For a majority-Black city, Baltimore sure has a way of making Black people who are fighting to uplift their community feel unwelcome. Over the past few weeks, Battleground Baltimore has covered the fight to save the Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden—the only source of fresh food in a neighborhood experiencing food apartheid and historic disinvestment—from eviction by the City Housing Authority. We’ve spoken to the last residents of the West Baltimore Poppleton neighborhood who want to save their historic homes from demolition by an out-of-town developer—who has now threatened residents with a lawsuit if they continue to publicly oppose the project (we’ll have an update from Poppleton later in the newsletter). And we’ve covered the Westport community’s fight to keep the “bougie” Maglev out of their neighborhood.
For this week’s Battleground Baltimore, Jaisal Noor talked to Terence J. Dickson, founder of Terra Cafe, a restaurant and Black cultural hub in Charles Village, which opened an outdoor space called “Jerk Garden” during the pandemic. Now, Dickson is fighting to keep the outdoor space open for live music. That’s because they’ve been served notice for excessive noise coming from Jerk Garden.
Over 1,400 people have signed a change.org petition after Terra Cafe was served notice for noise: “Recently, live jazz at Terra Cafe has been threatened with a noise ordinance. This jeopardizes our voice in the community, threatens the support of the arts and music students involved, and, more importantly, puts at stake the opportunity to provide a safe venue in Baltimore’s rich community to continue to showcase Baltimore’s talent.”
Seated at Jerk Garden, Dickson insists he will not stand down.
“It’s bigger than a noise complaint,” Dickson said. “It’s energy I’ve been dealing with since being in Charles Village.”
Terra Cafe launched in 2009 with the mission of uplifting what Dickson calls the “Black Awesome” and building a community space that highlights the success and contributions of Black people.
“You build it with art, you build it with culture, and you build it with music,” he said.
Along with serving as a community hub, Dickson has helped incubate other local Black business owners through Terra Loft Consulting and the Downtown Boost program, as well as providing services for returning citizens. Terra Cafe also served free meals during the pandemic.
While Dickson sought to create a space that welcomed everyone, he faced opposition from local community associations.
“They felt as though the elements from different areas would come here,” Dickson said.
If you understand the politics of Charles Village—a majority white neighborhood that finds wealthy, white, NIMBY-happy homeowners bumping up against college students and professors, activists, and artists—the concern about “elements from different areas” appeared to really be a concern about Black Baltimoreans having this space in Charles Village at all.
But Terra Cafe was quickly embraced and celebrated as a gem of the neighborhood. In 2017, Dickson was backed with an outpouring of community support and successfully appealed the liquor’s board’s rejection of his application for a class “B” beer wine and liquor license.
The pandemic forced thousands of indoor music venues to shutter, and Black businesses were hit extra hard. Terra Cafe’s application for a PPP loan was initially rejected and Dickson later received far less stimulus money than similar white-owned businesses. To keep his business afloat, Dickson took matters into his own hands by spending $100,000 into transforming the broken concrete parking pad behind the restaurant into a venue that can seat dozens, and features an open mic jazz night on Mondays.
Dickson says the complaint is over playing music outdoors and using the garden space after 9PM.
“We’re respectful, we follow the city ordinance of 11 o’clock,” Dickson said.
Some patrons who support Terra Cafe told Battleground Baltimore they would like to see the outdoor live music end earlier than that on school nights.
Dickson had to postpone his liquor board hearing because his attorney fell ill, but as he waits for it to be rescheduled, he’s also appealing the zoning ordinance.
“My liquor license says I can be open from six to two. So I’m asking to actually have live entertainment, which can consist of comedy, poetry and any other non-musical events, up to 12 o’clock during the week. And then on the weekend, up to one,” he said. “What we are trying to do is not exclude anybody, this is about the importance of our arts and our culture. We have lost a lot of cultural institutions, and it’s important that this be allowed to grow and cultivate into a new Baltimore.”
Developer Seeks to Silence Protesting Poppleton Residents
In news from West Baltimore’s Poppleton neighborhood, Southwest Partnership (SWP), composed of 13 community associations and institutions, was served with a threatening letter from an attorney representing La Cite, the developer that obtained rights to the neighborhood in a deal with the city nearly two decades ago and intends on evicting residents who have lived there for decades.
The blistering letter demands SWP stop making statements like the developer will “force black residents from their homes,” which the letter claims is “as wrong as it is incendiary,” noting that La Cite is a Black-owned company, that has committed to making 20% of the new housing units affordable. The letter concludes by threatening legal action against those who continue to speak out against the development.
“La Cite will hold SWP and any of its members accountable for any further libelous or slanderous statements, and will seek recovery of further damages caused by SWP’s tortious interference with La Cite’s contractual relationships and its prospective economic advantage,” the letter reads.
Residents say the letter is seeking to stifle growing outcry over the looming displacement of Poppleton residents who are seeking to preserve their homes, and have created an alternative vision for the neighborhood. Over 3,200 people have now signed an online petition supporting the community’s efforts and dozens rallied at a community park earlier in the month.
“I see it as them trying to put some intimidation on us,” longtime Poppleton resident and community organizer Sonia Eaddy told The Baltimore Brew, which first reported on the letter. “They’re feeling the pressure. ”
Last year, a judge dismissed a $25 million lawsuit against Clipper Mill residents who spoke out against a development plan at public hearings.
The fight to free Keith Davis Jr. picks up steam
Last week, we wrote about a door-knocking campaign spearheaded by Kelly Davis, the wife of Keith Davis Jr., a Baltimore man who is set to be tried for the same murder for a fifth time. This week, efforts to raise awareness intensified with an all-out campaign to tell the public about the ongoing prosecution by Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby of Davis, a man who was shot by police and later charged with murder he says he did not commit.
On Wednesday, Kelly and the usual team of supporters who’ve been organizing with her for six years, held a press conference downtown with nationally-known activist and Baltimore native DeRay Mckesson, in attendance.
“I’m involved in this case because the truth is actually just so clear that we don’t need to embellish it,” Mckesson said. “I don’t need to do anything to it. I just need to show you.”
Mckesson ran through some of the problems with the case, which he explained, includes the fact that the gun Davis Jr. was accused of using in the murder was not fired and that a detective investing the case made-up a fellow officer who supposedly helped connect Davis to the murder.
Kelly also spoke, pleading with journalists gathered there to tell the story in the right way, by sticking to the facts. She said that’s all she has wanted since June 2015 when Davis was chased by police officers and shot at 40-plus times.
“When you write your stories, when you inform the public in the press, keep this in mind. These inconsistencies come from the state’s case. For six years, I just needed people to listen to, to hear, to see for themselves,” she said. “And I’m so grateful for the support that I now have. And I’m so grateful for the people who look with their own eyes who did not take my word for it. Because after all, I’m just the wife, right?”
At the conference they announced the website https://keithdavisjr.com. On the website viewers can track the timeline of the case and learn about inconsistencies, with direct links to court transcripts. The case is a complicated and confusing one and the website, put together by Campaign Zero, cofounded by Mckesson. There is also contact information for Marilyn Mosby and Mayor Brandon Scott’s office so that people can contact them about Keith’s case.
Later that day, Kelly appeared on journalist Roland Martin’s online show and on BNC News.
The next day, supporters arranged to have a post on the popular Instagram account @murder_ink_bmore where Keith’s story was told through a series of illustrations. The account has almost 400,000 followers. At the time of publication, the post had over 1,700 likes and over 1,400 comments. Some commenters expressed surprise that Marilyn Mosby, who, since Freddie Gray’s death, has been synonymous to some with progress in Baltimore, would be pursuing the case. Others shared stories of themselves or loved ones being swept into Baltimore’s criminal justice system in similarly unjust ways.
On Thursday, three electronic billboards went live—one on I-95 at the Fort McHenry Toll Plaza and two on opposite sides of I-895 at East Lombard Street—and that night, Battleground Baltimore spoke to volunteers who were door knocking on behalf of Davis. They were invigorated by the campaign which keeps putting more pressure on Mosby to drop Davis’ charges.
“She’s shook,” the volunteer said.