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 Still Battling For COVID-19 Vaccine
Last week, Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan was confronted by many across the state—including Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott—about the COVID-19 vaccine not being delivered in an organized, timely, and perhaps most importantly, equitable way. Hogan pushed back against the criticism, as he often did, with a mix of dismissiveness and condescension (“Nice try,” he told Scott, who asked Johnson & Johnson directly for the vaccine). This week, it was revealed that the Baltimore City Health Department will get 2,000 doses over the next four weeks while Baltimore County, whose population is only slightly larger (about 830,000 in the county to the city’s 610,000) will get 4,900 doses. And Anne Arundel County, whose population is about 580,000, is getting 3,400 doses of the vaccine each week. Additionally, Montgomery County (population of about 1 million) is receiving 4,500 doses and Prince George’s County (population of about 909,000) is receiving 4,200 doses. For many, the disparities reflect Hogan’s focus on counties over cities and catering to white populations over Black populations (Prince George’s County and Baltimore City have the largest Black population in the state).
On Monday, Feb. 16, during a weekly health department meeting, Maryland senators challenged the low percentages of Marylanders vaccinated, as WYPR reported. On Thursday, Feb. 18, a snow storm in Baltimore temporarily disrupted testing in the city.
Amid these vaccination concerns, however, Scott announced on Wednesday, Feb. 17, that Baltimore City would reduce the limits on how and when businesses can operate during the pandemic. On Feb. 22, Scott said, bars will no longer have to maintain a one-hour time limit for customers, and the 10-person limit for indoor gathering and 25-person limit for outdoor gatherings has been lifted. His reasoning, Scott explained, is the city’s positivity rate is 50% lower than it was last month.
Zeke Cohen talks Healing City Baltimore
It’s been a busy few weeks for Baltimore City Councilperson Zeke Cohen as he continues to guide efforts to put his Healing City legislation (approved in 2019 by then-Mayor Jack Young) into action.
“A big part of what we hope to do with the Healing City Act is not just get government trained in trauma-informed care, but to really reimagine and rethink how we deliver health care within our communities,” Cohen told Battleground Baltimore last week. “To knock down some of the barriers around stigma with mental health, or the ways in which the healthcare system is extremely exclusive.”
The second Healing City youth summit was held earlier this month with a flurry of virtual events, including a youth day, panels, and a community day. It concluded with a ceremony held outside the beauty salon where Baltimore mother Destiny Harrison was murdered in front of her daughter in December of 2019. Local barbers and beauticians created a scholarship fund for beauticians coming out of Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School. They set out to raise about $5,000 but ended up raising over $71,000. Three young people were awarded the scholarship.
“One of the things that I didn’t even know is that in order to become a cosmetologist or a beautician, you have to go through a bunch of certification, and you have to buy your own kit. And that can actually be prohibitive for some of our young people,” Cohen said. “Because that’s one of the things that we know about Destiny, is that not only was she, at age 21, a successful entrepreneur who launched her own beauty salon, but she also mentored other young women coming up. And so we wanted to honor her by providing not just financial support, but also a whole network of beauticians who are already doing the work.”
On Monday, Feb. 176, 28 members of Baltimore’s first ever Trauma-Informed Task Force were sworn in by Mayor Brandon Scott. Scott, City Council President Nick Mosby, and members of the Baltimore City Council have also received trauma-informed training. Speaking to The Real News Network, Cohen said that he knew the program had to be specific to this city for it to stick.
“If it feels generic, it will fall flat, and no one will care. And so the way it was designed has community voice all throughout it. The way it’s implemented has community voice throughout it. And it’s really a reflection of not just the trauma that we experience in Baltimore, but also what is our greatest asset, which is our people,” he said.
The training is lead by the Baltimore City Health Department, in partnership with Youth Healing Alliance, Holistic Life Foundation, OSI, Akoben, and other community-based organizations.
Cohen said he hopes to go city agency by city agency, getting all employees sworn in. He knows that with the pandemic and the devastation that has accompanied it, the city needs trauma-informed care more than ever.
“So the level of trauma is exponentially worse than it was. And I would also just say that I think all of us right now are in need of healing, myself included,” he said.
Cohen also said that it’s important for all leaders to rethink and reimagine the ways that they can make Baltimore a better place.
“I think it’s incumbent on legislators, elected officials, people in positions of power and authority, to do the work to try to understand not just what instinctively feels like it’s going to keep people safe, often people meaning middle class people, but to really try to understand where the root of violence or crime comes from,” he said. “I think, if we’re going to take on a challenge as big as trauma, then it’s going to require people from all different walks of life to be part of the solution, everyone from a returning citizen, to a student, to a pediatrician, to a teacher, to a parent, everybody needs to be at the table.”
Mayor Scott’s Transition Report
Earlier this month, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott released his administration’s transition report. The 85-page document is the result of various teams compiled by the mayor looking to address important issues such as public health and safety, arts and culture, the environment, housing and development, and more. Last month, Battleground Baltimore’s Lisa Snowden McCray profiled Scott in a piece which asked the question, “How will [Scott] get a city in the midst of crisis to run at a basic level of competency while also meeting a rising, progressive call for bolder action from dedicated activists?”
The transition teams provide a glimpse of how Scott will run the city competently—and, citizens hope, corruption-free—while acknowledging progressive voices. The teams put grassroots leaders and established voices in the city in the same room, ostensibly with the same degree of power, to work out a number of issues. The report, which can be read here, is an accessible and easy to read document complete with bullet-point recommendations.
“The inclusivity, thoroughness, and thoughtfulness of the committees’ work are a testament to Mayor Scott’s ability to inspire residents all over the city to work together to create a better Baltimore,” the transition steering committee said. “The themes that emerged from the committees’ reports echo Mayor Scott’s values and priorities, including building a better Baltimore for residents in every zip code; investing in historically underserved and under-resourced neighborhoods impacted by systemic racism; and making city government work for everyone, with transparency and accountability. We are optimistic about the future of our great city under Mayor Scott’s leadership, and we stand ready to help however we can.”
Additionally, Scott’s team released a 100 days tracker, which will allow Baltimoreans to see where the administration is during its first 100 days. The 100 Days of Action Tracker uses the transition report’s recommendations. Today (Friday, Feb. 18) is day 74 for Scott. The tracker declares, “there are 58 actions planned in total. 11 are complete, and 23 are in progress.”
An announcement from Acting Baltimore City Solicitor Jim Shea brought some semblance of closure Thursday after Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby spent the week fending off increasing allegations of impropriety surrounding travel, gifts, and campaign donations.
The whole thing was the result of dogged reporting from The Baltimore Brew, which uncovered the fact that Mosby had traveled 144 work days in 2018-2019, among other things.
Mosby asked the Baltimore City Inspector General to look into the allegations, and they complied, releasing a report that pointed out a few ethical irregularities, including Mosby’s failure to get the approval of the Board of Estimates before some of those trips.
“There is nothing in the City Charter or the City Code that would require BOE approval of non-funded travel by an elected official,” Shea wrote in a memo to City Comptroller Bill Henry. In his own statement, Henry added that the city’s Administrative Manual could use “a complete overhaul.”
The Brew also discovered that the lawyers that Mosby had hired to defend her during the investigation were paid for using campaign funds, and that a campaign finance report she submitted had incorrect addresses for some donors (Mosby has since amended the report, fixing many of the mistakes).
Through it all, Mosby has taken a Trump-like approach to the allegations, calling the Brew’s reporting erroneous and using a photo of Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Cumming on a work trip as a way of defending her own travel.
Also, as some on Twitter pointed out, the announcements from Shea and Henry, along with a work group being assembled to establish further clarity around elected officials and their travel, extend more grace to Mosby than her office extends to the many Black residents her office prosecutes.
The account @bmorecourtwatch, which live-tweets Baltimore court cases, has highlighted incidents where young people on pretrial home detention have been punished for violations that were likely misunderstandings of the rules because the court’s orders were not clear—precisely the sort of procedural misunderstandings Mosby claims led to the past week or so of allegations.
“This Is Our Music”: RIP Baltimore Club Vocalist Jimmy Jones
This week, every generation of Baltimore’s club music scene was devastated to learn of the death of innovative vocalist Jimmy Jones. He was 50 years old. Baltimore club, a style of hard and fast dance music created in Baltimore that fuses hip-hop and house with some of the sharp-edged sounds of Black techno has influenced dance culture around the world. But in Baltimore, this music—often praised by national and international music writers as part of the party music vanguard—is cathartic music for the Black working class.
Jones, who entered that underground scene when he was just a teen, collaborated frequently with producers DJ Booman and KW Griff, shouting and half-rapping catchy hooks, such as “Watch Out For The Big Girl,” a club song that has spread across the country over the past three decades and has even been embraced by popular rapper Lizzo. He was a passionate vocalist, using his Baltimore accent and a touch of a lisp to deliver pop-friendly chants through jagged underground beats while always making sure they represented the city and told Baltimore’s multivariate neighborhoods that they mattered. He could sound like he was singing a nursery rhyme, leading a protest, and talking your ear off at the club all at once. On “Where Y’all At,” Jones chants, child-like, “East side, get me pumped, where y’all at?” over a tangle of a James Brown breakbeat and an “Apache” sample. And then Jones always made sure to name specific streets: “Harford Road, 31st, Tivoly!” That was kind of his thing.
Club music is mostly about songs rather than albums, but two releases featuring Jones are easily accessible on streaming services such as Spotify and provide a sense of his warmth and talent: 2003’s “30 Minute Workout” by the Doo Dew Kidz (Jones’ group with Booman and KW Griff), where Jones talks, yells, shouts, sings, and screams over breakneck speed club beats (a highlight is turning Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger” into a get-drunk-and-hook-up song) and 410 Pharoahs’ “410 Funk,” a rap/club hybrid featuring Jones, Booman, and rapper Labtekwon (start with “Real Fresh”)—the rare example of hip-house done right.
Battleground Baltimore’s Brandon Soderberg got to know Jones over the years reporting on club music. Back in 2009, the tail-end of a moment where club music was adopted—and many say co opted—by so-called “hipster” dance labels, Jones expressed frustration that his city’s homegrown house music made for Black Baltimore by Black Baltimore was getting international praise but many of the innovators were not.
“A lot of kids [in Baltimore] are poor,” Jones told Soderberg. “This is our music.”
There is a GoFundMe to help Jones’ family pay for his funeral costs.
“Biden’s Health Plan Shifts Even More Public Dollars Into Private Hands,” by Dr. Margaret Flowers for Truth-out