One reason why The Real News Network calls Baltimore home is because we know that the struggles the people in this majority-minority city face (unequitable access to resources like education, clean air, and transportation, for example) are the struggles people face all over the globe. This is the latest installment of our weekly news roundup from the Baltimore trenches, which we hope will help keep our friends and neighbors abreast of what’s going on in our city, but also resonate with people united in the struggle everywhere.
Maryland’s House of Delegates Pass Police Reform and Accountability Act
Maryland’s House of Delegates passed a package of policing accountability and reform legislation on Thursday night that is by far the most substantive police oversight legislation the state has ever seen.
The Police Reform and Accountability Act of 2021 (HB 670), sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne Jones, repeals the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, allows the Baltimore Police Department to become a city agency (it is currently a state agency and has been since the Civil War), reduces the use of “no knock” warrants, and more.
House Republicans attempted to seriously amend the bill—all 17 of their proposed amendments failed—and also gathered in Annapolis along with police from across the state to criticize the bill, which they described as “far left.” Many elements of The Police Reform and Accountability Act of 2021 are similar to a number of recently passed state Senate bills. Now, the House and Senate begin negotiations about the bills’ specifics.
An update on vaccine distribution and reopening plans
If Larry Hogan was not white and a man, his response to COVID-19 would be given the all-hands-on-deck journalism coverage it required. It would resemble the coverage of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh’s scandal surrounding the sale of her “Healthy Holly” books. Multiple reporters would cover evolving stories of heartbreak as families struggled to survive despite a long-broken unemployment benefits system. Reporters would wait outside the door to the governor’s mansion, peppering Hogan with questions about the very apparent racial inequality in Maryland’s vaccine distribution. Instead, Hogan’s bungling of the vaccine—and a dose of Hogan-style anti-Blackness—has been framed as simply a difference of opinion.
The problem with vaccine distribution is so bad that the Baltimore City and Prince George’s County delegations (Baltimore City’s population and Prince George’s County’s population are each a little over 60% Black) held a joint hearing on it last week.
“If vaccine distribution were equitable, we would expect to see comparable rates of vaccination across racial groups and jurisdictions, but vaccination rates are not tracking with the size or racial demographic of county populations,” Scott said.
Scott also challenged Hogan’s unsubstantiated claims that Black Baltimoreans are especially suspicious of the vaccine and said Baltimore City residents want to be vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s simply not available to them. Both Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott and Prince George’s County Executive Angel Alsobrooks spoke about the fact that their residents would definitely get the vaccine, if they could.
Alsobrooks noted that at the time of the hearing, only 10% of vaccinations administered at the Six Flags vaccination site in Bowie, Maryland, had gone to Prince George’s County residents. That’s despite the fact that Prince George’s County has the highest number of positive COVID-19 cases in the state and the second-highest number of deaths from COVID-19.
“So we haven’t shown up today to beg anybody for anything, we’re asking for what we have already paid for. And so when we talk about whatever allotment we need, we don’t want anybody to siphon that out to us, we want to be given only what we deserve,” Alsobrooks said. “Our residents deserve these vaccines, every person, whether they are reluctant, afraid or not.”
Instead of slowing down to allow more Marylanders to be vaccinated, Hogan, following the lead of other Republican governors, instead announced this week that he would be further loosening restrictions on public interactions in Maryland. Starting today, March 12, at 5 p.m., capacity limits on indoor and outdoor dining, retail businesses, fitness centers, and religious establishments will be no more.
Scott and Alsobrooks quickly announced that they would be keeping the restrictions in their districts in place. Representatives for Del. Stephanie Smith, who co-chaired last week’s hearing with Del. Erek Barron, said lawmakers are still working to resolve the equity problem in a real way. Smith represents Baltimore and Barron represents Prince George’s County.
“The Baltimore City and Prince George’s County delegations have been working with their jurisdiction’s health leadership and the House Committee on Health and Government Oversight to identify ways to strengthen the Governor’s recently announced communications strategy for vaccine equity. Communication is important but addressing vaccine equity requires more than a marketing campaign,” Smith said via a statement released by her office.
Mosby introduces fund to honor Dante Barksdale
This week, City Council President Nick Mosby announced legislation that would create the Dante Barksdale Career Technology Apprenticeship Fund. Barksdale, a violence interrupter, was murdered in January. The legislation would create a non-lapsing trust to pay for Baltimore students to learn skills that would help them find work after graduation. The money would come from city contractors and go into a lockbox until voters could consider a charter amendment that would put the fund into action.
Mosby said the inspiration for the bill came from a text exchange he had with Barksdale before his death, in which Barksdale encouraged Mosby to find more ways to get young people in the city employed.
“We constantly talk about the importance of local hiring, we talk about imagining a council that puts itself in the position to do more, particularly as it relates to our young folks,” Mosby said at this week’s city council meeting.
“We understand how much Dante meant to the city that he loved and dedicated his life to improve,” Barksdale’s mother said in a statement. “This Career Technology Apprenticeship Fund will cement his legacy for years to come.”
Fourteen-year-old charged as adult
The shooting death of 15-year-old Jaileel Jones is a tragedy. Also heartbreaking is the fate of the 14-year-old who police have accused of the crime, saying it stemmed from an argument between the two boys.
The teen was charged as an adult with first degree murder and gun violations.
City Councilmember Zeke Cohen, who has been leading the city’s efforts to roll out Trauma Informed Care legislation, told us that he believes that children should not be charged as adults. He said that he has had conversations with his liaison to the State’s Attorney, but this would require a legislative fix at the state level.
“What we have done has not worked for either victims or perpetrators of violent crime. Our children’s fundamental needs are not being met. The juvenile justice system is supposed to rehabilitate young people, hold them accountable and address untreated trauma. Instead we pay other parts of the state to warehouse children, putting them in horrific conditions, exacerbating their trauma and almost completely ensuring that when they get out, they will reoffend.”
The teenager, who we are not identifying by their name because they are a minor (despite what the state says), has been named publicly by other Baltimore news outlets. It’s an unfortunate decision given the fact that the child accused of this crime has not yet been found guilty, and his charges could be later changed so that he is later charged as a juvenile.
Three Years Of Opposing Johns Hopkins University Private Police
It was three years ago, in March 2018, that students and Baltimore residents first began organizing against Johns Hopkins University’s private police bill. Back then, Battleground Baltimore’s Brandon Soderberg covered an early protest for The Real News, “What a Private Police Force Would Mean For Johns Hopkins University and Baltimore.” Students quickly mobilized to oppose the bill that would allow Hopkins to have a private police force, developing a petition and slowly building a coalition of groups opposing Hopkins’ plans.
“We developed the petition from a zero concessions stance—We want no private police categorically,” student and organizer Mira Wattal said back then. “An increase of police does not increase safety.”
“We’d already be a crime-free city if that were the case,” another student, organizer Evan Drukker-Schardl, added.
Since then, the fight to oppose an armed private police force on Hopkins’ campuses escalated significantly, with more and more groups organizing together, and, in 2019, holding a nearly month-long sit-in and occupation of a university building which led to police raid on the building and a number of arrests. In the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, Hopkins said it would be putting the idea on pause, but many Baltimoreans do not expect the university to concede. During this legislative session, Sen. Jill Carter introduced a bill that would prevent the establishment of police forces for private universities but it only finally received a hearing today, Mar. 12. Battleground Baltimore caught up with The Coalition Against Policing By Hopkins last week to discuss where they currently stand and how they’re continuing to organize against private police.
What groups make up The Coalition Against Policing By Hopkins?
CAPH is composed of longstanding community leaders and other groups, including: BRACE (Baltimore Redevelopment Action Coalition for Empowerment), West Wednesday, Tubman House, Baltimore Bloc, Baltimore Jail Support, Garland Sit-in and Occupation, Teachers and Researchers United (TRU), Party for Socialism and Liberation – Baltimore, Baltimore Libertarian Socialist Caucus – DSA, Baltimore DSA, YDSA at Johns Hopkins, Refuel Our Future, Real Food Hopkins, Unidos DMV, and Rise Bmore.
Why were lawmakers saying first saying that the bill wouldn’t be heard?
According to Sen. McCray’s correspondence with constituents, he claims that because it is not a city delegation bill he cannot choose to hold a hearing. He claims it is because he “value[s] democracy.” He further said that “If there is a bill that a senator would like brought up for discussion, that respective senator has the ability to bring up that bill for discussion during the regularly scheduled delegation meetings held on Friday.” We asked Sen. Carter’s office, who confirmed that she had previously requested that SB276 be given a hearing, so we don’t know what his claim means.
I’m very interested in the organizing that happened around boosting public support for this bill. I think we are learning more and more how important organizing is to meet the very real needs of suffering Marylanders. Can you talk a bit about how it came together?
We realized that there were only a few bills left that the city delegation could reasonably consider and that SB276 had its JPR hearing over a month ago. We knew that time was likely running out, and that if SB276 were on this hearing list we would have heard about it.
Knowing this, we had a discussion about how to put serious pressure on the city delegation and, in particular, Sen. McCray, who chairs the delegation. We had already been organizing both online and in communities around Hopkins for several months to build support for SB276 and communicate how private police would affect us—making banners, putting up flyers, and using social media, in addition to having private discussion with legislators. With limited time and no central place to hold an in-person demonstration (and general hesitation to host an in-person demo, for obvious reasons), we put together an easy-to-use media toolkit that we sent directly to coalition members and other supportive people/groups, and asked that they participate in a social media blitz to amplify the calls we have been making so that support for the bill would be more noticeable and concerted. Many people also sent emails and made phone calls to Sen. McCray and their respective senators, further amplifying the message.
Sweeping Police Reform Bill Passed By House of Delegates, Maryland Matters.