Diagram showing scope of the plane's coverage/Courtesy Persistent Surveillance Systems

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.


Baltimore City Schools Delays Expanded Reopening Plan

Baltimore City Schools officials announced that they were delaying a plan to further reopen schools in the midst of the potentially deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of beginning the expanded reopening in mid-February, the plan is now for schools to reopen during the first two weeks of March. 

Nationwide, the COVID-19 virus is still spreading, killing over 450,000 Americans and leaving others with serious long-term health problems. Doctors and scientists are still learning about the disease—the way it is spread and the impact it has on the human body.

Baltimore City Schools CEO Dr. Sonja Santelises has been defending the expanded reopening during the continued pandemic, saying that students are suffering emotionally by not being in school buildings and that their grades are lagging. 

In response to questions about why it was so important for students to even be graded during such a traumatic time in our nation, City Schools said “failures and low GPAs are a warning to us that students are not receiving the content that they need to progress academically … Our grading policy mandates that students have the opportunity to reassess during each grading period to demonstrate what they have learned.”

The Baltimore Teachers Union called the delay a victory for students, parents, educators, and public officials, but said that school officials still have more work to do. They are asking that City Schools staff are fully vaccinated before returning to schools, that ventilation upgrades be completed before returning to school buildings, that minimum public health metrics are met for one week before expanding in-person programming, and that a robust and reliable proactive testing program for staff and students is implemented.  

Robert Stokes, chair of the Baltimore City Council’s Education, Workforce, and Youth committee, held a three-hour long virtual hearing on Feb. 4 where Santelises, parents, teachers, principals, and students all made their cases for and against further reopening schools. 

A few principals spoke about how schools need to be opened because schools provide desperately needed support services to students. The Baltimore Teachers Union has said that while that is a fact, the work of providing these services can and should be distributed throughout other Baltimore institutions.

“We have seen encouraging news over the past days and we are experiencing a downward trend for the first time in a long time, we have the chance to get ahead on the spread of the pandemic,” Baltimore Teachers Union president Diamonté Brown said at the hearing. “And if we prematurely expand in-person programming without the necessary full vaccinations, adequate ventilation, and a proactive testing plan, we, like a lot of cities, will reverse our gains and extend the pandemic’s grip on us.”

Student Marigold Lewy rapped Stokes for not giving students the same amount of time as Santelises, who was able to deliver a 10-minute slide presentation.

“Students were supposed to be a part of this because we are affected most. However, most of the people on here have totally disregarded students and we do not appreciate that as students,” she said. She also asked for more school nurses and a de-emphasis on standardized testing.

Meanwhile, an outbreak at Johns Hopkins University is a good example of what spread could look like in a learning environment.

Thirty undergraduates at Johns Hopkins University tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week. That is, according to Hopkins, out of 6,000 students. Many of the students are student-athletes and live in the same commons building. Late last year, many students, teachers, and community members were upset when Hopkins—whose name is synonymous with public health and whose Coronavirus Resource Center is often cited by news outlets for COVID-19 data—announced that many of its students would be returning to campus this semester. In response to the positive tests, Hopkins closed the campus down for two days.

City Councilperson Odette Ramos of District 14—where Hopkins’ Homewood campus is located—tweeted, “I have asked for an immediate meeting with JHU to understand what happened and measures JHU is taking to prevent this. Neighbors report parties and gatherings. I knew this would happen and told JHU before they did this that students would not behave. JHU is directly responsible.”


Keith Davis Jr., Hospitalized

Keith Davis Jr., a Baltimore man who was shot by police in 2015 and was subsequently charged with a homicide that he has been tried for four separate times, has been hospitalized. 

Davis, whose case has become an activist cause in Maryland thanks to the efforts of his wife, Kelly Davis, has suffered from health issues since being shot in 2015. Namely, he developed breathing issues as a result of being shot by police in the neck. Last year, Davis’ lawyers argued in court that he should be placed on home detention for the duration of the pandemic because his breathing issues and asthma make him especially susceptible to COVID-19. The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s office argued against Davis’ release, and even questioned whether or not his health issues were legitimate, as reported by Battleground Baltimore co-writer Brandon Soderberg in The Appeal.

Now, less than a year after those hearings, Davis has been hospitalized. Since Monday, he has gone through three procedures for internal bleeding. At some point, he was even placed on a ventilator, but details about his health have been scant. 

“Last night, Monday, February 1, Keith Davis Jr was rushed to UPMC Western Maryland to locate and stop internal bleeding. Keith was stabilized after his first procedure but had to receive blood transfusions due to the amount of blood loss. This morning Keith is entering his second procedure as doctors attempt again to locate and stop his bleeding,” Davis’ supporters said in a statement released earlier this week.

Davis’ wife struggled to obtain any information about her husband even though she was the one who consented to him going into surgery. 

“When I arrived at the hospital, I was met with brute resistance and hostility. They informed me that despite needing my consent for Keith’s procedures, they could not provide any updates on my husband. I was directed to DOC who then redirected me back to the hospital. I was running in circles all while my husband’s patient rights were being violated,” Kelly Davis said. “As Keith’s wife, I am his next of kin. I am the only one that can make medical decisions for my husband when he is unable to do so for himself.”  

Even after his third procedure, his wife says all that she has been told is that he is “getting better,” but knows little else.

“This has been a horrific experience and I can’t help but wonder how often it occurs. Keith is very sick as we continue to play legal football in both the appellate and circuit courts; Keith’s health following being shot by police declines,” Kelly Davis said. “The prison system can not adequately care for him medically, if they could he would not have spent the last 3 days shackled to a hospital bed on a ventilator. Keith needs to be home to receive the proper care as regardless of anything he has never been sentenced to death.”

Zy Richardson, spokesperson for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, said the office had no comment about Davis’ condition or the SAO’s arguments last year that Davis did not have any health issues. Lt. Latoya Gray, media relations coordinator of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, also provided no comment on Davis’ health issues: 

“The Department does not comment on inmate medical issues,” Gray said.


Baltimore Ends Contract with Surveillance Plane

This week, Baltimore City’s Board of Estimates unanimously voted to end its contract with the controversial surveillance plane—or “spy plane,” as residents often call it. The plane, which flies above the city during the day recording citizens’ every move in the hopes of capturing shootings and other violent crimes, has been controversial. It flew in secret in 2016 and was brought back in 2020 with promises of being more transparent. 

A number of reports about the plane’s effectiveness in assisting police in investigating crimes have been less than promising. Recently, a much-awaited study from the Rand Corporation showed that the plane developed evidence in 158 of 1,532 crimes. Mayor Brandon Scott has dismissed the plane as a “gimmick,” and at the Board of Estimates meeting, Eric Melancon, the Baltimore Police Department’s chief of staff, said, “there was no statistical difference between those instances where the plane was involved in evidentiary collection versus instances that were not.” 

Additionally, the ACLU of Maryland, who sued over the use of the “spy plane,” have stressed that the lawsuit will continue, and that just because Baltimore City had stopped using the plane, does not mean they should not be held accountable for allowing the plane to fly.

“[Baltimore City] can’t intentionally duck accountability by suddenly bailing on its years-long defense of this technology,” ACLU MD’s David Rocah said.


Mayor Brandon Scott Talks Defunding the Police

Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott spoke to National Public Radio about defunding the police, and what followed was a surprisingly sophisticated and nuanced discussion of the slogan, which  has generally been mischaracterized in the mainstream press. Last year, when Scott was the City Council president, Baltimore’s council voted to reduce the police budget by $22.3 million by getting rid of the Baltimore Police Department’s mounted patrol unit and transferring the marine unit to the fire department. These cuts add up to less than 5% of the police’s massive budget, which is nearly $550 million.

“What we are in the process of doing now is putting together how we can actually responsibly over time reimagine the city’s budget to decrease our dependency on policing,” Scott told NPR. “That means putting the responsibility to respond to things on the people that should be responding to them, which costs less. It costs less—just numbers—it costs less for a mental health person to deal with a mental health or substance abuse issue than it does for a police officer. Then that money can be reallocated somewhere else.”

Scott also explained to NPR that the police budget has continued to expand without resulting in tangible, long-term effects on crime.

“I can say quite openly, frankly and bluntly, that, hey, in 1993, when I was nine years old, the city had 350-something murders, and our police department was our largest funded agency. No different than 2020. We have been beating our heads on the wall the same way,” Scott said. “And again, this is coming from someone who supports constitutional-focused policing. But it’s never been about these mass arrests—never. It’s always been about who. The violence is carried out by the same people over and over again. And instead of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on focusing on everyone that looks like me, we should be intensely focused on those who are committing the violence.”


Elsewhere

“Three Years Later: There’s Something About Mary, the ‘Prostitute’ in the Sean Suiter Case,” by Justine Barron for The Suiter Files.

“Maryland General Assembly Will Consider Multiple Cannabis Bills in 2021,” The Outlaw Report.

“‘All Light Everywhere’ Review: Documentary on Surveillance Society Shows How Cameras Are Killing Us,” Indiewire.

Lisa Snowden-McCray

Former Managing Editor and Baltimore Editor

Lisa Snowden-McCray has been working in news for over 15 years. She specializes in reporting on race, policing, and Baltimore City. She is also the editor of Baltimore Beat, a nonprofit news outlet in Baltimore City.

 
@lisamccray