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 we also hope these stories will resonate with people united in the struggle everywhere.
Amazon Workers’ Union Drive In Bessemer, Alabama Resonates in Maryland
On Sunday, Feb. 20, outside of the Sparrows Point Amazon facility in Baltimore County, several dozen people braved freezing temperatures to hold a car caravan and demonstration in solidarity with unionizing Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama.
The historic union drive of mostly Black Amazon workers in Alabama is making waves across the country, including in Baltimore, where dozens rallied in solidarity last weekend. The highest-profile organizing drive in the South in recent memory has gained steam amid a COVID-19 pandemic that has boosted Amazon’s profits and market share, along with the wealth of its founder Jeff Bezos (who has gained at least $90 billion and is reportedly seeking to buy the Washington Football Team). Hundreds of workers across the country have contracted COVID-19, and many have been fired forspeaking out about unsafe working conditions.
5,800 workers at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, are voting on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSW), and face what they say is an anti-union campaign and blatant intimidation by management, which is trying to thwart unionization efforts by tracking employees, hiring anti-union firms, and using a host of other anti-union tactics. The group More Perfect Union has documented the various techniques Amazon has engaged in, including even changing traffic light patterns to disrupt union activity.This week, it was reported that Amazon has offered to pay $1,000-$2,000 to workers if they quit before March 16, 13 days before voting ends on March 29.
The demonstration in Baltimore County was one of dozens of actions that took place across the country to demand Amazon respect the right of its workers to organize and improve safety conditions, organizers said.
One Amazon worker in attendance, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation, said she faced many of the same workplace hardships reported by workers in Bessemer, such as “managers being disrespectful, and pretty extreme punishment” for not maximising productivity.
“They’re constantly telling us to work faster and faster. I know that the Bessemer workers had been dealing with that, plus obviously the heat and unsafe conditions, unsanitary conditions, during COVID, a global pandemic. And they decided that they were going to organize a union and have a voice on the job. So we’re out here to say we’re in solidarity with them,” she said.
In attendance were members of several local progressive organizations like Progressive Maryland, Amazonians United Baltimore, and activists like labor historian Bill Barry.
“This is really a pandemic-provoked campaign, because the company had such a little concern for their safety and their welfare and their lives, as well as pay and benefits,” Barry said.
Many noted the parallels between how Amazon’s non-union steel manufacturing jobs have replaced manufacturing jobs in cities like Baltimore and Bessemer, which was also once a major steel center and home to tens of thousands of unionized manufacturing jobs that provided strong health benefits and retirement plans.
The location where the Amazon warehouse now sits in Sparrows Point was once the site of a steel plant that was one of the largest unionized facilities in the world, Barry explained.
“[The factory] had 31,000 people at their peak, and a strong union place from 1941 on, until it closed in 2012,” he said. “The union benefits used to be spread to everybody, when unions were 37% of the workforce. Now that non-union, no-benefit standard is spread to everybody.”
Bills to repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill Of Rights “gutted”
Maryland’s legislative session began last month with the announcement of a flurry of potentially powerful police reform bills, many of which have been hard fought for years but seemed to be having their moment of consensus following the police killing of George Floyd. But now, a month later, the sweeping reforms these bills offered seem less promising. In particular, the bills to repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill Of Rights (LEOBR) have, according to its Senate sponsor Sen. Jill Carter, been “gutted” by a number of proposed amendments (those amendments are broken down here by Maryland Matters).
For those who don’t know, Maryland’s LEOBR provides unprecedented protections for police officers in the state, shielding them from accountability (this primer from Maryland Matters explains LEOBR quite well; Maryland Matters’ Hannah Gaskill by the way, has been doing an excellent job covering police reform in Annapolis).
Most notably, there are approved amendments which would prevent jurisdictions from establishing civilian review boards, including one that would allow police officers to expunge complaints against them if they were not sustained or declared unfounded and are three or more years old. Battleground Baltimore has discovered that in Baltimore City, for example, complaints against officers are rarely sustained (in 2015, 17% were sustained; in 2016, 12%; in 2017, 21%; in 2018, 23%; and in 2019, 27%).
The way police and a civilian review board look at the same allegations against the same officers is often radically different. Battleground Baltimore’s Brandon Soderberg reported in The Appeal last month that one Baltimore Police officer, Edward Creed, had a planted evidence allegation declared unfounded, while a civilian review board recommended termination based on video of that incident. Creed, who is still with the force, is a powerful example. But he is not an outlier, as ACLU Maryland’s recent report on misconduct “Chasing Justice” revealed. Misconduct allegations which Soderberg obtained also show that many officers who received allegations in 2016 were receiving allegations for the same kind of misconduct in 2019. Thanks to the amendments, that would mean an officer could have his unfounded 2016 allegations expunged, removing the possibility of discovering a pattern of misconduct over just a few years.
The repeal of the LEOBR bill has, thanks to these amendments, done the opposite. Carter said as much this week.
“It is absolutely appaling that we’ve now allowed, in a bill that is labelled ‘The Repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill Of Rights,’ we’ve now restored all of the things that are unnecessary in the bill which completely guts the concept of Repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill Of Rights,” Carter told the state Senate. “This was all about saying we are no longer going to tell the people of Maryland that this one group of people that has the ability to, in a fleeting moment, to kill you … we have now said that you can’t have any say if your jurisdiction wants you to over that disciplinary process.”
A look at the state Senate votes shows that Sens. Carter, Shelly Hettleman, Barbara Lee, and Charles Sydnor were the Democrats who most frequently opposed these amendments.
Vaccine Inequity Continues Even If Governor Hogan Doesn’t Think So
This week, Maryland opened up a new mass COVID-19 vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Baltimore Ravens play, and began offering up to 250 vaccinations a day. Along with this encouraging news: more insults about the city from Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. The number of vaccinations will increase steadily, with claims by the state that it will be up to 500 daily this weekend, could be up to 2,000 next week, and, eventually, 10,000 each day—something Hogan called “tremendously exciting.” As Battleground Baltimore has noted over the past couple of weeks, many across the state have criticized Hogan’s vaccination plan, especially the fraught rollout and inequitable distribution of vaccines (white Marylanders have been receiving vaccinations at four times the rate of Black Marylanders). There was even a popular Facebook group called Maryland Vaccine Hunters whose creation and popularity speaks to the lack of quality information about vaccinations coming from the state government.
Additionally, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott attempted to ask Johnson & Johnson, who were developing its vaccine in Baltimore City and expect it to be approved any day now, for direct access to the vaccines, because Baltimore was being underserved. In response to that, Hogan mocked Scott’s request by saying, “nice try,” and suggested Scott was trying to “jump the line.” On Thursday, after Hogan toured the M&T Bank Stadium vaccination site, he again dismissed Baltimore’s concern about vaccination equity, saying the city has received “far more [doses] than they are really entitled to.” Baltimore City is a little over 60% Black. Additionally, access to the vaccine is open to everyone, not only city residents, and data shows that more than two-thirds of the vaccinations given out in the city went to non-residents.
In response to Hogan’s comments, Baltimore City Comptroller Bill Henry tweeted, “There are a lot of ways I could break down how this response is factually incorrect, but my ears are still ringing from this dog whistle.”
Maryland Delegate Marlon Amprey tweeted, “Hogan should have just came and tossed a couple vials of the vaccine to a crowd like Trump tossed paper towels in Puerto Rico. Because, this is the same level of disrespect. I don’t think Hogan understands equity or math bc 70% of the vax received went to non-city residents!!!”
More From Marilyn Mosby
Black Baltimoreans are dealing with several crises at once: COVID-19, an airborne virus that disproportionately kills Black people; a shortage of potentially life-saving doses of the COVID-19 vaccine; record levels of joblessness (plus a broken unemployment benefit system); and the unraveling of legislation that could weaken the LEOBR.
Despite this, Kobi Little (president of Baltimore’s NAACP), former Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young, attorney J. Wyndal Gordon, and a few other folks made their way to Baltimore’s City Hall this week to defend State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby from what they said were racist attacks on her by the Inspector General for Baltimore City Isabel Cumming.
As we wrote in last week’s Battleground Baltimore last week, the controversy began when the Baltimore Brew reported that Mosby spent over 100 days traveling back in 2018 and 2019. Mosby asked the Baltimore Office of the Inspector General to look into the matter, and the Inspector General released a report highlighting some of the potential irregularities in Mosby’s actions.
Cumming has said that the whole issue could be resolved without penalty by Mosby filling out a few amendment forms. However, Mosby says the report is an attack on her as a Black woman.
To be sure, Marilyn Mosby faces misogynoir—targeted hatred because she is both Black and a woman. However, it’s distressing that so many influential Black leaders in the city are using their energies to protest such a minor incident, especially given how many of Baltimore’s poor Black citizens do not have her money or access to power.
Cummings, by the way, told The Real News that she has not received any other allegations of racial bias from other city employees or subjects of OIG investigations.
Around the same time of this week’s rally, Mosby’s campaign sent out an email written by her husband seeking to raise money for her re-election campaign. The subject line read “vindicated.”
“Her name is consistently being drug [sic] through the sand with misrepresentative headlines and attacks,” Nick wrote about his wife in the email.
Nick Mosby, City Council President and wife of Marilyn Mosby shared this email through his political campaign’s account.
It was both an example of the unique power the State’s Attorney has as a city official who is also married to another high-ranking city official, and yet another reason why Mosby must walk a tight ethical line.
It’s unclear whether the email means that Nick Mosby, in his capacity as City Council president, is saying that the OIG’s office is in need of further oversight. The Real News also reached out to his office to find out whether the city council president had to follow certain rules in order for his wife’s campaign to be able to send out the email. So far, neither the mayor or the city council president has responded to The Real News’ questions.
On Friday morning, Cumming would neither confirm nor deny whether her department was looking into the email. Neither Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott nor Nick Mosby responded to requests for comment from both The Real News and The Baltimore Sun.
Dorsey and FOP
City Councilperson Ryan Dorsey was called a “nigger lover,” among other things, after he criticized the Baltimore branch of the Fraternal Order of Police over the weekend.
On Saturday, Dorsey tweeted “Last week, @BobbyCherryJr asked me to meet with him and his racist brotherhood’s psychotic president. This week, they lobbied to gut @jillpcarter’s LEOBR repeal, SB627. I haven’t the least interest in suffering these people. I’m totally fine having nothing to do with them.”
Battleground Baltimore has noted that Baltimore Police sergeant Bobby Cherry has in the past, endorsed police officers running over protesters and mocked a shooting that occurred at radical bookstore, Red Emma’s. This 2015 Baltimore City Paper article details that Cherry offered himself up as a “character witness” for an officer charged with police brutality and characterized the department to a whistleblowing cop as “blood in, blood out.”
In response, the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Mancuso issued a press release calling for Dorsey’s censure, and calling his tweet “disgusting and mindless.”
Baltimore Sun columnist Dan Rodricks wrote about Dorsey and the FOP in a piece titled “A Baltimore councilman at war with city cops.” In it, he calls Dorsey’s language “shocking.” Rodricks doesn’t devote any of the column to the violence police have enacted on Baltimore’s Black citizens—both physically (A Department of Justice report, released in 2016, outlines many of those injustices and notes pattern of discrimination in the department), but also legislatively by resisting accountability bills in Annapolis.
Dorsey took to Twitter the day after the piece was published to share some of the email he received from a former Baltimore police officer and other FOP sympathizers who had read Rodricks’ column. That is when he was called a “nigger lover,” among other things.
The Real News reached out to The Baltimore Sun to ask about whether they planned to address the way Rodricks’ column seemed to incense hatred against a city official. We also asked about whether, given Baltimore’s majority-Black population and the Sun’s own efforts to improve reporting on Black issues in their own newsroom (they recently assembled a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Team), they planned to address the issue further. They did not respond.
In an interview on WYPR on Thursday, Council President Nick Mosby seemed to agree with Rodricks, telling journalist Tom Hall that “there is a certain level of decorum that elected officials have to carry.”
From the pages of The Sun to City Hall, many of Baltimore’s most powerful still seem wedded to the idea that respectability saves Black lives.
The Pandemics of Racism and COVID-19 are a Deadly Mix, The Real News
Bill Henry hires a Dixon insider to assist in his reform efforts, Baltimore Brew
We Keep Us Safe call for donations, Twitter.
Viewpoint: Healthy city, healthy bid — How Baltimore should host the World Cup, Baltimore Business Journal.