and battering rams and more people, they were spilling into my dining room and they told me to get on the floor at gunpoint.
I started asking questions and I was being told “Shut the fuck up, shut the fuck up, shut your fucking mouth, we’ll tell you what’s going on, just shut the fuck up.” And then it hit me, my 12-year-old kid is downstairs hearing all of this. I believe you’ve read part of his take on that.
What follows is an excerpt of a statement about the raid written by Anon’s youngest son.
I hear the door upstairs open. In my mind, I’m thinking “oh my brother is home from work or my mom or dad opening the front door to throw something in the recycling.” Well, I was wrong by a long shot. After the door opens, I hear screaming “HANDS UP AND GET ON THE GROUND!!!!!!!!”
I have no idea who that is and my heart is racing. I feel like I’m gonna cry, and I’m worried about my parents. I grab my phone and try to run out the basement door. I open the door (I forgotto add that I thought we were getting robbed so I was gonna run outside, go under my pool deck, and call the police) but I’m stopped by a guy with a flashlight shining in my eyes. So, I back up away from the door because that guy also has a gun pointed at me. When I back up to the middle of the room, I’m feeling absolutely hopeless. I thought this was it, this is where my life ends. I get a shitty end to my life.
My heart is racing, I’m sweating, and I’m scared shitless. At this point I’m thinking, “I’m gonna be dead soon, so there is no point in doing anything.” Then, there is someone coming down the stairs with a gun pointed at me and there is nothing I can do. So, what do I do…? What any smart person would do in this situation, I surrendered. I’m just a kid (12 years old) with 3 guns pointed at my face. When my brain starts coming back to reality, I look up at the person who is walking towards me. You’ll never believe who these people were. Here, I’ll let you take your guess. I’ll give you 10 seconds. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
Ok, time’s up. These people were the damn POLICE. Ugh I was about to run outside and call the police on the police.
Why the sudden, terrifying invasion? Anon hypothesizes that it’s because the cops had, in fact, been working with the dealer across the street, the one that they had seemed so loathe to apprehend. Next week, we’ll pick back up with more of her account.
And, of course — free Keith Davis, Jr.!!
#OneBaltimore #ForcedSilenceCondonesPoliceViolence #BaltimorePoliceDepartment #DisbandBPD
Cultural Event of the Week: Holeeeeee shit, are you kidding me?!? Coming this Friday, 1/10, “Experience The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars in a way you never have before — in 360-degree sound and visuals on the expansive screen of our planetarium dome.” See you at the Maryland Science Center!
Green Events of the Week: This Thursday, 1/9, join the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement, Clean Water Action, Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, Neighborhood Sun, Baltimore Blue+ Green+ Just, SURJ Baltimore, Sunrise Movement Baltimore, and others to discuss what’s coming up for environmental justice in Baltimore in 2020. This meeting will be held the day after Maryland’s legislative session begins, so the focus will be on state-level action.