One reason why The Real News Network calls Baltimore home is because we know that the struggles that 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 second 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 we also hope these stories will resonate with people united in the struggle everywhere.
Baltimore Police/D.C. Insurrection
We are all still processing last week’s siege on the U.S. Capitol that left five people dead (six if you count the death by suicide of officer Howard Liebengood). This week, lawmakers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley revealed chilling details about the day of the siege that painted a harrowing picture of an attack that might not have been as spontaneous as many first believed.
Another terrifying detail: law enforcement officers were apparently among those who swarmed the building.
Here in Maryland, a Charles County corrections officer was suspended pending an investigation into whether the employee took part in the siege. An Anne Arundel County police officer was also suspended this week, with pay, for the same reason.
Meanwhile, Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officials told The Real News that they weren’t aware of any current BPD officers taking part in the siege.
“Our Public Integrity Bureau has reviewed photos and videos posted by D.C. and federal authorities attempting to identify persons involved in the criminal attack on the capital [sic]. And, at this time, we are not aware of any current BPD officers taking part in the criminal activity at the U.S. Capital [sic],” Director of Public Affairs and Community Outreach Lindsey Eldridge told The Real News Network.
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Eldridge said, “The department also will most likely not identify any officers who decided to protest that day in expressing their First Amendment rights. Baltimore police believe their officers have a right to protest under the Constitution as long as they are not involved in criminal activity.”
Caitlin Goldblatt, founder of the group Scan the Police, which live-tweets the Baltimore City Police Department’s scanner, said that the response reveals a gross disparity between the way the department is treating potential participants in the Capitol siege and how they treat protesters in Baltimore.
“Important to note that BPD officers have surveilled, followed, & arrested people for merely being seen at actual protests before, so this is a rich response about their officers potentially being part of a putsch attempt,” she tweeted.
Members of the Black liberation grassroots group Organizing Black said that it was important for the Baltimore Police Department to aggressively root out racist police officers, for the sake of the community.
“The only way to combat the white supremacists within law enforcement is to expose them, banish them from their jobs, hold them accountable by ensuring Baltimore City residents have control over their police department, and divest from police and into community-based solutions that lessen our reliance on cops to keep us safe,” Michaela Brown, Executive Director of Organizing Black said in a statement to The Real News. “Anything less than that enables white supremacists within the ranks of BPD.”
Baltimore Police Misconduct Watch
It was another week of troubling news for Baltimore’s embattled police department. Last Friday, Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office announced the indictment of Baltimore Police officer Charles Baugher.
The charges—second degree assault and misconduct in office—stem from a June 2019 incident in which Baugher confronted then-17 year-old Tyquwon Phillips, who was recording an arrest. According to the SAO, “Officer Baugher made harmful, offensive and unwanted contact with Mr. Phillips, without legal justification, when he lunged at Mr. Phillips and used his hands to grab Mr. Phillips around his neck, then forcefully shoved Mr. Phillips against a wall. Officer Baugher then, while choking Mr. Phillips, forcefully slammed Mr. Phillips to the ground.” Additionally, Major James Rhoden—a 30-year veteran—is no longer with the BPD (officials simply said he “separated” from the department) after he used his influence to get access to the COVID-19 vaccine. According to investigative journalist and frequent RNN commentator Justine Barron, Rhoden got one of the few vaccines left for a family member.
Baltimore also settled with Eric Jones, a man who in 2014, was tackled by BPD officers Joshua Jordan and Russell J. Tonks and struck in the head with either a fist or a baton. He suffered brain damage as a result. In 2016, Jones filed a federal lawsuit against the officers and BPD. On Wednesday Jan. 13, Jones was awarded $550,000 as part of a settlement with the city. In response to the settlement, City Comptroller Bill Henry asked how the city could be settling with Jones in a case that BPD had investigated and chose not to discipline the officers involved despite the severe injuries Jones suffered. Read more about this at Baltimore Brew, who covered the settlement and Henry’s comments.
City Council Meeting
The Baltimore City Council met this week (twice, due to a network failure that caused their Monday meeting to come to an abrupt end—it had to be continued Wednesday) and there were several progressive-minded pieces of legislation on the dockett, all of which went to various committees. Bills of note include:
–21-0001 Surveillance Technology in Baltimore. This bill would prevent the city, or people in the city from obtaining face surveillance technology. It would also require the Director of Baltimore City Information and Technology to submit an annual report regarding the use of surveillance by the mayor and City Council.
–21-0004 Office to End Homelessness: Establishment, Administration, and Permanent Housing Voucher Program. This bill establishes an independent office whose sole duty is to assist citizens who are experiencing homelessness. The bill would also require the establishment of a Permanent Housing Voucher Program, which would be run through the Office to End Homelessness.
–21-0007 COVID-19 Restaurant, Consumer, and Gig Worker Relief Act. This bill would temporarily put restrictions on the fees third party food delivery services like Grubhub or DoorDash could enact on local eating establishments.
–21-0019 Baltimore City Office of LGBTQ Affairs. This bill establishes an office dedicated to meeting the needs of LGBTQ citizens in Baltimore.
Expanded school reopening
Ever since the surge of COVID-19 infections first began in March of last year, some have been pushing to re-open both schools and businesses, with various motives. Some were spurred on by President Donald Trump, who has always downplayed the seriousness of the illness. Others have voiced concerns about what kids are missing out on by not having in-person classes. Doctors and scientists have said that one of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is by limiting person-to-person contact because the disease is spread through droplets people expel through their noses and mouths while doing things like breathing and coughing.
This week, Baltimore City Schools announced its decision to expand in-person learning options. Members of the Baltimore City Teachers Union say Baltimore City Schools’ decision this week simply isn’t safe. The plan is optional for students but not for teachers, and will be offered to students in grades K-5, along with 9th grade students and high school seniors.
When asked by The Real News why those specific grades were targeted, City Schools said said that they were focused on younger students in general, and focused on grades for older students:
“City Schools has prioritized its youngest learners to participate in in-person learning efforts. For high school students, the increase in course failures and decreases in average GPA informs our actions. For charter and contract schools, operators made decisions based on what made sense for their school communities and assessing their readiness for in-person instruction.”
The Real News also asked City Schools why it’s so important to even worry about grades during a year marked with so much trauma, disruption, and loss. At press time, we had not yet received a response.
Corey Gaber, The Baltimore Teachers Union’s Elementary School Vice President, told The Real News Network that the union has always been firm that in-person learning should only happen when it’s as safe as possible for students and teachers.
“We should not be expanding learning in person, until it’s safe,” Gaber said. “And we have some very specific ideas of what safety looks like. And they know that we believe they’re nowhere close to meeting those standards, not just our own standards, but their stated standards for what should be in place before moving to in person learning.”
On Tuesday, the union held a car rally to make their concerns public.
According to the Baltimore City Health Department’s COVID-19 dashboard, positive cases of coronavirus are up 8 percent since four weeks ago.
Shortly after Baltimore City Schools released details about the plan yesterday, the union put out a statement of their own, with a thread on Twitter explaining their stance.
“On every major indicator we remain in the highest risk of introduction and transmission of COVID-19 in schools,” the statement said.
They added that schools have not been adequately equipped with ventilation upgrades needed, and staff has not been vaccinated: “To set an arbitrary reopening date regardless of the public health data and preparedness of our facilities is an irresponsible decision that will jeopardize human life, in particular the lives of our black and brown students.”
The school board said that there are young people who need support that only in-person learning can provide. Gaber said that the union recognizes that some students have special needs, but that the city’s schools shouldn’t bear that burden alone. He said that’s something the city could accommodate with nonprofits and other programing.
“I would just say that this is an extremely arbitrary decision. To pick a date, and say that this is one we’re going to open up these grades. And this is the day we’re going to open up these grades, regardless of the public health data,” Gaber said. “It’s insane. If you are making decisions based on prioritizing people’s health, you don’t make the decision by just picking a date. You look at the health data and when the health data permits, you’re able to expand.”
The Real News reached out to City Councilperson Robert Stokes, who chairs the Baltimore City Council’s Education, Workforce, and Youth Committee for comment but received no response.