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 fourth 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 Union Opposes LEOBR Repeal—And One Member Praises Police Driving into Protesters
Last week, the Baltimore Sun published an op-ed written by members of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3—the Baltimore City police department’s union—defending the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights and arguing against its repeal, which is being proposed this legislative session.
“There is simply no evidence that eliminating the LEOBR will improve public safety or increases accountability [sic],” wrote the group’s President Michael Mancuso, Robert Cherry (the previous president and chair of the group’s Legislative Committee and a sergeant with the BPD), and Elliot Cohen, who serves as the group’s state trustee.
“The repeal of the LEOBR will create uncertainty for officers who have to make split-second decisions,” they also wrote.
LEOBR provides police officers with significant workplace protections, especially as it pertains to discipline and investigations regarding misconduct. This includes requiring investigations into police officers be conducted by other police officers only and providing an officer accused of misconduct five days to locate an attorney before they are interviewed about the incident.
On Sunday, just days after the op-ed was published, one of its authors, Cherry, took to Twitter to express his “full support” of police officers in Tacoma, Washington, who drove into a crowd during a police protest.
“Any other cops agree?” he asked in a tweet, “or are you afraid to speak out?!”
The Baltimore Police Department has not responded to repeated requests for comment from The Real News Network about Cherry’s tweet. This is not the first time Cherry has created controversy on Twitter for cruel and controversial remarks. In 2015, after there was a shooting at radical bookstore and activist hub Red Emma’s, Cherry tweeted, “I’m sure it was captured on cell phones by the many patrons there who regularly capture police w/cell footage.” He later deleted the tweet.
Maryland is one of 16 states which still have the LEOBR in effect. Activists and politicians in Baltimore have long said the law prioritizes police over the community and leaves civilian oversight groups powerless to hold bad officers accountable. Maryland Matters reported that in August of last year, Del. Wanika Fisher (D-Prince George’s Counties) pointed out that only six officers have been charged in police killings since 2005, although the Mapping Police Violence database shows that 138 people were killed by officers from 2013 to 2019.
Earlier this month, we spoke to Maryland Del. Gabriel Acevero, who is sponsoring a bill to repeal LEOBR and another bill which would make it easier for the public to access police misconduct information, which is currently protected by the Maryland Public Information Act.
Acevero called LEOBR, which Maryland signed into law in 1972, “the blueprint for how to protect corrupt and racist cops,” and added, “we also have some of the most restrictive transparency laws that don’t allow for transparency.”
Acevero explained that changes to these laws “are inextricably intertwined” if the state is to begin to seriously hold police accountable.
“When police are investigating themselves it doesn’t provide confidence and it doesn’t provide transparency,” Acevero said. “We should not be asking perpetrators of police violence to weigh in on what laws would hold them accountable.”
Baltimore City Students are Striking
The fight over whether more Baltimore City students and teachers will be back in classrooms is still going on. Earlier this month, Baltimore City Schools announced that expanded in-person classes would resume, starting in mid-February. Since then, the Baltimore Teachers Union has been adamant that it’s still not safe to resume in-person learning, pointing to concerns about vaccine accessibility (Johns Hopkins officials say it will take about 20 weeks to get all City Schools employees vaccinated), and worries that upgrades to city school buildings won’t be completed in time. This week, a coalition of students announced that since Maryland law prohibits Baltimore teachers from striking, they’d strike themselves.
High school senior and former student school board commissioner Joshua Lynn announced the strike at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Students K-2 would strike Feb. 16, while students in grades 3-5, as well as grades 9-12, would strike March 1. The move is largely a symbolic one because Baltimore City Schools officials are not forcing students to return to classroom learning. They are only requiring teachers to do so.
Lynn said he’s experienced the old infrastructure in Baltimore City schools firsthand.
“Baltimore City, having some of the oldest buildings in the state, and some of the oldest buildings in the country … that’s a big factor that we have to take into account,” he said.
Lynn said other young people-driven groups are helping organize the strike, including Good Kids Mad City Bmore and Baltimore Algebra Project. They are also working with the Parent and Community Advisory Board, which has come out against the plan to further reopen schools.
Lynn said he has had a few members of the Baltimore City Council reach out in support of the strike, but has not heard anything from the mayor’s office or the school board.
Also at this week’s school board meeting, Johnette Richardson, a member of the Baltimore City Board of Commissioners had stern words for fellow member Durryle Brooks. Brooks had an op-ed published in the Baltimore Sun last week in which he cited his concerns about the reopening plan. Bringing up the siege on the U.S. Capitol a few weeks ago, Richardson said that she respects freedom of speech, but seemed to condemn Brooks’ decision to write the piece.
“While we respect the varying opinions of each of our commissioners, this particular opinion expressed by Commissioner Brooks is not the reflection of each member of our board,” she said. “We support our CEO and her team in their attempts to provide reasonable options for students and families of Baltimore City.”
Members of the Baltimore City Schools Board of Commissioners are appointed by the mayor. Critics of this model have called for members to be elected instead of appointed, saying that members rarely, if ever, deviate from the wishes of Baltimore City Public Schools.
Meanwhile, Councilperson Robert Stokes announced that he would be holding a hearing about the plan on Feb. 4 at 5 p.m., and more members of Baltimore City Council have expressed concerns about school reopenings.
See The Real News Network’s Jaisal Noor’s report on the fight to keep teachers and students safe in both Chicago and Baltimore here.
The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America
Frequently quoted in The Real News’ reporting, a former professor at Morgan State University, and a current researcher and visiting associate professor with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Lawrence Brown just released his book, “The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America.” Its title, the press release for the book explains, is “a reference to the fact that Baltimore’s majority-Black population spreads out on both sides of the coveted strip of real estate running down the center of the city like a butterfly’s wings.” It is a counter to the Baltimore parlance which calls the center of the city, powered by white business interests, “The White L.” Brown’s book explores Baltimore’s long history of redlining and segregation and its effects on Baltimore’s myriad problems, connecting what has happened in Baltimore to similar cities such as Cleveland and St. Louis—and then offers up some hope by way of a five-step plan for racial equity.
“Today, many Black neighborhoods at the core of hypersegregated metropolitan areas remain deeply redlined and are confronted with everything from urban apartheid to toxic pollution,” Brown writes in the introduction. “As evidence of America’s antipathy towards Black neighborhoods, both a Democrat and a Republican took turns demonizing and denigrating majority Black jurisdictions in Maryland within a span of several months in 2019.”