Welcome back, y’all. Apologies for the silence; as I suspected, things have remained too hectic for regular long-form writing. But events this week are too momentous to ignore. I’ve got a few big points on my mind, so let’s jump right in.
- Last week, as protests in Portland over police misconduct began to die down, Department of Homeland Security agents rolled into town wearing camo and face masks, with no badges (other than a generic patch reading “POLICE”), and started grabbing random protestors and hustling them into unmarked vans without identifying themselves or making any nods towards due process (https://www.npr.org/2020/07/17/892277592/federal-officers-use-unmarked-vehicles-to-grab-protesters-in-portland). They went on to shoot a peaceful protester in the head with an impact projectile (https://www.oregonlive.com/news/2020/07/police-shoot-portland-protester-in-head-with-impact-weapon-causing-severe-injuries.html) leaving him bleeding on the sidewalk, break a Navy vet’s hand for daring to ask them what they thought of their oath to uphold the constitution (unclear if they actually took such an oath? anyone can wear camo and we have no idea who these people are) (https://time.com/5869220/navy-vet-federal-agents-portland-protests/), and tear-gas a gathering of mothers who had shown up in the hopes that their presence would slow the state violence (https://www.today.com/parents/wall-moms-portland-protests-tear-gas-violence-t187393). Mayor Wheeler decried their actions, saying “We do not need or want their help. The best thing they can do is stay inside their building, or leave Portland altogether.” But he has no actual power to stop them, and they’re still there.
- Yesterday, Trump listed Baltimore among the cities to which he plans to send more DHS forces (https://twitter.com/thehill/status/1285244981322690560). This afternoon, I got a message from a friend downtown saying that he’d seen DHS vehicles gathering up by the Convention Center, which was quickly confirmed when local crime reporter Justin Fenton tweeted about approaching and questioning them. During the encounter they said they were there for a training exercise, but refused to confirm or deny whether it was related to Trump’s recent comments (https://twitter.com/justin_fenton/status/1285620110900834306). To be fair, we always have a ton of federal agents around, this being a port city. But the point stands… he said he’d send them, they’re here, and everyone is noticing. No word from Mayor Young, aside from a spokesperson saying they don’t know anything (https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/crime/bs-md-ci-cr-federal-law-enforcement-20200720-4r73egxnurdjvjilfu773tenmi-story.html).
- U.S. Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (which of course is under DHS, and may well comprise the “troops” in Portland… it would fit, given how they’ve been described as having so little coordination or grasp of tactics) recently announced that they are starting a “citizens academy” in Chicago this fall, featuring “scenario-based training and exercises… including, but not limited to defensive tactics, firearms familiarization and targeted arrests.” In response, Mayor Lightfoot said “ICE’s plan to train civilians to surveil and intimidate immigrant and refugee communities is vile”… but as with Wheeler in Portland, it doesn’t appear that her words mean a thing to them. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/07/16/chicago-ice-citizen-academy-mayor-says-vigilantes-not-welcome/5453758002/
I could draw you a real simple straight line connecting these dots, but instead I’ma detour into a little personal history.
I met my great-grandmother Celia once that I can remember, when I was very young and she was very old. She was lying in a hospital bed, small and frail. It was explained to me who she was – my mother’s mother’s mother – and I struggled to understand the idea that she and I were connected in this unbroken line. I remember touching her hand, my alarm at the delicacy of her paper-thin skin.
Born in Hungary, Celia came to America in the 19-teens, part of a wave of over two million Jews from Eastern Europe who arrived on our shores between 1880 and 1924. After that, restrictive new immigration laws were passed. For many, you either made it out during that window, or you perished in the camps. Celia was one of the lucky ones, managing to flee the rising oppression that would, of course, crest just a couple of decades later in the systematic region-wide slaughter of our people and so many others.
When Celia arrived in the U.S., she would have gone through a fairly simple immigration intake process. She settled into a home in Connecticut, looked for work, found another recent Hungarian-Jewish immigrant, got married, and had kids, including my grandmother. Celia’s eldest, my great-Uncle Morris, just passed away last year at the age of 101, having served his country in WWII and (in a twist that’s not strictly relevant, but which I think is neat) growing old with the German nurse who became his wife.
But what if Celia had been born at the turn of THIS century, rather than the last one? What if, rather than settling in Hungary after we were scattered from Israel, her ancestors became some of the many Latino Jews living in Central and South America? What if she came here now, fleeing gang violence and hunger rather than anti-semitism?
Rather than a little house in New Haven, she could well be in a camp right now for daring to seek refuge in the US. Maybe she’d be among those warehoused at the for-profit detention center in Jena, Louisiana, run by the notorious GEO Group (worldwide assets estimated at 4.3 billion dollars). As COVID-19 ravages the country, she would be sleeping in a room with 80 other women and no kind of spacing, watching the guards walk around without masks or gloves or hand sanitizer, much less making any available for inmates. Maybe she’d be among those pepper-sprayed while participating in a protest with other detainees, begging not to be allowed to die like animals, their plight ignored by the general public now more than ever, when we’ve all got so much else on our minds (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-women-ice-custody-louisiana-release-covid-19/).
Well, FUCK THAT. For years, those of us who pay attention to history and to the present have been saying: ICE is the Gestapo, their detention centers are concentration camps, and some of the next steps in the American descent into fascism are that 1) they’ll start recruiting their supporters into an organized paramilitary force, 2) they’ll start targeting people other than immigrants, and 3) the concentration camps will become death camps. And now, here we are. ICE is deputizing randos and targeting “anarchists” (i.e. anyone who dares to engage in protest of any kind), and thousands of ICE detainees have COVID-19, with the deaths you’d expect following on their heels (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-detainees-ice-custody-vulnerable-spread/). It’s a well-worn observation, but still worth noting — Anne Frank died of typhus in an overcrowded camp, not in a gas chamber.
Maybe the feds on the waterfront today really are just there to learn how to check boats for bombs, maybe they’re not going to start cracking skulls the next time we dare to take to our own streets. But the trends are the trends and the facts are the facts. If you go to a protest, bring safety gear and make sure someone will go looking if they don’t hear from you by the time you were supposed to be back. And if you’re an organizer, get a go-bag ready, and maybe think about some places you could hide out if need be. I know that may sound extreme to some, but they can detain “terrorists” indefinitely, just like they do with immigrants… and all of us who aren’t into their fascism are considered “terrorists” now, have been for quite a while. To be fair, they are indeed fucking terrified of the changes we want to see in the world.
They’re fighting us because they know those changes won’t come unless we create them. My warnings are decidedly not to say that we should back down. 110% the opposite. There’s so, so much work to be done to oppose all of this, right here in Baltimore.
Take one of my very favorite topics — local police control. I’ve written about it a few times now (https://one-baltimore.org/category/localcontrol-2/), and, with “POLICE” (who are maybe just raw ICE recruits) snatching people off the streets and Baltimore publicly on the President’s shit list, what could be more important than holding the reins of at least SOME of the armed forces in our midst? Trump may control ICE, and Hogan may control the National Guard, and they can disappear us if they so choose… shouldn’t WE control at least the officers we pay with our own tax dollars? Can you imagine a situation in which they sided with the people against illegal state violence, rather than perpetrating it? Why should that be so impossible, if they’re meant to serve and protect us? Serious question!
Thankfully, there are some serious and very achievable steps we can take to move towards a better answer. While the Maryland General Assembly session this year was cut short by COVID-19, and the bill to give Baltimore City back control of our own police died, momentum is already ramping up for its passage next year. Check out this video of State Senator Jill Carter announcing at a recent West Wednesday rally that she intends to sponsor a new local control bill, as well as bills to abolish the Law Enforcement Office’s Bill of Rights and revoke the authorization for the Johns Hopkins private police force: https://www.facebook.com/BaltimoreForBorderJustice/posts/320112366040842
The project around which my friends and I organize, Baltimore For Border Justice, stands with Senator Carter as well as with all the many, many other groups championing the cause of local control and other efforts to cleanse corruption and put the community at the center of creating a safer city. There are a lot of platforms out there to choose from; one that’s picked up a ton of steam, spearheaded by the ACLU of Maryland, includes local control and has been signed by more than 60 MD organizations so far, as well as various state representatives! Read and sign on here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSevwTjEV99IawicfSJRzCuAregNNzFVLXXc3wEwzDSQnAjwlA/viewform
I’m not saying that these sorts of legislative moves alone will save our butts in a time of such crisis, to be clear. There are a million other things that are needed right now too, including mutual aid efforts as rents come due and resources grow even thinner. Be part of the solution to our shared survival however you can. If you want to volunteer, there are a thousand ways. If just keeping yourself alive is a full-time task right now, then please, do that with all your heart, and just ask if you need any help.
These are dark, dark times. What we have going for us is ourselves and each other. There is a great deal to be afraid of, but we have to let our love shine brighter than our fear, we have to take care of each other, we have to force an end to the old systems of oppression as well as the new ones. I know that sounds like a lot during a global pandemic, but with the amazing work I’ve seen over the last few months, I believe in our ability to rise to the challenges ahead, together.
As I always like to mention in closing, one of those challenges is freeing Keith Davis Jr. from prison… now more than ever, as he’s especially vulnerable to COVID-19 due to breathing problems stemming from when BPD shot him, lodging a bullet in his neck, and then Marilyn Mosby blocked its removal against a court order while it turned septic. Oh hey, and speaking of Mosby, did you hear about her lavish travel expenses and how she apparently incorporated a travel company last year and refuses to get into detail about it (https://www.baltimorebrew.com/2020/07/21/marilyn-mosby-answers-few-questions-about-her-travel-company/)? No time to get into her impending and well-deserved fall from grace now, though. Stay safe, friends.
COVID-19 Resource of the Week: The “Food Resources” page on the City’s coronavirus emergency website is FULL of information, seriously. There’s a flyer about how you can call 211 to get produce and pantry items delivered to your home for free if you can’t go out. There’s a map of sites around the city doing food giveaways. There’s info on getting your food stamps. If food is an issue for you or anyone you know, check it out! Heck, spread the word regardless, because you never know who might be struggling. https://coronavirus.baltimorecity.gov/food-distribution-sites