Update 05/18/2021: After this story was published, Mayor Brandon Scott issued a last-minute veto of the “security insurance” bill at 5PM on May 17th.
From Baltimore to Palestine
“From Baltimore to Palestine, occupation is a crime,” was one of many chants heard back in 2015 during the Baltimore Uprising—a way of connecting the deep history of racism, segregation, and brutal, boundary-enforcing police in Baltimore to the decades of Israeli occupation in Palestine. A 2016 Department of Justice report on the Baltimore Police Department only made the connections even clearer for those paying attention. A 2016 Amnesty International piece connected Baltimore Police behavior to that of Israeli police, military, and security, and noted that American police often receive training by Israeli law enforcement.
“These trainings put Baltimore police and other U.S. law enforcement employees in the hands of military, security, and police systems that have racked up documented human rights violations for years,” Amnesty International wrote. “Amnesty International, other human rights organizations, and even the U.S. Department of State have cited Israeli police for carrying out extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, using ill treatment and torture (even against children), suppression of freedom of expression/association including through government surveillance, and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters.”
Now, as the worst violence enacted by Israel since 2014 continues, Baltimoreans are responding. And they’re reflecting a national trend—as evidenced by Thursday night in Congress, when Ilhan Omar called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an “ethno-nationalist”—of no longer equating the Israel’s offensive attacks with Palestinian self defense. In response to a statement released by the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Associated Jewish Federation of Baltimore, which invoked Hamas only and offered no commentary on Israel’s attacks on Palestinians, Dr. Zackary Berger tweeted, “Only Jews matter to @baltjc and @theassociated. Dead Palestinians are just terrorists to them.”
Meanwhile, Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan tweeted his support for Israel two days in a row without addressing any of the violence perpetrated on Palestinians.
“Today, the State of Maryland stands with Israel as Hamas terrorists attack innocent civilians. We pray for all the victims of the bloodshed and that it will soon come to an end,” Hogan tweeted on May 12, along with an image of Hogan sporting a yarmulke and standing at the Western Wall.
Hogan has, over the years, been criticized for his mistreatment of majority Black Baltimore, including his cancellation of the proposed light rail Red Line, which would have radically challenged Baltimore’s long history of systematically segregating Black residents into the east and west sides of the city and effectively keeping them siloed there through lack of public transportation. Hogan himself was accused of “apartheid”—in this case, “vaccine apartheid”—when his vaccine rollout seemed to not account for race and other inequities.
Then on May 13, Hogan tweeted, “Today, I spoke with Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan and expressed Maryland’s steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, and right to defend itself against Hamas attacks. We continue to pray for an end to the bloodshed.”
Battleground Baltimore reached out to local synagogue Hinenu for comment on the past week of violence, and the “Baltimore Justice Shtiebl” spoke out against Israel’s attacks on Palestinians in no uncertain terms.
“Hinenu, a Baltimore City synagogue of 250 members, is horrified by the air and ground military offensive that Israel is launching in Gaza against people captive in an open air prison; by the violence at Al-Aqsa, the third holiest Muslim site, during the sacred month of Ramadan; by the continued displacement of Palestinians and dispossession of Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah; and by the mobs of rioters destroying Palestinian property and threatening Palestinian lives. We are enraged, we are grieving, and we will not sit idly by,” a statement from Hinenu said. “We call on the Baltimore Jewish community to hold the Israeli government accountable, to speak out against these unforgivable atrocities committed in our name. We mourn the Palestinian and Israeli lives that have been lost to this senseless violence. There cannot be peace without justice; we pray and act for both.”
Keith Davis Jr. Likely To Go To Trial for the Fifth Time
On Thursday, May 14, Keith Davis Jr., a man shot by police in 2015 and later charged with the murder of a Baltimore man named Kevin Jones, had his conviction overturned. Now Davis will likely get a new trial or possibly have the charges dropped. For those who have not been following this complicated story, this would be Davis Jr.’s fifth murder trial for the same alleged crime, if Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby decides to prosecute again.
During Davis’ last trial (the fourth one), he was found guilty and sentenced to 50 years. The previous new trials were granted because of hung juries and an appeal based on the prosecution not disclosing important information about one of its witnesses. This fifth trial would be because of a ruling last year by the Maryland Court of Appeals (Kazadi v. State of MD) which said that a judge must ask potential jurors voir dire questions, at a lawyer’s request, about issues of impartiality (in short, questions that would help ensure a juror’s ability to follow instructions). Those questions were not asked before Davis’ last trial.
“Ultimately, Keith was granted a new trial based upon Kazadi v. State, 223 A.3d 554 (Md. 2020), where the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that, ‘on request, during voir dire, a trial court must ask whether any prospective jurors are unwilling or unable to comply with the jury instructions on the long-standing fundamental principles of the presumption of innocence, the State’s burden of proof, and the defendant’s right not to testify,’” wrote lawyer Colin Miller, who helped draft the motion for the new trial for Davis last year. “Because the trial judge refused to do this at Keith’s trial, he’s entitled to a new trial.”
It should be noted that this motion related to Kazadi by Davis’ lawyers was filed more than a year ago, when courts were closed due to COVID-19. Davis’ lawyers also argued that he was especially susceptible to COVID-19 because of breathing issues (which he has as a result of being shot by police) and should be let out on home monitoring for the duration of the pandemic. That was not granted to Davis and, as Battleground Baltimore covered in the past, Davis contracted COVID-19 in jail earlier this year.
Davis’ case has become a major issue for local activists, organized by his wife Kelly. They have alleged police misconduct and even evidence planting (accusations given credibility following the 2017 indictment of drug-dealing, evidence-planting Baltimore cops). And there is the reality that it would be hard for anyone in a case that has gone through this many reversals to feel confident that another guilty or not guilty verdict is final or “just.”
Mosby, inexplicably, responded yesterday to local organizer Bilphena Yahwon via Twitter when Yahwon demanded the charges be dropped: “And what about a kevin Jones and his family? #Crickets,” Mosby tweeted. That tweet has since been deleted.
Davis’ wife Kelly released a statement in which she praised the decision to overturn her husband’s conviction, and also demanded Mosby drop the charges and not take Davis to trial for the fifth time.
“I am so relieved and grateful that the courts have done the right thing in granting Keith a new trial. My husband is and always has been INNOCENT,” Kelly said. “I am now praying that Marilyn Mosby takes this opportunity to show the world the true change agent she has been hailed to be, take the lead of the court, and drop all charges against Keith. Trying one man five times without a clear and clear conviction, a case with some of the most questionable of evidence and occurrences is beyond the pale of what’s fair and just.”
Fight Against Hedge Fund-Backed Renter’s Bill Continues
About 80 people showed up in the Baltimore neighborhood of Waverly on May 12 to show their opposition to a so-called “security insurance” bill which was approved by Baltimore City Council last month. The bill, which Battleground Baltimore has covered (and Rachel Cohen of The Intercept covered last week) was pitched as a way to assist city renters who cannot pay their full security deposit. In reality, one aspect of the bill, we wrote last month, “codifies the option to purchase ‘rental security insurance’—which most housing advocates in Baltimore have a big problem with … because ‘rental security insurance’ is really a surety bond which can easily trap tenants in fees they can never escape.” A growing coalition of renters’ rights folks have organized against the bill and have received some help from councilpersons Zeke Cohen and Ryan Dorsey, the only council members who voted against the bill.
At the Wednesday event, many, including Cohen (who had been arrested earlier that day in D.C. protesting with CASA) and Dorsey, spoke out against the bill. The evening’s MC, a key organizer against this bill, Caitlin Goldblatt, focused on the involvement of Rhino, a hedge fund that has successfully lobbied for this bill in a number of cities.
“There are so many fights that we are all a part of—that we’re being pulled away from—to fight this particular fight,” Goldblatt lamented during the event.
During the event, video of a Rhino-hosted information session which was recorded and leaked was screened. it shows Rhino head of sales Eric Krauss addressing the “security insurance” strictly in terms of how it would benefit landlords.
WYPR’s Sarah Y. Kim also covered Wednesday’s event, and in her reporting highlighted some of the contradictions in Rhino’s claims. For example, Rhino CEO Paraag Sarva told Kim that it is “policy” for Rhino not to “actually impact negatively any renter’s credit ever.”
“But the contract that tenants sign with Rhino suggests otherwise,” Kim reported. “The contract states that a tenant who fails to pay Rhino for a claim may face long term consequences, including ‘adversely impacted’ credit, difficulty renting other properties, and higher premiums when trying to get insurance.”
Organizers are encouraging Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott to veto the bill. He has until May 17 to do so. Organizers are also encouraging councilmembers who voted for the bill to not override Scott’s veto if it happens. Battleground Baltimore has learned that a few councilmembers are seriously considering not overriding Scott’s veto, though none have publicly stated this.
Baltimore City Comptroller Bill Henry explains his issues with the city budget process, Twitter.
Employee in Marilyn Mosby’s office is under investigation, Baltimore Brew
Tenant Advocates Rally Against Surety Bonds Bill, WYPR