One Baltimore #45: Insurrection & The Session

1/13/21

Hey folks! Been a while. Any current events to speak of? Well, last week there was that thing with the MAGA militia that nearly kidnapped/killed half of Congress. Also, the Maryland General Assembly convened for the 2021 state legislative session today. Wheeeere to start?

Insurrection first. I’ve been trying to write about the situation in DC for a solid month now, starting posts, scrapping them, starting new ones. Our sister city to the south has been under siege since the election — November 14th and December 12th, the previous “Million MAGA” and “Stop the Steal” rallies, and the days surrounding them, they were practice runs for what went down on the 6th and they were ugly as fuck.

A couple of friends and I went down to observe more than once. We were greeted by continual harassment for appearing near the rallies with a trans flag in tow, attacked out of the blue with deadly intent while doing literally nothing (except not paying enough attention, clearly), and interrogated as to the whereabouts of “BLM”. If you haven’t witnessed the size and militancy of the pre-6th crowds, haven’t seen just how much yellow and black (the Proud Boy colors) were out there, have a look (https://twitter.com/aletweetsnews/status/1337805851579576324). Think about what this has meant for marginalized locals, about the fact that there were altercations day and night, demands that passersby disavow opposition to fascism in order to avoid assault, Black Lives Matter banners torn down from historic Black churches (https://twitter.com/BGOnTheScene/status/1337968919286591488) and burned in the street (https://twitter.com/FordFischer/status/1338221355007946754) amidst chants of “Whose streets? Our streets!” Not to mention the pandemic implications of the unmasked mobs filling hotels and eateries.

Then, of course, came the 6th. Don kicked things off at midday with a pep talk (this video by Jr. right beforehand is hilarious https://twitter.com/ReesusP/status/1347227775975870469 “Hi Ivanka! …hi Ivanka!!” fucking loser). Seth Abramson has done an excellent job dissecting Trump’s speech (https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1347908845281095680.html) and the ones that preceded it (https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1348373138388766723.html), drilling down to the real messages and identifying the propaganda techniques at play. I’m not going to belabor the point, but yes, the President and his family and cronies did indeed direct their goons to go after members of the legislative branch and the Vice Prez.

A LOT of things happened next, but one of the most striking sources I’ve seen so far is this video — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfiS8MsfSF4&feature=youtu.be&bpctr=1610561163. It starts with the crowd swarming forward across the lawn of the Capitol and ends in the hallway outside the House chambers with Ashli Babbit’s death. Some moments that stuck with me:

1:20 A few cops try to menace the crowd with batons, but quickly fall back when barriers are pushed through
2:40 Cameraman pauses at the ramparts to look out and hoot at the enormous crowd below
6:20 Cameraman enters through a broken window
6:50 “We gotta burn it, we gotta get this shit burned”
7:50 A rioter chatting with a cop gets a friendly pat on the arm before carrying on his way
12:30 Rioters easily bypass cops
16:55 “You were right, we did it!” “Dude, I was trying to tell you — I couldn’t say much” [there’s then a bit cut out] “You weren’t recording, right?” “Don’t worry, I’ll delete that shit”
17:55 “I can respect the statues… well, people might burn this down, I’m not gonna lie, so it might be too late for that.”
18:20 “This is a revolution!” “They fucking pushed us”
19:03 “Tell Pelosi we’re coming for that bitch! Tell fucking Pelosi we’re coming for her! Fucking traitorous cunt!”
19:20 “Give us the traitors! Give us the fucking traitors!”
20:40 An older rioter touches a cop’s shoulders while leaning in to speak with him at length
20:55 Cameraman to the cops — “Nobody should get hurt, you know what I’m saying? People got hurt downstairs, and y’all… you’re putting yourselves in harm’s way.” [he gives such warnings several more times]
24:40 The older guy from 20:40 has now been fully incorporated into the line of cops. He puts his hand on another rioter’s shoulder and says “I’m just like you, I’m one of you [the rioters], I’m one of them [the cops]”
26:40 “No violence!” “It’s too late for that, they don’t listen without that shit.”
29:36 “I’ve got a knife, let me up, let me up”
31:10 Same older guy from before is in the thick of the crowd by the doors they’re trying to break down, getting everyone to make a path to let others through as members of the crowd pass forward flagpoles “The cops are leaving!” “They’re giving us the building?”
33:38 “Fuck the blue! Fuck the blue!”
34:30 Cops walk away from their posts by the doors, rioters immediately began working to smash them open with helmets and poles. A gun is seen pointing out of another doorway towards them. Cameraman and others are yelling about the gun, but no one stops trying to break in.
35:06 Babbit is shot, police try to render aid
38:35 A guy from Infowars ascertains that the cameraman saw Babbit die and is eager to get his info

So… was this clusterfuck allowed to happen, or were the relevant security forces simply unprepared? Putting aside the National Guard, which was for sure held back on purpose, and just looking at the Capitol Police, yeah, it very much seems intentional to me. I’m not saying the cops were unified in their intention to mid-wife a coup, hardly. While some colluded with and palled around with their MAGA buddies (https://twitter.com/baothai1995/status/1347570577595265025,
https://twitter.com/bubbaprog/status/1346920198461419520), others truly did try to stop them and were brutalized. Some of the most intense videos I’ve seen along these lines include one of a cop being dragged and beaten with flagpoles
(https://twitter.com/CalebJHull/status/1348334770103660553) and another of a bleeding cop crying out over and over while a giant crowd crushes him against a door with a heave-ho maneuver (https://youtu.be/QVZvp-Dv0gg). And of course there’s the one who was straight up murdered by the mob. But it’s the (in)actions of those at the top that are truly damning.

Just look at the deployment and disposition of the forces in their charge. Far, far too few officers to have a hope of controlling a crowd that size, despite the fact that everyone who was paying any attention to the MAGAs knew they had been organizing hard to come with guns and in overwhelming force (https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/janelytvynenko/trump-rioters-planned-online). It certainly wasn’t a problem of not having the numbers. The Capitol cops have a force almost the size of Boston’s that’s responsible for just 2% of the area, AND they have the MPD (who are responsible for the rest of the city) to call on! Then you’ve got barricades that barely deserve the name, a dearth of riot gear, no clouds of tear gas to disperse the crowd… I could go on.

The many people who’ve commented on how the cops prepared for Black Lives Matter demonstrations as if they expected an attack, and prepared for a right-wing assault on the capitol (after a summer of right-wing assaults on state capitols) as if they were expecting a flower delivery, are doing more than “merely” pointing out a helluva gotcha moment on the issue of police treatment of Black people/movements vs. white ones — they’re also making plain just how premeditated the decision to allow this attack appears. Not convinced? Read the words of the cops themselves about how they were abandoned by their leadership (https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/emmanuelfelton/black-capitol-police-racism-mob, https://www.businessinsider.com/capitol-police-officer-says-cops-sent-home-ahead-of-march-2021-1).

But y’know, it’s not like I have any inside insight into the minds of those involved. Maybe, somehow, despite the alarm of all manner of federal agencies (https://www.newsweek.com/fbi-homeland-security-white-house-advisers-foresaw-possible-riots-looked-other-way-1559535), when the chief of the Capitol cops looked at the MAGA mob and saw the color of their skin and the flavor of their politics, he just truly couldn’t believe that these armed terrorists were a real threat. Either way, conspiracy or fuck-up, the takeaway is much the same — the bias inherent in our system of law enforcement, the “Blue Lives Matter” charade that’s not in any way about lives (including the “blue” ones) just about the license to inflict power on (Black) people, the tendency to treat the violent threats of white people as harmless and the peaceful objectives of people of color as threatening, it leaves us all vulnerable in the end, even our most privileged overlords, even the cops themselves. Maybe they shoulda listened to all the activists desperately trying say exactly that for so long.

Which brings us to my second topic, the state session. Because once again, we have our narrow window of opportunity before us to DO SOMETHING about the laws propping up this sick system here at home. Thanks to the mass protests this summer in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a wider raft of reforms, with more support than ever, are on the table. But sustained pressure from the people is invariably needed to get our legislators to do anything, and that’s going to look a lot different this year… more accessible in some ways, less in others.

The three months of the session are always a whirlwind, but things are moving WAY faster than usual this year because they’re trying to get done early in case they have to close due to covid. Hearings that normally wouldn’t be held until February are being scheduled as early as tomorrow. You can only sign up to give virtual verbal testimony and submit written testimony between 10am and 3pm two days in advance of hearings, meaning important opportunities for input are going to whiz past a lot of people.

Here are some of the most important criminal justice reform proposals I’m seeing and where they stand so far:

  • Repeal of Authorization for JHU Police Department, SB276/HB336
    Would take away permission for an unaccountable private police force in the heart of our city that isn’t wanted by students, staff, or surrounding residents
    Hearing on SB276 is on Thursday, 1/21 at 11am, sign up to give testimony on Tuesday, 1/19 between 10am and 3pm
  • Reform of the MD Public Information Act (Anton’s Law), SB178/HB120
    Would end the complete secrecy about records of police misconduct
    Hearing on SB178 is on Thursday, 1/21 at 11am, sign up to give testimony on Tuesday, 1/19 between 10am and 3pm
  • Maryland Trust Act, SB88/HB304
    Would stop police from collaborating with ICE
  • Driver Privacy Act, SB234/HB23
    Would prevent MVA from giving data to ICE
  • Dignity Not Detention Act, HB16
    Would end for-profit immigrant prisons in MD
  • Repeal the MD Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, HB151
    Would take away numerous special protections cops currently have in how they can be questioned/investigated
  • Statewide Use of Force Policy, HB139
    Would better establish that it’s not actually ok for a cop to go wild on you, thereby making it easier to prosecute them successfully if they do
  • Repeal of Persistent Aerial Surveillance, HB159
    Would outlaw the spy plane program
  • Make BPD a City Agency, bills not yet filed
    Would end the failed system of state control of our police and allow for important policy changes that we can’t currently make
  • Replace School Police with Support Services, bills not yet filed
    Would disrupt the school to prison pipeline and free up $10M/year for actually caring for students

…is it just me, or is it that list really revealing in terms of exactly how dystopian shit is for us? ANYway. Sign up here — http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/mgawebsite/Account/Register/Tracking — for an account, which you can use to track the bills you’re interested in and sign up to give written or verbal testimony during that weird 10am-3pm, two days before slot. More info on giving testimony here — http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/pubs-current/21%20-%20Judiciary%20Committee%20Witness%20Guidelines.pdf.

For template emails and social media posts on many of these bills, lists of legislators to target, and more, check out these great resources from the Maryland Coalition for Justice & Police Accountability (https://www.mcjpa.org/) here — https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/13_yXXrZqJ1BNeBUWhpeQ9DO_CepMRFQR?usp=sharing. If you go into the “2021 Legislative Background” folder you can find a powerpoint entitled “Police Reform – Annapolis 2021” that walks through more on the process and how you can get involved.

Speaking slots will be limited, so it’s crucial both to sign up early and to do our utmost to flood the various hearings with written testimony. That means putting in the work yourself and also posting regularly about the bills and the process, directly contacting sympathetic people in your networks to ask them to do the same. It’s also important, of course, to contact legislators directly, especially those on the relevant committees, and especially the committee chairs. All of these bills will go to the Judiciary committee in the House (https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/06hse/html/com/05jud.html, run by Baltimore City’s own Luke Clippinger, District 46) and to the Judicial Proceedings committee (https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/05sen/html/com/05judp.html) in the Senate.

For more on strategy, I encourage you to attend this Thursday’s 6pm meeting of the Campaign for Justice, Safety & Jobs, a coalition of Baltimore org’s working on police accountability: https://fb.me/e/WBQQZyk2. Mark your calendars for the 2nd Thursday of the month if you want to attend in future.

You can also follow Baltimore For Border Justice (https://www.facebook.com/BaltimoreForBorderJustice) — we’ve been real quiet lately, but will be posting about all of these bills as they progress.

I’ll end with a couple of ways to support DC:

Free Keith Davis, Jr., still, now, and always until the day he’s home.

Til next time.

#OneBaltimore

#LocalControl4Bmore

#LocalControlMatters

#AbolishLEOBOR

#TheThinBlueLineIsAGangSymbol

A DC cop with a thin blue line patch on his pouch, shortly after he’d pepper sprayed people they’d functionally kettled who were defending Black Lives Matter plaza, taken a month before one of his colleagues was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher amidst a sea of thin blue line merch.

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