Video of the police killing of 18-year-old Donnell Rochester is harrowing

Baltimore Police officers chase Rochester, who runs and then retreats back to his car, a white Honda Accord, and drives off.

“Get out the car, get out the car now,” cops yell at Rochester, who drives forward. Officer Connor Murray shoots at Rochester, whose car bumps Murray. Soon after, Officer Robert Mauri shoots at Rochester through the windshield and the Honda Accord stops, the car door opens, and Rochester, with his hands up, says, “I can’t breathe.” 

He collapses into the street and repeats, “I can’t breathe.” Cops pull Rochester to the ground and try to handcuff him.

“Put your fucking hand behind your back,” Mauri, who shot Rochester moments before, yells.

“Start a medic,” Murray, who also shot Rochester, says over the radio. “Suspect in custody.”

Rochester, handcuffed, gasping for air, blood leaking out of him and onto the pavement of Chilton Street in Northeast Baltimore around 3PM on Feb. 19, is now surrounded by cops.

“What’s your name?” a cop asks.

Rochester can’t get it out: “My name is…” 

“Where you hit at?” one cop asks Rochester. “Huh?”

Rochester struggles to answer. He has been shot in the chest.

“Where you hit at?” the cop asks again, impatient.

“He’s hit up top,” Murray says. “Upper chest.”

10 seconds later, another cop walks up to Rochester.

“Are you ok?” that cop asks Rochester.

“No,” Rochester responds. 

Officers kneel over Rochester, trying to tend to the gunshot wound—or a “GSW,” as Mauri calls it over the radio at one point.

“Bro, where you shot at?” a cop asks.

Rochester struggles to answer.

“Where you shot at, bro?” the cop asks again.

“My stomach,” Rochester says, hard to hear.

“Turn him over, turn him over,” another cop advises.

The cops turn Rochester’s body around, still looking for the wound or wounds.

“I can’t breathe,” Rochester tells the cops.

Approximately 15 minutes after he was shot, Rochester was dead.

The killing of Donnell Rochester by Baltimore Police officers Mauri and Murray has been handled the way most police shootings have been handled under Commissioner Michael Harrison: The body-worn camera footage was released days after the shooting at one of those press conferences where the footage is prefaced by a few minutes of police explaining what you’re going to see and selecting certain portions to be slowed-down to really drive their point home.

Back in February, a few days after cops shot and killed Rochester, Scott said the police in Baltimore were doing a “fabulous job.” 

Harrison began the press conference by calling Rochester’s killing a “police officer-involved shooting” and acknowledged “the high level of public scrutiny” that comes with a police shooting. 

From there, Deputy Police Commissioner Brian Nadeau took over, he said, to “put some context to what you’re about to see” in the body camera footage. Here is what happened, according to Nadeau: Police noticed Rochester’s car and ran the license plate, and it came back with an outstanding warrant for a failure to appear in court. The charge for that court date he didn’t show up to was carjacking, the police said. So, the cops followed Rochester and, at some point, turned their lights and siren on. Rochester sped off and got away. Police then went looking for Rochester and found his car parked on Chilton Street. Rochester saw the cops, ran, and then turned around and jumped in his car to drive off, by which time cops were yelling at him to stop his car, weapons raised. 

Rochester accelerated and Murray shot into the car. As the body-worn camera footage shows, Rochester was not going particularly fast, but fast enough to seemingly knock Murray to the ground: “Donnell then starts to drive towards officer Murray, who discharges his weapon, and officer Murray falls to the ground,” Deputy Police Commissioner Brian Nadeau told reporters at the press conference.

Mayor Brandon Scott, who has disappointed many activists by adopting many of the tough-on-crime policies and rhetoric of past administrations (while occasionally tempering it with references to root-cause solutions and “trauma-informed” care), explicitly praised warrant apprehension when he spoke to local television news outlet Fox45 last week. He discussed additional funding provided by Maryland governor Larry Hogan, which included $6.5 million for a Warrant Apprehension Task Force, and said, “We know that our Warrant Apprehension Task Force is going out doing great work and now having the state be a deeper partner in that is going to benefit… the City.” 

Back in February, a few days after cops shot and killed Rochester, Scott said the police in Baltimore were doing a “fabulous job.” 

Rochester’s family has been demanding officers Mauri and Murray be charged for killing Rochester, questioning the cops’ hard-charging tactics. On Mar. 25—the same day Scott was praising warrant apprehension—students marched from Morgan State University to Baltimore’s City Hall, calling for accountability.

“Back in 2014, that was the first time we heard the words ‘I can’t breathe’ when our brother Eric Garner said those words in New York City as he was being strangled by a police officer. Then again in 2020, we heard those same exact words, and now standing here in 2022, we hear those same exact words echoed by our brother, Donnell Rochester,” Joshua Turner of the organization B.R.E.A.T.H.E told the crowd of 50 or so, the MSU Spokesman reported.

“My son didn’t deserve it,” Rochester’s mother Danielle Brown said in front of City Hall. “They killed him for nothing.”

There is another protest scheduled for Saturday, Apr. 2, at 3PM at the Northwood Appold United Methodist Church.

Reckoning with the legacy of Baltimore’s ‘zero tolerance’ crime policy this election year

To make this strange political moment even stranger, Katie Curran O’Malley, former prosecutor, career judge, and wife of Martin O’Malley, is running for Maryland Attorney General. The platform, as described on her campaign website, is a combination of reform-heavy, Biden administration-style gestures to more training (which also means more spending on police) and tweaks to the criminal legal system. 

Like many Democrats two years out from the nationwide George Floyd uprisings, Curran O’Malley intends to split the difference between police reform and public safety: “We don’t need to choose between public safety and accountability in policing. We can and must do both,” Curran O’Malley tweeted earlier this week.

Marilyn Mosby, the trials of Keith Davis, and the death of Tyrone West

Family members of victims of police violence, along with activists who have been advocating on behalf of those victims, are challenging federally-indicted Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s progressive bonafides this week on social media, in court, and in front of City Hall.

Mosby has made claims that her indictment—related to a number of tax and mortgage issues and interconnected perjury charges—is a political attack on her and her “progressive prosecutor” policies. To hear the State’s Attorney tell it, as she did on MSNBC last month, she is “fighting for racial justice in the criminal justice system, fighting to end mass incarceration in a state where we have the largest incarceration of Black people in the entire nation,” and the feds are coming after her for it.

Two high-profile cases in particular complicate Mosby’s claim that her focus on police corruption and getting people out of prison is why she was indicted.

Baltimore City’s $1 Homes proposal rejected by City Council

Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby’s $1 Homes program was voted down by council members last night, Thursday, Mar. 3.

The program would make vacants owned by the city available to longtime residents for just one dollar if they are able to repair and then live in the property themselves. Primary concerns about the bill were communicated to Battleground Baltimore back in November by City Hall sources; namely, that most Baltimoreans who could benefit from the program lack the funds to fully renovate homes and could end up owing money on a home they could not rehabilitate.

During last night’s hearing, Councilperson Odette Ramos stressed the need to ensure that “everyone who participates in this program isn’t going to be underwater.”

Maryland’s huge surplus two years into the pandemic is bad, actually

Immediate relief to Maryland families—and all Marylanders—would, of course, be actual immediate relief, such as putting the surplus money directly into their hands. It would require being far more inclusive than Franchot’s $2,000 to low-wage earners idea. Immediate relief is not people paying a little less at the pump for one month or maybe three months. 

Indeed, the desire to project “fiscal responsibility” is so strong among state officials that it normalizes propositions such as using part of the surplus towards the state’s “rainy day fund,” where additional funds are held for economic instability and other crises.

Two years into the pandemic, many Marylanders might think back on how much more the state and federal government could have done for them, and ask what a “rainy day” looks like compared to all the days they’ve endured since March 2020.

Workers demand Baltimore Museum of Art live up to ‘progressive’ bonafides and let them unionize

While Baltimore artists, influencers, and reporters shuffled into the Baltimore Museum of Art for a preview of Guarding The Art, an upcoming exhibition that the BMA’s very own security guards curated in collaboration with curatorial staff, workers stood on the steps of the museum demanding their union be recognized by management.

On Tuesday, March 22, a group of seven workers who are part of the ongoing effort to unionize the Baltimore Museum of Art held signs with slogans such as “1 Voice, 1 Union” and “No More Delays”; one sign had “Guarding the Art” changed to “Guarding the Guards.” They were demanding that the BMA’s director, Christopher Bedford, sign the union’s election agreement. Bedford, the union stressed, has had two months to sign the agreement, which is needed in order to allow a union election organized by the city to proceed.

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Brandon Soderberg is a Baltimore-based writer reporting on guns, drugs, and police corruption. He is the coauthor of I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad. Formerly, he was the editor-in-chief of the Baltimore City Paper. His work has appeared in The Intercept, VICE, The Appeal, and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @notrivia.