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 third 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.
The Life and Death of Dante Barksdale
On Sunday morning, violence interrupter Dante Barksdale was shot and killed in East Baltimore. Barksdale was, in many ways, the public face of the Safe Streets program—the Baltimore branch of the international Cure Violence program—for more than a decade. The work of violence interruption is complicated, sometimes dicey, and often thankless—if the work is done effectively and people are not shooting each other, and instead squashing beef more productively, no one outside of Barksdale and those immediately affected by a conflict quite realize the tragedy that was averted. There was really no one else like him. The news that one of the most passionate, gregarious, and just plain real violence interrupters was gunned down was almost impossible to believe (for all of you “The Wire” fetishists, Barksdale is the nephew of Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, who was the model for Avon Barksdale).
“He embodied healing. His work guided us to choose peace. To choose change no matter where you came from. This loss is devastating,” wrote local organizers Good Kids, Mad City Baltimore.
“While I am devastated by the loss of my Brother in the fight to save lives in Baltimore, I will not let those who chose to violently take his life dampen the light of his work. The work that Dante did, and the work that so many in Safe Streets and other street-based organizations do to actively interrupt violence, is critical to my priority of reducing violence and making Baltimore’s neighborhoods safer,” wrote Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott.
In 2019, Barksdale published, with co-author Grace Kearney, “Growing Up Barksdale,” a memoir of his life that reads like he’s talking right at you, contextualizing, philosophizing, empathizing. We’ll end with a brief excerpt from “Growing Up Barksdale” where Barksdale discusses the demolition of Lafayette Projects, where he grew up:
“When the smoke finally cleared, the ground was flat. The whole thing had taken about twenty seconds. I felt lost all of a sudden, disoriented. My sense of belonging in the world felt shaky for the first time. Where was I gonna hang at now? Where would Leon and them go? Would they be safe in Douglass, or down Perkins, would they be safe over Somerset? And what about the six parties bumping in the projects at any one time? I remembered partying in 131 building, and then going over 200 building and finding a hundred people on the third floor, and a hundred more on the seventh. During the day, it was two thousand of us outside at all times. Go into any housing project and start counting people, it’s two thousand people outside. It might not look like it, but you got twenty people in that pocket, forty over there, twenty more standing around there. In every apartment, you had the tenant and her sister in there, and all their cousins from other neighborhoods visiting. It was always noisy in the projects, like living in a stadium. Where would all the noise go?”
Damning ACLU Report on Baltimore Police Released
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland released a staggering report titled “Chasing Justice: Addressing Police Violence and Corruption in Maryland,” which deanonymized and crunched publicly available Internal Affairs data provided by the Baltimore Police Department. What the report reveals is a police department still far from reform more than five years out from the death of Freddie Gray. The report calculated the number of misconduct allegations against Baltimore Police officers and even names the officers with the most allegations. It does the same for use of force incidents and notes, among many other things, that more than 90% of use of force incidents were used against Black Baltimoreans.
For The Appeal, Battleground Baltimore co-writer Brandon Soderberg wrote a deep dive into the report, which investigated some of the named officers, and spoke to defense attorneys, who were hardly surprised by the names that appeared. “Chasing Justice” author Joe Spielberger—who is ACLU MD’s public policy counsel—spoke to Soderberg about the report, its methodology (which is fascinating and worth reading up on), and what he hoped the report would illustrate.
“I hope that this report helps reinforce and validate the experiences of Black residents and communities in Baltimore City who have known the names of BPD officers and what they’ve done,” Spielberger said, “even though internal departmental policies and practices have not held them accountable.”
The same week the report was released, the city settled with the victim of Baltimore Police officer Michael O’Sullivan for $100,000. In 2018, O’Sullivan arrested a man named Yusuf Smith claiming he saw Smith drop a handgun. O’Sullivan repeated these claims in court under oath, and Smith was convicted. However, body-worn camera footage later revealed that O’Sullivan did not see Smith drop the handgun. Smith’s charges were dropped—he had already spent 70 days in jail—and O’Sullivan was found guilty of providing false testimony and was sentenced to 15 months. Also this week, Baltimore City’s Fraternal Order of Police tweeted out this baffling image in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The image shows the Eiffel Tower for some reason along with the quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Also, part of the quote is cropped out of the image.
Baltimore Expanded Reopening
Between Baltimore City Schools’ decision to expand school reopening last week, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s announcement Wednesday that he’d be allowing indoor dining and other social interactions once again, and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s threats that schools must reopen by March (despite the fact that he can’t control when schools reopen), it feels like officials have forgotten there is still a pandemic raging outside our doors and more than 400,000 Americans are dead.
On Monday, City Schools announced a partnership with Johns Hopkins Medicine to start making COVID-19 vaccines available to staff. The first wave will go to staffers who are already working at in-person learning sites, including meal service workers, teachers, custodians, and administrative personnel. The list of City Schools employees getting vaccines is separate from the citywide list, which is filled up for the month of January.
“Folks want to be safe. They want to know that we’re doing all we can as a school system, in concert with community partners to keep them safe,” said André Riley, director of communications for Baltimore City Schools.
That teachers will be vaccinated is good, but the country is still figuring out how to best roll out vaccines overall, and there are still many flaws in the process.
Baltimore City Schools officials said that “nearly 500” employees were randomly selected to be vaccinated starting this week. Officials say it will take about 20 weeks to get all teachers and staff vaccinated.
Council President Nick Mosby issued a statement about the partnership: “While I do hear and understand our educators who are scared of the vaccine and a return to the classroom, it is my sincere hope and expectation that this partnership can help alleviate their anxiety and work through their very real fears.”
It’s important to note, however, that Baltimore City Council is not holding public meetings.
At a press update where he announced the expanded restaurant reopenings, Scott said “Baltimore has the lowest positivity rate across the state. Let’s keep it that way”—and then announced that restaurants would be open for in-person dining again.
City leaders are facing lots of pressure. There is the economic impact that business owners face. There was a lawsuit filed by local restaurant owners. A lasting impact of the Trump administration is that we are not as a nation on the same page when it comes to understanding the severity of this crisis and the best way to prevent the spread of the disease. These are things that must weigh on city leaders.
However, there’s a lot that’s still cause for concern, and even fear. On Thursday, the Baltimore Sun published an op-ed written by Durryle Brooks, a Baltimore school board commissioner, which aptly laid out the many reasons why reopening schools is so fraught.
“Let’s be clear: What we are experiencing now is a result of years of underinvestment and disinvestment in Black and brown communities,” he wrote. “To call for school re-openings without understanding the real consequences of systemic racism—that Black and brown people will fair much worse and will pay a greater price if they become ill with COVID-19—is the opposite of educational equity; it’s educational injustice. My lived experience teaches me that it only takes a parent or one caregiver to become sick with COVID-19 for another child to slip deeper into poverty.”
Councilmembers Ryan Dorsey, Kristerfer Burnett, and Zeke Cohen jointly released a statement calling for City Schools to reconsider expanded school reopening. The Baltimore Brew reported that only one in four Baltimore schools that are set to reopen have necessary ventilation upgrades in place. All this on top of the fact that Baltimore students have complained about lack of soap in schools for years, and City Schools made national headlines in the past for their inadequate heating systems.
Scott has not responded to questions from The Real News about how his plan to expand in-house dining won’t set the city on a cycle of opening and reclosing as numbers rise and fall, or whether the city has the manpower to ensure that his new rule requiring diners sign in and out of restaurants to prove that they only stayed there an hour can be enforced.
Recycling is back
Recycling pickup in Baltimore City resumed this week. Mayor Brandon Scott announced that it would be back earlier this month, along with weekly RecycleStat meetings to make sure that recycling and trash pickup services are running smoothly. Former Mayor Jack Young abruptly halted recycling pickup in August of last year, citing the strain the pandemic has put on the Department of Public Works.
Scott said that he hoped to increase the number of people in Baltimore who recycle.
“Only 15% of our population recycles. I want Baltimore to use the restart of services to dramatically increase that number as we work to divert recycling from our landfills and build a more environmentally sustainable City.”
What follows is a brief, non-exhaustive summary of local reactions.
Click here to learn more about Baltimore City’s recycling program.