Last weekend, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) tweeted out a series of photos of its officers and commanders participating in the beloved anti-violence event Baltimore Ceasefire. Along with the photos—which showed a child flanked by smiling police while holding a “Baltimore Ceasefire” sign, and Ceasefire co-founder Erricka Bridgeford receiving a hug from Police Commissioner Michael Harrison—the tweet posted on Saturday, Aug. 7, read: “Celebrating @BmoreCeasefire weekend with our community! #Unity #CommunityPolicing #MyBmore,”
A little more than a day after celebrating Baltimore Ceasefire and boasting of its dedication to “community policing,” the BPD shot and killed someone.
His name was Marcus Martin, he was 40 years old, and at around 3:00AM on Monday, Aug. 9, Officer Jeffery Archambault of SWAT shot him. A cousin of Martin’s widow took to Twitter to ask why it happened the way it did.
“I’m still at loss as to why @BaltimorePolice responded with a swat team. A mental health crisis is a mental health crisis regardless of whether the individual has a weapon or not,” the cousin of Martin’s widow tweeted.
According to police, BPD were called to the home around 9:00PM on Sunday because of an assault. There were people inside the home along with Martin, and they told police Martin had assaulted them and that he was armed. When police arrived, they were able to leave the home which left Martin alone with a shotgun, his house surrounded by cops. Days earlier, Martin had lost his job.
The initial call to police was for an assault, and therefore it was not diverted to mental health professionals. BPD’s own “crisis response team” was also not present because it only operates between the hours of 11:00AM and 7:00PM.
Over the next six hours, police remained outside of the home. Police said Martin shot at them: “Shortly after 3:00AM, the individual came to the door and fired his weapon. At that point, I can confirm that at least one officer returned fire, striking the individual one of our SWAT medics provided aid to the individual who was later pronounced deceased,” Deputy Commissioner Sheree Briscoe said during a press conference.
Martin’s family, however, suggested that he fired when police attempted to enter the home. A GoFundMe set up by Martin’s daughter to help with funeral costs also provides the family’s version of what happened. “THERE WAS NO HOSTAGE SITUATION NOR DID HE SHOOT IN THE DOORWAY!,” the GoFundMe reads, explaining that Martin fired at a SWAT robot sent into the home. “THEY BUSTED THE DOOR DOWN AND SENT THE ROBOT WHICH HE THEN SHOT THE ROBOT AND THEY OPENED ARMS ON HIM. THE NEWS IS A LIE!”
The language deployed by BPD is worth noting because local news was quick to run the police version of events. The shooting was described by police as an “officer-involved shooting,” a phrase that obfuscates the plain facts (police shot someone) and is regularly repeated by reporters. Martin’s shooting by police was the result, local news channel WBAL wrote, of “Martin discharg[ing] a shotgun in response to SWAT measures.” Those “SWAT measures” were not described further. The police and many news outlets also described the incident as Martin experiencing a “behavioral crisis,” something that the cousin of Martin’s wife criticized on Twitter.
“The media is misreporting this as a ‘behavioral’ crisis rather than a ‘mental health’ one to justify the fact that my cousin’s husband was murdered by a swat team after they were asked to send a mental health specialist in the midst of his mental breakdown,” he tweeted.
This was not the only police shooting in Baltimore this week. On Thursday, Aug. 12, BPD shot a man who they said had a gun during a fight in downtown’s red light district, “the Block.” BPD headquarters is just 0.1 miles from where the fight and shooting took place.
As residents waded through all of the “copspeak” related to the week’s two shootings by police, a police killing from nearly 30 years ago reentered the news.
Baltimore City’s Inspector General Isabel Cumming released a report this week that called attention to the fact that an officer who shot a teen in the back and killed him in 1993 has remained on BPD payroll. In 2002, BPD stripped the officer, Edward Gorwell, of his police powers and then put him to work on a number of gigs, such as working communications and working 311. He has continued receiving benefits and often receiving significant overtime.
“Between 2016 and 2020, for example, he received $158,804 in overtime pay on top of his regular salary, which pushed his total pay over five years to nearly $600,000,” the Baltimore Brew, who first revealed Gorwell’s identity (he was not publicly named in the IG’s report), reported.
The report was provided to Mayor Brandon Scott and Commissioner Harrison three months ago. Gorwell was terminated on August 1.
This story, which has been something of an open secret for years—especially among frustrated Baltimore cops—has been mentioned by an anonymous Twitter account that highlights problems with BPD, especially as they pertain to discrimination within the department: “Dear @BaltimorePolice: Gorwell was a low value target, but consider him a warning. You have plenty more you that you are hiding, promoting, etc. that should of been fired years ago. The next exposure will be higher in rank, and it will climb from there. Right your wrongs now,” they tweeted.
At Rally, Advocates Criticize Stopgap Fixes To Eviction Crisis
A coalition of housing advocates and their allies rallied in front of Baltimore City Hall on Aug. 11 to demand Gov. Larry Hogan expand the state’s eviction moratorium instead of letting it expire on Aug. 15. They held signs that read “homes not graves,” “housing is a human right,” and “cancel the rent,” and chanted, “no more evictions.”
“I am handicapped, and my sister, who I live with, was laid off during the majority of the pandemic,” Monique Dillard, a tenant in Northeast Baltimore, said through her attorney during the rally. “Despite the CDC order, our landlords tried to evict us at least half a dozen times over the last year. We applied for eviction prevention funds, but are still waiting for the assistance to come through. This is why we need more protections for renters. I feel bullied by my landlord.”
Multiple tenants like Dillard, who are facing the threat of eviction, shared messages through their attorneys, urging city and state officials to protect those who have fallen behind on rent and could be left homeless during a surging pandemic.
Caitlin Goldblatt of Baltimore Renters United, a key organizer in preventing the city from approving a predatory scheme presented as “security insurance,” stressed that the current eviction concern should have been handled months ago.
“Before we ever saw a huge surge of infections due to the Delta variant, our state legislature failed to pass lifesaving tenant protections prior to their end of their sessions,” Goldbatt said. “We know the policy as it exists doesn’t cover all renters, and we know it’s just delaying a more urgent eviction emergency than the one we are facing right now.”
Mayor Brandon Scott has increased the pace at which rental assistance is distributed, and is using the city’s eviction diversion program, but these efforts are limited and hampered by a lack of infrastructure.
“[We want] a moratorium that is informed by how long it will take to put in place infrastructure to get renters relief funds released to those in need,” Tisha Guthrie of Baltimore Renters United said.
Last week, progressives successfully pressured President Joe Biden to extend the Center for Disease Control (CDC) eviction moratorium for areas facing high levels of transmission of COVID-19, which now covers every Maryland jurisdiction except Carroll County. The state and CDC moratorium falls short, activists explained, because landlords can refuse to accept rental assistance, and then the burden falls to renters to prove they qualify for the moratorium.
“Renters will face eviction unless they come to court and prove their eligibility for protection under the order,” said attorney Zafar Shah of the Public Justice Center, who represent tenants in court.
Shah told Battleground Baltimore that a rental court judge advanced an eviction proceeding against his client the same day as the rally. The reason: They had not yet started the paperwork to receive rental assistance. Shah said his client did not know of the assistance program and CDC moratorium until he informed them of this morning.
“Failure to pay rent cases continues in the state of Maryland. People are being evicted today, they will be evicted tomorrow. And those numbers will continue to grow unless our state and local governments do something,” housing attorney Carisa Hatfield of the Homeless Persons Representation Project said.
Hatfield stressed that she represented a client who was scheduled to be evicted the same day as the rally.
In Maryland, 129,000 households are behind on rent, including over 25,000 in Baltimore City, according to census data compiled by National Equity Atlas.
Walters Art Museum Workers Demand Museum Recognize Union
Members of Walters Workers United (WWU) rallied on Thursday, Aug. 12, to demand the nationally-renowned Walters Art Museum voluntarily recognize their union drive and stop union-busting.
“We know that by standing together in one union across all departments we can help create a more inclusive transparent institution, with more equitable pay and compensation, that values our health and safety and job security and builds ladders of opportunity and clear pathways to success,” a member of WWU told Battleground Baltimore.
During the pandemic, the workers at Walters (a free art museum located in Mt. Vernon), joined a nationwide surge of frontline workers who organized for better working conditions, pay, and benefits. According to WWU, a supermajority of the roughly 90-member bargaining unit have signed union cards.
Battleground Baltimore requested comment from the Walters on the unionization efforts but did not initially receive one. An internal email accidentally sent to Battleground Baltimore by the Walters read, in part, “Just got a follow up email from Real News Network. Just making sure you think my inclination to continue to not respond is right.”
Eventually, the Walters provided Battleground Baltimore with a response:
“The Walters Art Museum supports its employees’ right to consider forming a union and we have taken no steps to interfere with that process. We urge the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees to file a representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board, which would set in motion the process for employees to vote on whether to unionize,” the statement reads in part. “The Walters closed at 5 p.m. [on Aug. 12, the day of the rally] in order to make it possible for any Walters staff who would like to attend the Walters Workers United rally to do so.”
What follows is a Q&A with WWU about their unionizing efforts and their issues with the Walters.
Battleground Baltimore: Nationally, there seems to be an uptick in workers organizing during the coronavirus pandemic. How has COVID-19 affected employees at the Walters, and your determination to improve your working conditions?
Walters Workers United: Issues at the Walters predate COVID-19, but the pandemic helped shine a light on concerns that were previously easier to hide or obscure. For example, the mistreatment of essential staff (i.e. Maintenance and Security) was even more noticeable while they were the only ones working on campus, and safety precautions did not center their health as a top issue. We have united around shared concerns, regardless of what department one is in.
BB: What has been the response from management to your concerns and organizing drive?
WWU: The museum director, Julia Marciari-Alexander, and the museum’s board of trustees have refused to voluntarily recognize our union or even meet with us. They have signaled publicly that they are committed to a “non-adversarial process” all the while employing a known union-busting law firm, Shawe Rosenthal. Management has refused to acknowledge or give space for union conversations with staff. If they had, they would find that we have many of the same values at heart. We love the Walters, and we know that a seat at the table will allow the museum to live up to its full potential for our city.
BB: To WWU, “Walters Workers United” means all workers at the museum, correct?
WWU: We want to have a union that includes all workers across the museum, regardless of the department they work in. Often, the most vulnerable positions are the ones forgotten. We cannot let the museum dictate where we have a union election. By doing so, we would let them remove gallery officers and monitor room officers from our bargaining unit. These workers are among the essential staff who keep our museum running. Their department has high turnover, poor communication, unfair implementation of policies, and overall disrespect. If the Walters would meet with us, we could share our concerns about excluding part of the workforce that we all value and come to a resolution that would include all workers in a union.
BB: The Walters is a revered cultural institution in Baltimore. What message do you want to send to patrons and supporters of it, as well as people who want to support your cause?
WWU: We know that by organizing a union it will benefit all of us. Recently, the museum closed to staff and visitors due to unsafe levels of volatile organic chemicals during construction work on the roof. Individual requests for safety information or guidance on protective measures were not adequately addressed. It was only after a letter of concern signed by nearly 50 workers was delivered to the administration that safety measures were put in place to protect workers and the public. The workers of the Walters Art Museum are largely Baltimore City residents. We are part of the community just as much as anyone who visits. We are unionizing because we love our jobs, just as much as visitors love coming to the museum. It is because we care about the museum and its collection that we unionize. It is possible, and encouraged, to love the art and love the people that take care of it.
To learn more about WWU’s efforts, you can read WWU’s mission statement here.