I may not be doing a column this week, but I can’t not share this banging queer variety show full of fantastic local and regional artists out on by some of my favorite people in the world! Two nights only, get your tickets meow: https://www.theatreproject.org/
Hey folks, no column this week or next, as per my “no column if I’m out of town for 3+days or opening a show” rule. I’m on day 3 at Empire City-Con, helping Bleed Geeks vend their awesome reusable cloth pads (https://www.etsy.com/shop/bleedgeeks), and next week I’ll be both going to a work conference AND helping open the Charm City Kitty Club’s newest show, Cliterature (two nights only, Fri 11/8 & Sat 11/19: https://www.theatreproject.org/cliterature/).
Thanks for your patience!
If you’ve ever known a teacher who cares deeply and gets to make a difference in the lives of the kids they work with, then you know that teaching can be the best job in the world. Except that here in the U.S., with the way we undervalue the education system in general and the labor and well-being of teachers in particular, it’s also often one of the hardest. And here in Baltimore City, from everything I’ve seen, we make it really, really hard. It’s not ok. And it has to change.
I first knew that something was deeply wrong with the teaching profession in Baltimore when I was a couple of years out of college. One of my good friends had become a teacher at a city school, and when I would ask her how she was doing, the answers were getting increasingly, intensely bad. The amount she had to work in the evenings and on the weekends to keep up was taking a huge toll on her, as was the mind-numbing paperwork, the constant testing, the trauma the kids were facing, just all of it.
It became a trend. My friends who started jobs as city school teachers were driven to dark places. I met other city teachers, people I hadn’t known before they started the job, who seemed to be holding it down, but I was haunted by the knowledge of how hard it hit those close to me. Putting aside the terrible injustice of mistreating dedicated people who just want to help young people thrive, how can a system that does that to its workers possibly sustain itself or perform as it should for those it’s meant to be serving?
Change might just be coming. With the amount it’s been in the news lately, you may’ve heard of the Kirwan Commission, but here’s a quick recap. The commission, formed three years ago by the state legislature, was tasked with studying the best school systems in the world and figuring out how to make ours one of them. It rolled out its major recommendations and funding estimates this past winter, and is now wrapping up its final report just in time for the legislature to consider implementation when the 2020 session starts up in January. It’s going to be a big fight, with the Governor lined up squarely against it for reasons of cost.
In trying to understand the whole Kirwan situation better, I reached out to my teacher friends for their perspectives. Almost as an afterthought, I posted on facebook to ask if any other current or former city teachers would like to talk.
The response was overwhelming, which I should have expected. Teachers in Baltimore have a lot to get off their chests!! We’ll start this week where I started with them, by asking what they found were the best things about the job, and what were the hardest things.
So, what’s the best thing about teaching in Baltimore City? While I feel bad not sharing all the individual responses on that point, the truth is it would be real repetitive reading. I can sum up what every single person said in two words: the kids. Seeing them ask good questions and do creative things, helping them, getting to know them, watching them grow up.
The answers about the hardest things varied more widely and tended to be more thorough, and so, while I apologize for focusing on the negative, it’s those I’ve shared below. While a couple of people were willing to use their names, most wanted to be anonymous, so we decided to go that route across the board. These interview excerpts are lightly edited for privacy and clarity.
A first-year middle school science teacher at a city school:
Also the students! Specifically, the conflict between the students’ desires (phones, snacks, taking breaks from class, etc.) and the administration’s expectations of discipline. Obviously, there needs to be some expectation that my students are actually in class, paying attention, etc. But I do feel that there’s too much of an emphasis on consequences, rather than restorative practices.
But also… the students themselves are often resistant to those restorative practices. They haven’t gotten the tools they need to manage their emotions, and they’re not in a social context that enables them to practice those skills. Especially since their school day is dedicated entirely to cramming them full of information that they often don’t even care about. Unfortunately, the system seems wholly uninterested in getting them invested: just controlling them.
A former middle school music teacher at a city charter school that has since closed:
It was one of many charter schools that wasn’t very well run. The administration was basically a family business. Director was the husband of the principal. The principal’s father was on the board, and they had no training or experience in education. There were also many problems in the way that they expected teachers to handle discipline issues independently in the classroom without support. Technology and music teachers would sometimes be taken away from their normal teaching and assigned to different duties, disrupting their curriculum to act as substitute teachers or refocusing on standardized test preparation. I did not feel supported at all, and teacher retention was very low in general.
I also felt that they were conditioning the students for jail, having to be escorted in straight lines between classes and the lunchroom for instance. There were also very rigid guidelines as to how all teachers were expected to manage their classrooms and pedagogic approach, which went against many of the approaches that I felt worked well with my students.
A third-year high school technology instructor at a city charter school:
Ugh, that is a first place with a lot of competition. The job is hard at the best of times. Children, teenagers, are growing up and figuring themselves out and having a hard time in that process, and they are so inwardly focused, and so involved in their emotional development and social lives, that I, as a strange adult who they see maybe an hour out of every weekday, am just not on their radar. I am just not something they think about beyond their grade (if they care about that). So it tends to feel like I am barely a person to them. Which means taking huge amounts of inadvertent disrespect, and feeling dehumanized.
Again, this is just the nature of the job in the first place, before you start taking into account the vast amounts of trauma that these kids are bringing to school each day, where school becomes this safe place merely by virtue of giving them a space with peers and the chance for supportive friendships. As a teacher, it makes me feel very insignificant and like I do not make a difference. Even if it is not factual, it is a hard feeling to dodge.
A long-time art teacher who taught for one year at a city elementary/middle school.
Where to begin….!!!
The school building was on its last legs physically, no potable water (it had to be brought in in the form of a water-cooler and would get knocked over, so they took it away). Fights fairly often, traumatized kids (many, more than average), theft of anything of remote value from my desk and drawers, no heat a couple of winter days, unusable sink in the art room from September 1- June. Unmanageable classes (more my fault than theirs).
I had a third grade that was full of traumatized kids. So out of control that at one point it was complete chaos with kids running on top of the desks. 3rd grades seemed to have a good deal of older kids in it — 10 year olds. I was unintentionally hit by a couple of students.
An art teacher who has taught at schools around the city for seven years.
Getting to know the students. Learning my personal limits. I was told when I first started working in schools that “Education is an abyss, and if you pour all of yourself into it, you will lose yourself’.” The hardest part is realizing how little you can actually help a child. After I realized that I alone couldn’t really affect change, my goal became to just try to give a kid a good day. Or at least smile once that day.
A long-time arts teacher at several city elementary schools.
Not having the training, time and support to deal with all of the problems kids bring to the table. Administrators (in my case above the school level) that makes decisions that greatly affect your daily life and have no clue. But mostly the first problem.
A former arts teacher who taught for six years at city schools through various programs.
Discipline was the hardest. The school didn’t have enough resources to help the kids. We had little to no support from admin, almost no follow through in terms of consequences. There was also a sense of no organization. For example, we would be told we would “push in” (art on a cart) for the day at the last min. Testing week we had a pre-k class dropped off with us randomly because the AP didn’t want to watch them. A personal frustration with all these jobs was that I never had enough hours and had to have multiple jobs.
A special education teacher with five years of experience who taught for half a year at a city high school before quitting.
The administration: Completely unprofessional and at odds with the teachers at every step. Special education was clearly an afterthought and an inconvenience; we were in no way adequately equipped to serve the students.
A former teacher who spent seven years at city elementary/middle schools.
The grownups. But seriously, I would say the toxic work environment, lack of professional development around vicarious trauma and caregiver burnout. Also the disproportionate workload classroom teachers carried compared to other school based staff. Also workplace bullying.
What can I add to all of that except: thank you. Thank you to those who participated in the interviews, of course, but thank you from the depths of my heart to ALL of the teachers. Thank you for giving so much of yourselves under such challenging conditions, thank you for your service, whether for half a year or twenty.
The next question I asked was whether people thought that the job had affected their health. Again, I received a unanimous response: yes. So that’s what we’ll look at when One Baltimore returns, how working in Baltimore City schools is affecting staff physically and mentally, and what efforts are being made to help them cope. After that, we’ll finally get down to the details on Kirwan and how it could make an impact on this deeply difficult situation.
To close — Free. Keith. Davis. Goddamn. Jr.
Cultural Event of the Week: This Friday, November 1st, marks the start of Brilliant Baltimore, a ten day combo of Light City and the Baltimore Book Festival. The main action will be at the Inner Harbor, with art installations, concerts, talks, workshops, a comic book pavilion, kids’ events, and more spaced out between the Columbus Center (that building on Pratt next to the Barnes & Noble, with the roof that looks like sails) and the various sides of the harbor promenade. There’ll also be events throughout the city, including, parades, block parties, dance parties, disco dancing and drone-making at public libraries, the Gluegunheim (get it?) exhibition of prop art by the Baltimore Rock Opera Society and Fluid Movement (https://brilliantbaltimore.com/neighborhood-lights/the-gluegunheim-in-bromo
), and more. Keeping up with it all would be impossible, but catch what you can!
Green Event of the Week: Did you know that the Baltimore region has some of the worst air quality in the country? I’ve been an environmental professional for a long time, but I was still shocked when I found out (might write a column on it). Because it’s invisible, it’s not something most of us often think about — but luckily, the members of the Clean Air Baltimore Coalition do. This Tuesday afternoon, 10/29, they’re inviting the public to join them in meeting with the Maryland Department of the Environment to demand stronger air protections.
Song of the Week: “What Did You Learn In School Today” by Pete Seeger
What did you learn in school today / Dear little boy of mine? / What did you learn in school today / Dear little boy of mine? / I learned that Washington never told a lie / I learned that soldiers seldom die / I learned that everybody’s free / And that’s what the teacher said to me
This past weekend, I braved the marathon and the rain to hang out with friends who were vending handmade reusable cloth menstrual pads (more on them below) at Baltimore Comic-Con. Now in its 20th year, the convention brings together hundreds of artists, from big name professionals to fans taking their first shot at selling their own works. When I wasn’t encouraging potential customers to pet the pads (they’re so soft!), I went looking for Baltimore-area artists to talk to.
The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Tony Calandra, http://www.facebook.com/GCPcomics/
Me: How long have you been publishing GCP Comics?
Tony: Ten years now.
Me: Wonderful! And you do it yourselves?
Tony: Yeah, we do it all ourselves, part-time since we both have full-time jobs. We have friends that work at a couple small publishers, so we might go that route soon.
Me: So, tell me about your comic.
Tony: Our latest one we have here is The Patrol, we have two issues. A second ice age happens, these mysterious beasts show up, and it actually takes place all in Maryland, and the story’s gonna end in Baltimore. People always skip over Baltimore, it’s New York, DC —
Me: — the end of the world happens other places too!
Tony: Yeah, we wanted to show some Baltimore love.
Me: Are there any other local artists you’d wanna highlight?
Tony: I know another local guy down here who does Spaghetti Kiss, Michael Baracco, he does Super Art Fight as well. He did our first t-shirts that we got screen printed, now we screen print our own
Michael Bracco, http://spaghettikiss.websiteanimal.com/
Me: Tell me about your comic.
Michael: The one I’m working on right now is called The Creators. It’s a kind of dark science-fiction about a small grouping of kids scattered across the globe who suddenly develop the ability to bring their imaginations to life through their artwork and the crazy social ramifications of that power. It’s kind of my way to do a socially relevant kaiju book, where these kids are trying to do good things, and then when they’re mistreated, things go out of control, there’s all this collateral damage. It’s my way of exploring the idea of if we took one percent of every one percent of every teenager in this country and gave them the power to do anything they wanted to, how would that change American culture and how would we stifle these kids.
Me: How do you find Baltimore as a place to be a working artist?
Michael: Oh, I think as an artist this city is the best city in the country! And I mean that wholeheartedly, with evidence, not just off the cuff. One, there’s just a really active art scene in the city, craft shows, art festivals, comic conventions… a thousand different ways to do it. We have very supportive shops and people who live in Baltimore because they love the forward motion of the city and they look to support local artists and musicians, local restaurants.
On top of that, this is the only city, I think, in the country that’s in the center of so many other cities full of opportunities, Philly, Richmond, New York, DC, Pittsburgh. So there’s just so much art with so many different voices happening in this radius of Baltimore, but Baltimore is actually I think kind of the epicenter, it’s right in the middle of it all.
Rod Van Blake, http://ancientillumination.net/
Me: Tell me about the books.
Rod: Ancient Illumination came about from me thinking of things that happened long ago and beings made of pure light. I had a what-if scenario, what if there were beings made of pure light, what would that interaction be if they came to stay with us when we were cro-magnon, still in the caveman days, and they tried to teach us? But one kind of thinks we’re too dumb, so he starts experimenting, messing with us.
He gets exiled here on Earth for doing that and is tasked with enlightening mankind. He forms a bunch of different mutated races, we evolve technologically with his help, a bunch of societies raise up with his help. He looks at all the conflict that happens, he watches it and influences it, it’s like a soap opera to him. So we evolved, but not in the proper ways, we become like an entertainment mechanism for him.
Me: That’s a really fascinating premise. So, have you been to Baltimore Comic-Con before?
Rod: This is our third one. When I first came in 2017, I only had one book. We were telling people, hey, next year when I come I’m gonna have book two. So next year we came, I had book two, next year we’re gonna have book three, and hopefully next year we’re going to have the graphic novel of it, which will be a different experience.
Me: Any other artists you’d tell people to check out? I guess there’s the person who did the art for your book?
Rod: JP Jackson Art! He’s local here in Baltimore, you should definitely check him out.
Jordan Purnell Jackson, https://jjackson01.myportfolio.com
Abby: Is there a particular project you’re working on right now that you wanna uplift?
Jordan: When I graduated from college three years ago, my thesis project was called Land of the Wolves. It was an animation, but I also made a prequel comic to it. It’s basically Little Red Riding Hood in a post-apocalyptic future. She’s an Afro-Latina shaman and she’s tasked to go to this forest and find these missing Black women that have been abducted by these wolf-men. My plans are to continue the series where each chapter will alternate between a comic and animated form.
Abby: That sounds awesome! So how do you find Baltimore as a place to be an artist?
Jordan: I feel it’s a very interesting place, I feel like there’s these pockets, niches, but this city has a great history and culture of cultivating artists.
Timothy J Stambaugh
Abby: So, how long have you been making art?
T.J.: I have been making art since I was a little kid, but I would say that, realistically, I haven’t really been doing it seriously until about, I don’t know, five years ago. I always doodled around, but I never really tried, I guess is the best way I could say it. I had some pretty shitty things happen about five years ago and I felt like I needed something to kind of focus on instead of being sad all the time, so I just put all my energy into that. I started reading and trying to get different artistic theory down and stuff like that. Just every day, drawing, painting, trying to get better, never being happy with what you’re doing, always trying to push myself.
Abby: How do you find Baltimore as a place to be an artist?
T.J.: I like it a lot. There’s a lot of places where you can go show your work, it’s pretty welcoming to kind of every skill level. And it was easy for me to find people that were interested in what I was doing, which is nice, you know what I mean? Especially when I started, I didn’t have any experience, I didn’t know what I was doing. A lot of times with artists, you get that snobbery or that cliquey-ness, like if you’re not one of them, it doesn’t really count, and I never really got that here.
Kata Kane, http://kata-kane.com
Abby: Tell me about Altar Girl.
Kata: I started it as a webcomic, it’s a shojo manga style comic with all of my favorite things that I love about manga — magical girls and supernatural stuff, angels and demons, romance and crushes, all fun stuff.
Abby: How do you find Baltimore as a place to be a working artist?
Kata: I love Baltimore, there’s definitely an art scene here. I actually help run a group called Bmore Into Comics (www.bmoreintocomics.com), it’s writers and artists and just comic book fans and creators, we get together and we do small local shows in different places in the city. We used to do a lot of shows at the Windup Space, which has since closed, that was kind of like our home base. So right now, we’re kind of in a transitional period where we’re trying to find the next spot. Yeah, so I love the art scene in Baltimore, it’s a great place to be a creator.
Erin Whitt Hilker, https://bleedgeeks.com
Me: What got you started doing Bleed Geeks?
Erin: I cloth-diapered Bjorn, but I hadn’t been using cloth pads at that point. It wasn’t until Erica, who was selling mass market cloth pads at Greenberries, came to me with their question of “Can we make a cloth pad that is water-resistant but doesn’t cut off air flow, that’s not water-proof?” because a solid water-proofing is what was preventing the airflow, and they were finding that their customers were saying, “Well I want to use cloth pads but the humidity is giving me a rash or causing me discomfort.” And there just weren’t any commercial options for that one, so I sat down to see if I could.
Me: How do you find Baltimore as a place to be an artist?
Erin: I love it, it’s… coming from a more rural area, it’s lovely to be able to walk around and not be visibly, obviously weird. There is so much creativity in our town. Baltimore is creative on a fundamental level, and I just love being adjacent to it, I love being a part of it, I love living here.
Many thanks to all of these talented and fascinating folks! I had to cut a lot to get everything to fit, and one of the questions I asked but didn’t include was “What’s your favorite comic shop in Baltimore?” Shout-out to Collectors Corner, which no fewer than four of the profiled artists cited, with multiple people saying that the owner, Randy, was a huge support to them when they were starting out.
On a more somber note, like many, I reacted with shock and sadness on Thursday when I woke up to the news of the untimely death of west Baltimore U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, a man whose work for civil rights and accountability commanded respect across all levels of society. Congressman Cummings once wrote of Baltimore, in the Afro-American newspaper (https://www.afro.com/the-thing-i-love-about-baltimore-5/), “We are a community that is almost compulsively honest and candid. We do not hesitate to critique and protest what we see as lacking and wrong in our City.”
Amen, sir. In that vein, and I can’t stress this enough — Free Keith Davis, Jr.!!
Cultural Event of the Week: This Saturday night, 10/26, a spectacular Baltimore tradition celebrates its 20th birthday — the Great Halloween Lantern Parade & Festival! Produced by the Creative Alliance and the Friends of Patterson Park, in partnership with Baltimore Recreation & Parks, the day starts at 3pm with a kids costume contest, lantern making, hayrides, an arts and crafts market, and live music by Albert Bagman, Cultura Plenera, and others. There will also be food trucks and a beer garden. And of course, when the sun sets, the lanterns come out for their procession, with floats and glowing sculptures lining the pathway around the park.
https://www.creativealliance.org/events/2019/20th-great-halloween-lantern-parade-festival / http://www.facebook.com/events/635458533606690/
Green Event of the Week: This Saturday morning is the Mayor’s annual Fall cleanup, when people around the city arm themselves with gloves, bags, and roll-off trash containers to do battle with litter. More than 100 neighborhoods are signed up to participate this year; check the list below to see if yours is one and, if so, reach out to your local community association for details.
Song of the Week: “Artists Only” by The Talkings Heads
I don’t have to prove / That I am creative / I don’t have to prove / That I am creative / All my pictures are confused / And now I’m going to / Take me to you
“The century and a half of intense belligerency between Baltimore City and Baltimore County, largely over the suburban territory…”Dr. Joseph L. Arnold, historian
In the very first One Baltimore (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/05/16/one-baltimore-1-introduction/), I talked about the weirdness of growing up in Woodlawn, just barely on the county side of the city-county line (a five-minute walk, according to Google Maps). It was this strange sense of a place arbitrarily divided, more than anything else, that inspired the name for the column.
Of course, despite my desire for Baltimorean solidarity, in everything I’ve written so far, I’ve focused on events and issues within the city and ignored the county. Partly, it’s because, hey, there’s a lot going on in the city and I know a lot more about it since I live here now. Partly it’s a reflex, after many years of working for programs that are only applicable to people within the city limits. And yeah, my single-minded focus on the city also comes from a feeling of partisanship… we just get shat on so much and suffer so much as compared to our wealthier, encircling neighbor.
These thoughts in mind, I decided to do some research on how the city-county line came to sit where it does today. Below is a short recap of highlights from “Suburban Growth and Municipal Annexation in Baltimore, 1745-1918”, published by the late historian Joseph L. Arnold (you can read it here, starting on page 109: https://archive.org/details/msa_sc_5881_1_291/). I know that a book report probably isn’t what you came here for, but bear with me, there are quotes about beer and near-riots!
Baltimore Town, as it was then known, was founded in 1730 on sixty acres around what is today the Inner Harbor. Its first expansion occurred in 1745, at the request of the residents of the adjacent Jonestown. Over the next half-century, the city boundaries were expanded twelve more times, mostly taking on small open stretches of land for new development.
By the early 1800’s, large numbers of people lived in “the precincts” of Baltimore County, adjacent to the city. In 1816, the city proposed taking them over, expanding the city line up to North Avenue and out to encompass about a third each of today’s east and west sides. City residents initially supported the annexation, while those in the precincts opposed it, not wanting their taxes to go up. However, the fate of the bill ultimately hinged on considerations altogether different.
Baltimore City had just two state delegates then, while Baltimore County had four. The city and the precincts at the time were largely Republican, while the rural parts of the county were largely Federalist, and the Federalists realized that by putting all of their opponents in one under-represented place, they would gain more power. The Republicans tried to amend the bill to give the city more delegates, but this failed and, in the end, the bill was passed in 1817 “against the consent of nine-tenths, perhaps, of the people” in the city and precincts.
For decades afterwards, most of Baltimore’s population growth was within the new boundaries, but by the close of the Civil War, the suburbs had sprung up once again. Known this time as “the belt”, they contained one-third of Baltimore County’s population but two-thirds of its tax value, so rural residents had a huge incentive to hold onto them. Belt residents had reason to resist annexation too, since they used city schools, fire, police, and other facilities without having to financially support them. As one city leader said at the time, “They want to receive all the benefits of the city, and then evade their share of the burdens.”
In addition to these factors, a change to the state constitution in 1864 ensured that any new fight for annexation would be much harder. While before, all that had been needed in order to expand was approval from the state legislature, now no territory could be transferred from one county to another without the consent of the affected electorate.
In 1874, after a bitter political struggle, the state permitted the city to expand one mile to the east, one mile to the west, and two miles to the north, subject to the approval of the majority of voters in those areas. City leaders campaigned strenuously, promising that newly-annexed residents would get all sorts of new services but only pay half the city tax rate for the first ten years.
The belt-dwellers were unconvinced. According to the Baltimore Sun at the time, “One of the City Senators told the somewhat inebriated assembly that with annexation they would have pure piped water instead of polluted wells; but the crowd shouted back, ‘We don’t want it, we have plenty of beer!’”
Residents of Highlandtown and Canton to the east had special concerns about annexation, particularly that city nuisance regulations would drive out the area’s many refineries, distilleries, breweries, and slaughterhouses. They also worried that the closing of saloons and beer gardens on Sundays would cramp their style. “The mere attempt of city leaders to hold a pro-annexation meeting in Highlandtown almost led to a riot, the organizers of the meeting cutting the program short and rushing back across the city line before actual violence ensued.” The bill went down in defeat.
In 1888, a new annexation bill passed the legislature, offering even more generous terms for delayed taxation of the areas to be added. This time, the north, east, and west sides of the Belt were allowed to vote separately. The west and north sections voted in favor, expanding the city up near Cold Spring Lane to the north and out to cover about two-thirds of today’s west side, while the eastern area stayed out in a close vote.
The annexation was challenged in court, but the Maryland Court of Appeals declared that not only could the legislature expand the city boundaries, voter approval was not in fact required to do so, because the state law about it referred to the counties, not to the city. What a bitter pill for the people who brought the suit!
The final push for expansion of the city started in 1912. This time, it was not so much about practical issues like who pays how much for what services, but rather about a perception of competitiveness. Baltimore, once one of the largest cities in the nation, had been pushed down to 7th place by Pittsburgh’s “mad rush to absorb adjacent towns” prior to the census of 1910. If the city dropped lower in the rankings in the next census, the region’s business class feared that it would be seen as a “slow place” and that this would “do the state and the city incalculable harm.”
The ensuing fight in the legislature took years and caused great political upheaval. Various proposals, one to annex a whopping 150 square miles and to divide the new areas into semi-autonomous boroughs, came and went without success. In 1918, with the next census almost at hand, business interests launched a major campaign to bring 52 square miles of new territory into the city, including a sizable portion in the south that belonged then to Anne Arundel County. It was a narrow thing, but this time, thanks in large part to another sweetheart deal on taxes, the bill passed, leaving us with our current city boundaries.
In 1948, with the suburbs rising once more, a Baltimore County Senator introduced an amendment to the state constitution that would keep the city from expanding again without the consent of those to be annexed. The bill passed easily, and annexation since then has been seen as a political impossibility, with no one even trying to make it happen.
Hope at least a few of enjoyed this little dive into history! I think I’ll be doing more from time to time, I really enjoy learning about how we got where we are.
A couple of additional notes for this week:
Free Fall Baltimore is underway! Every year, the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts and its partners make a bunch of local cultural events admission-free. It lasts through November 10th, check out the list here: https://www.freefallbaltimore.org/
Also, Happy Indigenous Peoples Day (in our hearts, if not yet by law)!
Finally, I want to acknowledge that it’s been an incredibly bloody week for our city. Seventeen people were shot over the weekend, including a two-year old child caught in what appears to be a road-rage incident, of all the senseless things.
I haven’t focused much on community violence in Baltimore so far, feeling like I don’t understand it as well as I could, and also like dealing with police violence, on which I’ve spent a considerable amount of words, is a necessary step to solving any other violence (a former BPD detective, who’s turned her efforts towards community empowerment since leaving the force, agrees: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/local-opinions/im-a-former-police-detective-heres-how-to-reduce-homicides-in-baltimore/2019/10/11/74f3809e-e0a7-11e9-be96-6adb81821e90_story.html).
There are a LOT of people on the ground devoted to stemming the tide of community violence, and it’s incumbent upon the rest of us to get to know what they’re doing and support them. This Tuesday, 10/15, check out the The Real News Network’s monthly Real Talk Tho segment, a community forum for conversation, as they cover “How Baltimore Ceasefire Cuts Violence in Half” (https://www.facebook.com/events/698759780529652/).
And lastly, Free Keith Davis Jr.!! (I realized it might not be wise to clutter up the tag with articles that don’t actually deal with his case)
Cultural Event of the Week:
Opening on Friday, 10/18, and running for three weeks, the Strand Theater Company on Harford Road is producing A Shayna Maidel, the story of a pair of Jewish sisters in the late 1940s, one raised in America, and one just arrived from Poland after a harrowing ordeal in a concentration camp. The Strand focuses solely on the works of women artists, and has an outstanding track record of thought-provoking and beautiful pieces.
Green Event of the Week:
Stormwater! It gets contaminated on its way downhill by everything from oil on the streets to trash in the gutters to sewage in the streams, and then it fouls up our water bodies (did you know that before European colonization, the waters of the Inner Harbor were crystal clear? blew my mind too). This Wednesday, 10/16, join a committee of local experts as they present their recommendations to the City Council as to how we can clean up our dirty, dirty water.
Song of the Week: “Living on a Thin Line” by The Kinks
Is there nothing we can say or do? / Blame the future on the past / Always lost in blood and guts / And when they’re gone, it’s me and you / Living on a thin line / Tell me now, what are we supposed to do? / Living on a thin line / Tell me now, what are we supposed to do?
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
As per my “no column if I’m out of town for 3+ days” rule, there will be no column this coming week, as I’m currently in the midst of a lovely three day weekend in Delaware with friends. ❤