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.
West Baltimore Ruins
The photos contained in “West Baltimore Ruins,” a new book from Baltimore photographer Shae McCoy, shows buildings that are missing their fronts—looking like poorly maintained doll houses—or missing either part of their roofs or backs, with slivers of the sky visible through the windows. McCoy says she takes pictures of crumbling homes and buildings as a way of preserving the past.
“A lot of these homes, vacant homes, have been around since I was growing up,” McCoy told The Real News’ Lisa Snowden-McCray. “I also thought it was important to preserve memories because people once lived in these places … where they are now ghost towns. People have picked up and left or these places are not livable, so they had no choice.”
In a city like Baltimore where it seems like there’s not much to celebrate, leaders sometimes jump at the chance to take one of those posed shots where a group is wearing gleaming hardhats while gripping A Symbol of Change, like a golden shovel or a giant pair of scissors. It connotes success. Something is happening. Money is changing hands. That’s what former Mayor Catherine Pugh (currently in federal prison) was probably going for when a few years ago she climbed into an excavator and gleefully took down the front wall of an abandoned home in Druid Heights. “I can’t wait to knock down more!” she tweeted.
Many people have ideas about what should be done with these vacant, abandoned, and crumbling buildings, often leaning cartoonishly to the side, but McCoy is more concerned with preservation. She grew up in what’s now known as Poppleton, but to her it was Lexington Terrace. She says she has watched the area change. Then, she says, the neighborhood didn’t feel like ruins, to her. There was crime and abandoned buildings, to be sure, but things didn’t feel as dire.
“I kind of feel like it shows how these neighborhoods have depleted over the years and things like that and also what’s happening now,” McCoy said. “I thought it was important to shine light on gentrification, also on neglect, how a lot of these homes—vacant homes—have been around since I was growing up. I thought it was important to preserve memories, because people once lived in these places.”
McCoy says she started out blogging and taking photos on her own, as something to do for fun. She began to find herself naturally gravitating towards photography and was eventually doing it as a career. She began documenting these buildings on an Instagram account, @west_baltimore_ruins. Now those photographs are collected in a book of the same name, out this month. Along with the images are telling data about blight and housing discrimination.
“It was crazy because when I started the project it didn’t really have that much of a purpose,” McCoy said. “But as I started to think, as I started to post more and really see like, inside of these vacant homes and vacant businesses and really think about what used to be there, it was like I feel like I found the purpose.”
Governor Hogan Criticized For Vaccine Rollout, Has Education Veto Rejected
While the national love affair with Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan continues (Hogan is frequently and inexplicably touted as some kind of voice of reason in the GOP), more and more Marylanders are realizing the limits of his strongman style of governing. On Monday, Feb. 8, a letter signed by 31 state leaders offered up recommendations to Hogan about how to better implement the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, including increased transparency, more vaccines, and the use of federal funding. As of yesterday, Maryland ranks 37 out of 50 when it comes to vaccinations, with 721,159 of 1,101,200 vaccines administered. That’s just a little over 65%. In Baltimore, Mayor Brandon Scott wrote a letter to the CEO of Johnson and Johnson—who last week submitted its single-dose vaccine to the Food and Drug Administration—asking if Baltimore City could purchase vaccines directly as a way to counter the inequity of Hogan’s vaccine rollout.
Hogan dismissed Scott’s request by calling it a “nice try,” and characterizing it as a way to “jump to the front of the line.” Scott, however, argued it is an issue of racial equity.
“Due to prioritization dictated to us by the state and the extraordinarily low supply of vaccine supplied to the city, only 3.4% of Black residents have received their first dose of the vaccine, and that’s just simply unacceptable,” Scott said at a Feb. 8 press conference.
Hogan made news last year when he purchased COVID-19 tests from South Korea for $9.5 million, though it has since been revealed that the tests were costly and hard to use, and that the tests had to be replaced, costing an additional $2.5 million.
On Feb. 11, Hogan held a press conference announcing a number of changes to Maryland’s COVID-19 plan. They are detailed here by Hogan’s Communications Director Mike Ricci.
Also this week, the Maryland House of Delegates voted to override Hogan’s veto of the Kirwan Commission funding bill, which would, if implemented, fund schools in the state with an additional $4 billion, which would come from local and state jurisdictions. Kirwan funding would go towards expanding pre-kindergarten, increasing teacher salaries, and making sure students are career and college-ready by the time they graduate. As The Real News’ Jaisal Noor has reported over the years, Hogan has long opposed additional funding, while students and advocates have stressed that the $4 billion—which would make up for the underfunding of schools—would be phased in by 2030. They have argued that it would pay itself back within 15 years.
Hogan, who has opposed Kirwan for years, argues the $4 billion is too costly because of the pandemic and recession. On Friday, Feb. 12, the Maryland state Senate also overrode the veto.
“By overriding the Governor’s veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future this afternoon, the Maryland General Assembly made clear that the status quo is unacceptable. If COVID-19 was the Governor’s reason for vetoing the Blueprint, it is also the moral imperative for overriding that veto,” State Senator Bill Ferguson said in a press release. “The same students and schools that have long faced underinvestment in their educational outcomes have been disparately impacted by virtual learning over the last year. At a time when our students, especially students of color and those living in areas with high concentrations of poverty, are experiencing immense learning loss, the worst thing we can do is reverse course on the Blueprint that was created to address these exact issues.”
Keith Davis Jr. Tests Positive for COVID-19
Last week, Battleground Baltimore called attention to the plight of Keith Davis Jr., a Baltimore man shot by police in 2015 and then charged with a homicide, which he has been tried for four separate times. Last week, Davis Jr. was hospitalized for internal bleeding. Last year, Davis’s lawyers argued that, because of injuries sustained during that shooting, his health was at risk in prison during the pandemic, and he had not received the medical treatment he needed nearly five years since his shooting. This week, Davis was discharged from the hospital and returned to prison. However, he has tested positive for COVID-19. In other words, precisely what Daviss lawyers and advocates said nearly one year ago—that due to injuries sustained when police shot him, Davis has breathing issues that make him especially susceptible to COVID-19—has come true.
The Baltimore Sun’s Phillip Jackson reported that since the beginning of the pandemic, almost 4,000 prisoners in Maryland have tested positive for COVID-19.
Brandon Scott Joins Mayors For Guaranteed Income
This week, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott announced he had joined Mayors For Guaranteed Income, a group of mayors across the United States pushing for a guaranteed income in the form of direct, recurring payments. This means Baltimore City is part of the pilot program intent on figuring out how to get cash to Baltimoreans who need it. “With a guaranteed income program, people are supported through monthly cash payments without restrictions for a sustained period of time, to create the breathing room to catch up on expenses and work toward long-term financial security,” a press release from Scott’s office explained.
Cities that have implemented the pilot program—such as Stockton, CA—have given between 100-200 households $500-$1000 each month for somewhere between a year and a half to two years. Ideally, these pilot programs will generate interest in this kind of program on a federal level.
“Baltimore is the birthplace of redlining and residential segregation. That legacy shows up in the stark inequalities of our city today, which have been exacerbated by this pandemic. To ensure the economic security and dignity of our residents, we must be willing to invest in bold solutions,” Scott said in a press release. “I look forward to measuring the impact of this pilot program in Baltimore and joining other cities to build the case for federal policies that put more money into low-income households through guaranteed income.”
Baltimore City Workers Have Not Been Paid Properly
Since the beginning of this year, when Baltimore City switched to Workday, a new system to pay city employees, many have not been paid properly, or paid at all. Workday was introduced to move away from timesheets and streamline the process. Instead, the program has left many without the money they earned—and desperately need. The reason for this is that the program cannot easily account for the differences in city departments, which do not always work 9 AM-5PM work weeks, and that testing Workday before it was implemented was not as extensive as it should have been. In particular, Department Of Public Works employees have been affected and have even protested, gathering in front of City Hall earlier this month with signs that read, “Where is our $$$” and “Pay us Mayor Scott Now, Cancel Workday Today.”
At a hearing about Workday this week, councilperson Mark Conway addressed the issue.
“We can all agree that this situation is unacceptable. Many of the workers who have been left without paychecks or with paychecks in incorrect amounts have been working hard over the past year to make sure city services remain functional amid the COVID crisis. These include some of our first responders, who have been dutifully continuing to serve our city even though their jobs put them at greater risk of catching the virus,” Conway said this week during a hearing. “Technology and online payroll systems should make everyone’s life and job easier, not harder. It is safe to say that is not what happened in the transition to Workday, as city workers were left scrambling to get correct paychecks to pay their bills.”
Bill Introduced To Give Baltimore City Control of Its Police Force
Unlike most police departments, the Baltimore Police Department is actually a state agency. Compounded with Baltimore being, until recently, a “strong mayor” city, this lack of local control encourages the embattled police force’s lack of accountability and limits the power Baltimore’s elected officials have over the police department. It has been this way since the Civil War and there have been debates and even bills introduced to change it. But this year, there is a bill introduced on the state level that could finally make that change happen. The bill, filed by Maryland State Sen. Cory McCray—at the request of Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott—would require a study and interim report on the transfer of control, due at the end of 2021 (Delegate Melissa Wells has cross-filed a version of the bill in the House). From there, the transfer of control would not happen until 2025 because it would be contingent upon a ballot measure charter amendment in 2024’s general election. Still, this is an encouraging development in a longstanding fight to put BPD under the control of the city it polices.
“Johns Hopkins Psychologist Bill Richards Studies the Magical Power of Music,” Baltimore Magazine.
”Eternally 3am: Baltimore after dark – in pictures,” The Guardian