Members of the Rose Street Community talk about their efforts to transform how their neighborhood deals with violence and the police’s attempt to take credit for reducing murders there
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux coming to you live from our Baltimore studio. All day we are bringing you coverage out in the streets, interviews here in the studio. We’re going to get audience members to come and ask questions. So right now let me just introduce you to Rose Street Community Center members. This organization is very unique, here in East Baltimore you guys are based. But essentially you provide shelter, housing, mentoring and violence prevention and interventions between gangs, which I find fascinating. But I’m going to start off just introducing our panelists. We have Clayton Guyton, who is the director of Rose Street Community Center. And we also have James Fletcher Jr. He’s a director of MentorPlus CIBC, and vice president of Monument Merchants LLC. JAMES FLETCHER, JR, VP MONUMENT MERCHANTS, LLC: Actually it’s C-O-B-C. DESVARIEUX: COBC. Thank you for the correction. And then we have Alex Long, you’re an organizer for Rose Street Community Center. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us. So Clayton, I’m going to start off with you. How did you come up with this idea, how did this organization even get started? CLAYTON GUYTON, DIRECTOR, ROSE STREET COMMUNITY CENTER: Well, we started, me and another friend of mine. We call him Big Man. Several other people in the community. Wanted to open up a place for young people to come so they could get tutored after school. But we didn’t understand the dynamics of what we was doing. We didn’t know that certain people out there that was making their money in different ways saw us as a threat to them. DESVARIEUX: Why would you be a threat? GUYTON: Well, because we was like, about 20 feet away from the open, open-air drug market, if you will. And so, this went on for a little while. And then after a while, you know, it got real tense between them and us, and to the point where we slept on the corner for 180 days. Martin O’Malley came out there a few times, and other people. And so we ended up, 823 ended up getting firebombed. DESVARIEUX: That’s a building. 823. GUYTON: That’s a building. Ended up getting firebombed. DESVARIEUX: Okay. Okay. GUYTON: Well, we wasn’t deterred by that, because men is men. So anyway, as time went on we all sat down, even the ones that was involved in the conflict and we came to an understanding. And now, you know, we’re partners. And that was our development. And moving into where we are now. And it essentially, all the idea is that Rose Street came from the community. DESVARIEUX: So wait, let me go back to the understanding. What’s the final negotiated deal? GUYTON: We’re not going nowhere. DESVARIEUX: Okay. Okay. GUYTON: I mean, case in point. I mean, there’s nothing to negotiate. So let’s work this out. We’re not here to really stop y’all from selling drugs. We are here to improve the education of the young people. So they finally understood that. DESVARIEUX: And James, how did you get involved? FLETCHER: Well I, after I was released, my brother introduced me to Mr. Clayton. I came with him and joined his program, and I had an idea of making a program called Resume Recruiters. And what it basically was, it was a program based on middle school and high school youth learning how to create resumes and inspiring them to go out and look for jobs. Well actually, after a while it turned into where the kids was coming over the top, then some staying. And then it just went into mentoring. So a few months after that we got introduced from Mr. Clayton by a proposal we had to write for YR. And it’s a program where the youth actually give other youth a chance to receive funding for their program. Well, my youth went on, they did the proposal, and they got the grant. So after we got the grant, we decided to go ahead to give ourselves a name and give ourself a purpose. And for the last two summers that’s what we’ve been doing. DESVARIEUX: Great. I just want to update our viewers. You guys are seeing some images of students marching towards City Hall. We are only a couple of blocks away from City Hall, so we’re just showing you these images just to show you that Baltimore still very much is–people are out there in the streets, people are demanding change. But I want to turn back to our panel, because this is a very unique story that you’re not going to really hear in the mainstream press about how the community is actually policing itself. So Alex, what do you do for Rose Street Community Center? ALEX LONG, ORGANIZER: Well, me myself, I’m an organizer. Originally I got with Rose Street because–I tell the story to Mr. C and them all the time, I used to wake up to a house full of kids. 1:00, 2:00 in the morning, it’s 12, 13 kids downstairs in my house. And I used to try to figure out why, like, what’s going on? There’s like, it’s not a slum house or anything. But Mr. C was having meetings for the youth. And when they would tell me, we’re going to go see Mr. C, 1:00 in the morning. Y’all not going to go see no Mr. C, man. I’m not hearing that. So originally I met Mr. C because I wanted to find out who he was, if he actually existed. Like, who was these kids that’s trying to crash in my crib. So really, that’s how I met up with Mr. C, and from there, you know, I just see that everything he ever said was true. DESVARIEUX: What attracted you to the organization? LONG: Well like I said, the fact that a single person could just in my house alone have 12 juveniles that’s off the streets, that’s not worrying about doing nothing but going to go meet up with him. DESVARIEUX: What do you think, Mr. Clayton, is the key here? For people who might be looking at this model and saying, like, I would love to replicate this in my neighborhood? What do you think is the main ingredient that got you to really connect with these kids? GUYTON: Caring for them. I mean, being able to talk to them, not superficially. But actually negotiate with them in terms of their lifestyles, what they’re interested in, and their hopes and dreams. And being able to some kind of way, right, say look. I want to be a part of that. See, it’s not about me. Okay, see, people think it is about me. People that’s not in the community think it’s about me. But it’s about them. It’s about him. This man came from jail, but now he’s a vice president of the Monument Merchant Street Association. Where did that happen [on?] It’s about him. It’s about the other–it’s about them. So less about me, and more about them, and that’s what young people tie into. And then they start believing and say hey, wait a minute here. We can develop a dream, and we can develop a vision, and we can do something differently. That’s what it’s about. DESVARIEUX: Do you think part of your success, too, is if you’re–you deal with members of the gangs, the gang leaders and things of that nature. They saw your level of influence within the community, and to a certain extent they felt like they had to listen to what you were saying. And saying I’m not going anywhere. GUYTON: No. They didn’t feel that way. Believe me. DESVARIEUX: They didn’t feel that way. GUYTON: They didn’t feel that they had to do anything. DESVARIEUX: Okay. GUYTON: No, they liked the ideas that we brought to the table. See, it’s about ideas, okay? See, people look at somebody maybe out there selling drugs and all that and think that they don’t have nothing between their ears. That’s so far from the truth. A lot of these guys that’s out there making money is geniuses. But that’s the only way that they can do it because of their background. So they sit down, we sit down, we say hey look, man, we want to change the community. Will you help us? Just like they’re helping keep controlling the streets now. Will you help us? And they said, sure, why not? DESVARIEUX: How do they actually help you? GUYTON: Okay. Let me give you one way that they help us. Right now in our community for the whole year this year, we only have one homicide. DESVARIEUX: Wow. GUYTON: Yeah, wow. And for the whole Eastern District, because we have a homicide-free zone, and we have guys that go out there and talk to different people, right. Four homicides, the lowest in the city. But the police want to take advantage of what we’re doing, so they brung Ceasefire over to East Baltimore so they can get advantage, point to say, look, we did this. We had four homicides when they came over there, and we still only have four homicides. And they still harassing us, throwing our guys up against the wall, doing walkthroughs through the jail so that the end of the day they can say look what we did over there in the Mounument-Rose Street area. DESVARIEUX: So they’re actually trying to take credit for the work that you guys have been doing. GUYTON: Yeah. As guys do. DESVARIEUX: I got you. So you said one homicide this year, but before your organization existed, how many homicides would there be in a given year? GUYTON: Unbelievable. DESVARIEUX: How many are we talking about? GUYTON: We was the deadliest district in Baltimore City when you go back a few years. DESVARIEUX: Wow. GUYTON: The deadliest. And that were no joke. And I want to say this, too. We are still the most dangerous. DESVARIEUX: Still the most dangerous. LONG: Some of the same people still live down there. GUYTON: That’s right. But see, their mindset doesn’t change. Let’s try this a different way. LONG: We learn to talk it out, and–. GUYTON: Exactly. LONG: There’s other ways to deal with it. FLETCHER: It’s creative minds, activities. You have to give communities like that that’s surrounded by so much stagnation but so much drama, you got to give them some type of creativity to give them an ideal, a concept to walk on. Something to believe in. And that’s–I think that’s what a lot of communities based on their concept need to do, is just give them something to believe in, inspire, and give some creative art, something. Everybody–we sit in this small box. To us it’s a small box. So we going to one corner to the next corner. That’s all I’m thinking about. Point A, point B. But I, a lot of us don’t think about what’s outside. We don’t see that bright light a lot of times. GUYTON: And I’d like to add, he negotiated a beef last week. If we got time for him. DESVARIEUX: Absolutely. What happened, Alex, there was a beef? LONG: Well, like always, people tend to get hotheaded, you know. And when you don’t think all the time, you want to do what you want to do right then and there. Especially when, you know, people was exciting you and pumping you up. So I seen that it simply was happening because of this. Not because it was a real problem or issue with this person. But because people was basically putting a battery in your back. You shouldn’t do that. Because if you do something and you get 25 years, you’re doing 25 years. They’re not. GUYTON: But how much money was it over, Alex? LONG: $5. DESVARIEUX: For $5. LONG: Chump change. GUYTON: This guy was going to get killed over $5. LONG: $5. FLETCHER: And they call that, the excuse for that is called, it’s the principle. GUYTON: Right. LONG: The principle. FLETCHER: And where’s the principle in morals? DESVARIEUX: How were you able to calm things down? LONG: Like Mr. C said, honestly, common sense. And just talking to them. You gotta think. Through the program Mr. C does it’s not a day that this man doesn’t give out bus fare and everything to the community. So if it’s any time that $5 was that serious, reach out. You know, to both sides. To the person that needed it and to the person that it was taken from or whatever. At the end of the day it’s other ways of–I call you my brother, there’s no way I can allow something to happen to you. DESVARIEUX: Okay. I want to–you know, we keep on getting back to this issue of, what were the conditions that created the life of Freddie Gray? You know, we’ve done packages, we’ve done pieces, we’ve had guests here on the show. You–James, you mentioned that you were incarcerated yourself. And when you hear about a story like Freddie Gray, do you feel like you can relate? FLETCHER: I mean, yes. Because I was–when I was incarcerated I was sent to one of the most dangerous prisons in Baltimore, Maryland–well, Cumberland, Maryland. DESVARIEUX: How old were you? FLETCHER: I was 21. And I stayed in there all that time, and I seen how the process and how their protocol is. Sometimes a lot of guys are–they call us animals, but sometime we are pushed to that brink. Especially when you got–especially when you have people that know–the worst enemy to have is an enemy that knows your mindset. Because then they can trigger you at any time. And that’s what’s going on inside of prison, that’s going on inside with the police in our communities, because a lot of them we grew up with. So they know what triggers. To us–to them some of us are bullies. Some of us was the two popular guys that just went around and just said and did what they want to and got away with it. But I’m saying sometimes–I mean, you can’t blame a person for their unique skills. You can’t blame a person for the way, the gifts that they have. But then the only thing you can hold me accountable for is my later, my later effects. My maturity, my responsibility. What have I become later? And that’s what a lot of them fail to realize, was that they now, with this badge and with this brotherhood they got inside, they don’t understand it. They using their propaganda as a way to lash out, too. Because there’s no reason for you to have to go down and beat someone that bad. It’s no reason. Especially with handcuffs on, and when you have them giving up. I just can’t imagine myself–I been through a lot of things. I been through some dangerous fights, where I had to find myself out of, and fight myself out of. And I never found myself wanting to hurt a person that bad for really nothing. It just don’t make no sense at all to, just to want to bring somebody–I mean, everybody have a time when they see somebody, someone wants to get hurt and they just like, [inaud.] DESVARIEUX: Yeah. We’re just going to pause the conversation for one second, because we have some breaking news coming out of the police department here in Baltimore. They are saying that there will not be a report released this Friday. We were anticipating that there would have been a report into the investigation of Freddie Gray’s death. And according to CNN, they are saying now the police are saying that essentially a report will not be released on Friday. And we’re expecting some large protests happening tonight, and The Real News will be livestreaming, and we’re going to be all over this. So starting at 5:45, we’re going to have shots of these protests, we’re going to be speaking to people out there. But I have people here in-studio. Just to get your reaction, Mr. Clayton, you obviously don’t look too pleased about that news. GUYTON: No, I don’t. Because they–they are inflaming the situation. Now you done lied to us. You said a report was coming out, now you–you didn’t change your mind. This is straight up a lie. Okay? This young man–we want people held accountable. They lock us up all the time without accountability. Police on Monument Street locked me up because I walk across the imaginary line he told me not to walk across. And he locked me up. Okay? DESVARIEUX: You were arrested for walking–. GUYTON: Walking across the line he told me, don’t walk across that line. Now these guys done kill somebody, and y’all can’t get y’all information straight, okay? The police they told me, don’t walk across this line. Tell him to stand him up and tell him, don’t walk across the line, because he going to lock them up. This, it’s not right. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to–. DESVARIEUX: James–yeah, yeah. FLETCHER: It’s just a terrible–they just don’t know the domino effect of this being done because they understand most–a lot of them protesters are not done yet. At heart, in their mind, regardless of what they know was going on. And evidently they don’t know exactly what they about to do. They about to push these guys and these people that’s running out here to the [brick] as though–I just… DESVARIEUX: Yeah. I want to get some audience reaction, because–if you could just please say your name, and your affiliation, with what organization, and things of that nature. But what–what is your reaction now to this news? AUDIENCE: Hi. My name is [Mac] Jones, and I’m really hurt right now. Like, we just don’t–like James said, they just don’t know what kind of effect they just did. And I understand y’all got the military out here, special forces or whatever. But you just don’t understand how much drama and fire you set to the streets just by saying that and just by holding that back. It’s, I don’t know. I just don’t know. It’s just, it’s terrible. DESVARIEUX: And your reaction? AUDIENCE: Well, I’m very upset. I feel like we never get justice like we’re supposed to. Never. Never. That’s just like there’s this rioting thing–okay, when certain people win the Superbowl, when they all rioting, they look at them like oh, that’s just kids. But when these–when these people out here rioting because the police is murdering people they’re criminals, the n-word and all this stuff like this. And then they delaying these people getting charged, they know what the reaction going to be. And I think they want something back to happen. DESVARIEUX: Why would they want to? How do you guys see that? AUDIENCE: Because the way things happening–I don’t know their plans, but I know they got big ones. DESVARIEUX: Alex. LONG: First, I want to send my condolences to the Gray family. And certainly I just want to say, to me, Maryland has been a cash cow for a lot of corporations. So to see the city basically go out of control is open market. Because once everything is pretty much destroyed, it’s pennies on the dollar. So you see constant incidents happening where no matter what, camera footage, anything, it’s oh well. So how long did you think the community is just going to sit back and watch their sons and nephews and daughters and–you know what I’m saying? Like, just get beat, dragged, and killed, and it’s, oh well. FLETCHER: And that’s–and then that’s, he made a good point. Civilians and the people that’s actually doing the right things to take care of their families, do the state, do the city even realize that we’re not going to take too much of people beating our families and stealing our stuff. I mean, we work hard. And they got to understand this too, it’s not like we didn’t come from their backgrounds. It’s not that we don’t understand. But it’s on a different type of level now. You understand that we are trying to make things better and you using these, these insignificant murders as a way to lash out, to steal and get what you want–that’s not a good purpose. There’s no logic to it. What can we get out of it? DESVARIEUX: So how do you guys feel about that? There are some people saying that this anger is certainly justified, but people who might take a more violent approach is not justified. How do you guys feel about that? LONG: If I could–and this is just my personal opinion. Like I said earlier, it’s what’s expected and what’s wanted. You’re going to get the mayor and her [five hour] response to the whole situation. Like–. DESVARIEUX: Calling people thugs? What do you think of that statement? LONG: It shows exactly what it means. That’s exactly how they view us in general. It’s not just about–a riot or [incompr.] happening. As you could see, this young man got killed. And before anything came out it was more about him. You know, you got these officers who, case in point, Officer Weekley–I think his first name, Joseph Weekley, something, raided a house. Shot a seven-year-old girl in the head. Wrong house, everything. Killed her. DESVARIEUX: In Baltimore? LONG: No, no, no. I’m just saying, like–but shoot a seven-year-old in the head. It’s the wrong house and everything. Not only do they find him credible for what he did, but they give him his gun, his job, and everything back like it never happened. As if he shot a pit bull or something. You get more time for shooting a pit bull than you get a black man. DESVARIEUX: What is your relationship like–. LONG: Like, that’s crazy. Michael Vick almost lost his NFL career. DESVARIEUX: Yeah, he did. He did. What is your relationship with the police now, since you–like you said, they like to take the credit for a lot of these things. But because they’re seeing you guys have such positive results in the community, how are they treating you now? Mr. Clayton? GUYTON: Well, occasionally get treated with respect. DESVARIEUX: Occasionally only? GUYTON: Occasionally only. DESVARIEUX: Wow, okay. GUYTON: And it’s because of other people that we know that they do that. But far as on their own, they’re not motivated to do that. LONG: What it really takes–not to cut him off, for respect from the police, a camera in their face. You put a cell phone in their face, they become your best friend. They dance, they–take pictures with the kids. DESVARIEUX: Really. Well send us the videos, if you–. FLETCHER: Take in point examples–take in point example–yesterday morning I had put on my social page volunteering for cleaning up Monument Street. And we got a pretty good amount of volunteers, about 200-300 people, kids, other communities. And it went pretty well. So speaking about the point about how the officers treat us, I walked–they was checking out a store on Metro–called Metro PC. And I don’t know them, I don’t know the officer rank. But he was talking to someone outside the store. And I was trying to find out what was going on or what they got only so I could go in there and clean it up. And as I went up to them I was about to get in my car, he just, he straight shunned me off. And I said, sir, do you know that I’m the Vice President here? And then it takes–it’s bad that it takes someone to put out their [inaud.] for someone to respect it. You feel what I’m–I shouldn’t have to go up to you and say, oh, this is my rank. I’m part of the community, so you should be able to hear me anytime, because you keep crying about, you want information. But when I come to give you the information you shun me away. That’s not fair. GUYTON: I’m going to jump in here with this, too. All these preachers that have been telling everybody hold on, what they going to say now? I mean, you got to change your whole presentation now. Okay? DESVARIEUX: The keep calm, that–. GUYTON: Yeah. I mean, what are you going to say now? You dancing, singing, and praying and doing all this. What are you going to say now that these people are saying look, yeah, y’all did all that, but guess what? We’re gonna hold this report. So I mean, they’re not–they lie to everybody. Religious community, everybody that’s out there trying to hold the peace and keep people and telling people look, hold on. I been telling the guys at my meetings, 40 and 50 guys. I been telling them, hold on. Because the report is coming. Now tomorrow, I face some of these guys at our meeting that, you know–I mean, what am I going to say? Because now I don’t even–it’s not coming Friday. So I don’t even know if they say when it’s coming. So people like us that’s trying to keep things in check, what are we going to say to these ones that are saying, look here, you see? We told you so. Because a lot of that is coming. We told you so. These police is crooked, Commissioner Batts plays games, the mayor play games. Now they got the governor put up an office here. They knew that report wasn’t coming out Friday. Excuse me, I don’t mean to howl. DESVARIEUX: No, no, please. GUYTON: But that’s why they got all these national guards here, all these state troopers, and all these police from surrounding counties. They already knew that this is not nothing that just came into existence. They’re playing us again. I’m sorry. DESVARIEUX: No, no, this is really great. I know there’s some members of the audience that want to jump in. You had a comment. AUDIENCE: Basically they try and keep us in check. And we have this thing called Streets and Alleys where we do from 700 to the 800 blocks of, through Patterson, Lakewood–Glenwood, I’m sorry. But anyway, while we out there cleaning up, the police always roll up on us and you know, always ask us what we doing, why we out here, why we in the alleys running around. We usually do cleanup, so that’s basically what we do. Is clean up alleys. Like, we clean up alleys better than garbage men. FLETCHER: [Inaud.] for doing that. Long as we, long as this team been out there, we know we out there almost every night. And for them to come up to us, ask us what we’re doing, it’s just like, teasing us. We know you all are doing the right thing, but still, just because y’all are–we just going to keep picking. DESVARIEUX: And we can. Because we can, we will–. LONG: These aren’t programs that we created last week or last month or last year, for that matter. So like they say, they know us. And I think the one thing that really kind of got under their skin is the fact that we can police our own community. So that’s why they do what they do, because at the end of the day you taking my job away. DESVARIEUX: I got you. Well, we’re going to–thank you guys so much for being on this panel. Audience members, thank you so much. We are going to be coming back to you guys live at 5:45 because as you can imagine with this news of the report not being released on Friday we are going to see quite a turnout. And just judging by the voices that we heard on this panel people are certainly very upset. So we want to give our audience members, we’ve been talking so much about Rose Street Community Center, a glimpse of what Rose Street is like. So please, take a look.
MEGHAN SHERMAN, TRNN: Early Tuesday December 17th in East Baltimore, members of the Rose Street Community Center held a press conference to announce their plans to pursue legal action against the Baltimore City Police Department. CLAYTON GUYTON: Enough is enough. That’s where we at. They will stop us, take our cell phones, look at stuff. Okay? Unconstitutional. They break our phones, they broke her phone. Because she was videoing. She still haven’t been compensated. SHERMAN: They say that the police have mistreated and abused residents in the surrounding community for decades. The Real News reached out to the Department for a statement, but they had not yet responded at the time of production. Clayton Guyton, the director of the community center, and Kevin McCamant, a clinical psychologist who works with the group, describe some of the negative interactions that residents have had with law enforcement and how certain policies protect abusive officers. GUYTON: And the police union will protect the bad apples. So they don’t care nothing about calling our women Bs. I got locked up a few years ago because I asked the officer not to call a young lady a B. I ended up in central booking. KEVIN MCCAMANT, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Baltimore City police have been abusing this community for over 30 years, or over a generation, with impunity. Largely because of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and the unwillingness of city administrators and police administrators to take this business seriously and hold people accountable for the wrong that they have done. SHERMAN: The employees at the center address what some refer to as black-on-black crime by focusing on lowering the murder rate in the area surrounding the 800 block of Rose Street, and de-escalating conflicts that could lead to violence. MCCAMANT: The two issues that have been long-standing on the one hand are the police misconduct and brutality, and on the other hand what is being called black-on-black crime. I want to underscore that Rose Street has been for a long time dealing with that issue of quote, black-on-black, end quote, crime. The homicide rate mid-year, city-wide in Baltimore was lowest in 30 years. In the news they were talking about, they couldn’t figure out how this had happened. Well I can tell you how it happened. Many of the people in this room have risked their lives on a regular basis on their blocks to intervene and defuse potentially lethal situations before they came to violence. SHERMAN: The response from Rose Street is just one of many amongst the recent national unrest over failure to indict white officers for the killing of unarmed African-Americans like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. GUYTON: What the [inaud.] is doing, wearing it on their T-shirts, that’s admirable. Laying in the streets with a die-in? Fantastic. But guess what? We in Baltimore City in the Rose Street Facility got our way that we’re going to respond. Class action lawsuit. That’s what we’re gonna do. And we’re asking for money for those that have been affected, and we’re also saying we want good policing policies to be put in place. SHERMAN: The Rose Street representatives mentioned that they will be collaborating with the ACLU of Maryland and Amnesty International, which they believe will help push the police to hold its officers accountable. MCCAMANT: We are going to be working in a disciplined–well, the word that was used here at our meeting on Saturday was professional, manner to collect evidence going forward here that this, the American Civil Liberties Union can use to prosecute this class action lawsuit. And as far as that goes, the idea of criminal prosecution against the police is not–against individual officers, is not off the table if we have evidence that people support that. You know, that level of wrongdoing. It was a representative of Amnesty International who’s coming to talk with us, because Amnesty has recently made police misconduct and abuse in the United States part of their international human rights effort. And so Amnesty is very interested in partnering with Rose Street to see how they can help support this effort to bring justice to the community and to hold the police accountable, to contribute to this truth and reconciliation effort. SHERMAN: They believe that the only way for the relationship between law enforcement and communities to improve is by compensating residents for past transgressions and working to develop better policing policies. MCCAMANT: It will never work for people not to have accepted accountability for the misconduct and abuse that they have done. It will not work if there has not been reparation. It will not work if there hasn’t been a sitting down and face-to-face and coming to terms with what has been done and how people feel about it. And then working together to figure out how to move into the future in a constructive way. GUYTON: We’re not hating on the police. What we’re saying is we want equal justice under the law. Like every other citizen in this country. We’re not asking for special treatment. We’re asking for fairness. SHERMAN: This is Megan Sherman reporting with The Real News Network.
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