On Nov. 2, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan made a stop in Baltimore’s Waverly neighborhood to discuss a $1.3 million dollar investment in area businesses through the Maryland Strong Economic Recovery Initiative (SERI), which was designed to help local businesses cope with the financial impact of the pandemic.
Hours after Hogan’s visit, which included stops to Pete’s Grille, Peabody Heights Brewery, and Urban Reads Bookstore, the workers and owners were shocked to see that they’d been unknowingly conscripted into Hogan’s copaganda campaign. The term-limited governor with aspirations of holding national office used photos of him visiting these small businesses to suggest they supported his reactionary “refund the police” initiative.
“We never had a discussion with anything about ‘refund the police,’” Tia Hamilton, owner of Urban Reads, said of Hogan’s visit to her Greenmount Ave. bookstore and community space.
Hamilton, who also publishes State vs. Us magazine and is a vocal prison reformer and abolitionist, said Hogan’s visit lasted less than 10 minutes. But soon that casual visit became part of Hogan’s “refund the police” campaign thanks to a press release and Facebook post by the governor.
“The governor visited multiple small businesses, including Pete’s Grille, Peabody Heights Brewery, and Urban Reads Bookstore, in the Waverly neighborhood of Baltimore,” the press release read. “The Hogan administration has invested $1.3 million in the Waverly Main Street district, and the governor’s Refund The Police Initiative will make Neighborhood Safety Grants available to support hardware upgrades, lighting, cameras, and increased security services.”
As Battleground Baltimore reported, Hogan’s initiative is red meat for the right wing and squarely aimed at the burgeoning “defund the police” movement. And Hogan’s public claims that local police departments like Baltimore’s have been defunded are demonstrably untrue: Earlier this year, the Baltimore Police Department’s budget was increased by more than $20 million.
Soon after the visit, Hamilton found that customers and residents were questioning why she was supporting Hogan and “refund the police.” Hamilton eventually took to Urban Reads’ Instagram and the comments section of Hogan’s Facebook to make clear she did not support “refund the police.”
“He used us for [his] agenda,” Hamilton told Battleground Baltimore. “He misled the people, being underhanded, conniving, and selfish to the fact that this can hurt the businesses over here because you know damn well Baltimore City don’t give a damn about no ‘refund the police.’ We try to take money from the police and put it in education where it belongs.”
During Hogan’s visit, Hamilton said he discussed prison reform with her, including the next steps for Baltimore’s Civil War-era jail, which Hogan shuttered in 2015. Hamilton explained that she challenged him on the details of his plans.
“I basically checked him and his own visit,” Hamilton said. “He didn’t expect me to come at him rapid-fire with questions about prison reform.”
Hamilton remained cordial during the visit and tried to show the governor—who built his career on vilifying and cutting resources to Baltimore—a side of the city he’s never seen. Only after Hogan issued his misleading press release and social media posts did Hamilton see Hogan’s deception.
Last week, in fact, a woman entered Urban Reads after seeing Hogan’s Facebook post to personally confront Hamilton over “refund the police.” This prompted Hamilton to post her own 20-minute social media video to address the incident and set the record straight: She does not support “refund the police.”
“That video that I did live was important because I had a lot of people questioning my integrity because they know what I stand for,” she said.
Hamilton says Hogan’s visit and the ensuing backlash have distracted from her work fighting for reform of the criminal justice system, helping the formerly incarcerated find work, and freeing the wrongfully convicted.
“I’m responsible for over 30 [returning citizens] getting jobs this year,” Hamilton said. “[State Vs. Us] is responsible for three men coming home from prison due to the interview I gave them because they were wrongfully convicted.”
A fourth person profiled in the magazine was able to receive clemency, Hamilton noted. She also reiterated just how frustrated she was with Hogan using local businesses like Urban Reads for political ends.
“We know he’s trying to run for president, but you don’t have to use the people,” Hamilton said. “Baltimore already don’t like or trust you. And you come and use us yet again? He’s a clown.”
In many of the photos Hogan circulated, he is seen walking through Peabody Heights Brewery. The brewery—which is about to celebrate its ninth anniversary—posted their own rebuttal to Hogan’s misleading social media post:
“We just wanted to make a small PSA. A few days Governor Hogan came to visit businesses and organizations apart of Waverly Main Street. This was supposed to be a simple meet and greet to discuss the SERI grants that were given to small businesses and Nonprofits throughout Main Streets. SERI grants were given to Main Streets to help with Covid Relief, as many of you know, we were shut down for 8 months during Covid and we still continue to struggle. These grants came at a very important time for us and we are incredibly Thankful to Waverly Main Street, Maryland’s department of Housing and Community Development and the Governors Office. That being said, we were excited to introduce ourselves and say thank you and show him around our small business. We told them about the history of our business and after 6 minutes and 30 pictures later, they were gone. Later those same pictures were used along with other Waverly Main Street Businesses to promote his plans of Refunding the police through new bills and grants. We do not support these measures and never have. We believe our work in the community shows that we have different values than our governor. We’re frustrated that our images have been used to push such [an] agenda.”
When Battleground Baltimore reached out to Hogan’s office for comment, the governor’s spokesperson Michael Ricci wrote, “it was a great visit.”
Ricci did not comment specifically on Urban Reads or Peabody Heights Brewery’s concerns and also provided Battleground Baltimore with the same statement provided to other local media: “The governor enjoyed his visit to the Waverly community and remains committed to strengthening the economic potential of Maryland’s main streets and neighborhoods.”