Week In Review: Crumbling infrastructure, a Nazi in the DPW maybe, Keith Davis back in court, Mosby supports safe consumption sites, and more

Keith Davis Jr.

-Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young says he is considering running for mayor in the next election after initially saying he wasn’t. He got really candid about how the political sausage is made with The Baltimore Sun this week, saying he had a plan worked out with council vice president Sharon Middleton where she’d serve out the term as council president while he finished out Pugh’s term as mayor, and then they’d run for their former positions. But then Brandon Scott messed that all up when he ended up being voted as city council president instead—a shocking admission of the ol’, “I’ll scratch your-back, you scratch mine” way of doing things in Baltimore that Young’s so mired in he doesn’t realize he shouldn’t have said that aloud. Young says that people have been encouraging him to run for mayor based off how well he’s done since taking over in May. That says more about the sad state of lowered expectations in this city than anything else. 

-The Department of Public Works is investigating whether a Baltimore City employee is using Twitter and Facebook to spew hate about Black people and Jewish people, while also praising Nazis. Twitter user, @eliSunday3 first found the accounts, tweeting out “So it’s come to my attention that we have an actual nazi working for the city of Baltimore.” Baltimore City councilperson Zeke Cohen said, also via Twitter, that he was looking into the incident and had already spoken to DPW Director Rudy Chow, Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming and City Solicitor Andre Davis about the posts.

-In “Baltimore City is falling apart” news, more of the city fell apart this week. On Wednesday, a whole Light Rail platform got swallowed up into a sinkhole, two days after a Monday water main break that caused a train derailment and flooding near M&T Bank Stadium. The city’s aging, crumbling infrastructure isn’t a surprise anymore—nor is the fact that climate change accelerating the process. Too few in power are quite sure how to get out of this mess or interested in dealing with it.

-The embattled teacher’s union election has finally been decided and Diamonté Brown, part of a grassroots, activist-oriented coalition has won. Back in May, Brown won the election but then the results were challenged by incumbent Marietta English amid accusations that the process was biased. As a result, The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) investigated those claims and upheld the decision. For more on the election, read Jaisal Noor of the Real News Network’s piece, “Grassroots activists Diamonté Brown confirmed as victor in teacher’s union election.”

-Keith Davis Jr., a man shot by Baltimore Police in June of 2015 and then later charged with the murder of Kevin Jones (based on the gun police said they found on him after they shot him), who has gone through three murder trials already, began his fourth trial today. Activists have rallied around Davis, alleging a cover-up and prosecutorial shenanigans, and his trials have had enough twists to lend credence to these claims including: a man who worked for a drug cartel as the state’s star witness claiming Davis confessed in jail to him; the sudden appearance of security camera footage which offers up a different suspect; the lead prosecutor being arrested for drunk driving; the involvement of a Baltimore cop investigated for drug dealing by the FBI, and more. We repeat: this is Davis’ fourth time in court for the same crime. For more context, read pieces on the case by Beat cofounders Brandon Soderberg (for the Appeal in 2017) and Baynard Woods (for the Guardian in 2016) and listen to Amelia McDonell-Parry’s “Undisclosed” podcast about the case. And read these round-ups by Megan Kenny and Baltimore Courtwatch of some of the events of today’s proceedings.

-The Baltimore Police Department announced a new recruiting slogan earlier this week: “Be a Part of the Greatest Comeback Story in America.” The marketing campaign surrounding this costs $200,000 dollars and intends to bring in more city residents, particularly women and people of color into the department. There’s a lot to say here for sure, but we’ll just focus on how this is another example of how the city prefers and isn’t afraid to pay serious amounts of money to try and make itself look better rather than actually do better. A comeback story is what you call it after the fact, you know? And along with recruiting, a serious reckoning with what BPD has done to its citizens and radical changes to police transparency and other policies which protect dirty cops would go a long way.

-We know firsthand how hard it is to run a news website on a shoestring budget and with a shoestring staff. That’s why it’s so impressive that Fern Shen, editor and publisher of the Baltimore Brew, along with Ashley Overbey Underwood, were able to successfully challenge the city’s practice of requiring people  to sign non-disclosure agreements to settle police misconduct lawsuits. This week, a panel of judges ruled that the rule was unenforceable, adding “there can be no serious doubt that the government has used its power in an effort to curb speech that is not to its liking.” Overbey Underwood says she was beaten by police in 2012 after she reported a burglary in her home. The case was filed in 2017. Of course, the city plans on appealing the decision but for now, we consider the move is a big win for journalism, and for victims of police brutality.

-While some of the problems with Marilyn Mosby as Baltimore’s top prosecutor are apparent in the latest Keith Davis Jr. trial (again: this is Davis’ fourth trial for the same murder), her forward-thinking approach to drugs should not be ignored. On Wednesday, Mosby testified before Congress about support for a federal decriminalization and legalization of cannabis. Mosby’s announcement earlier this year that her office would stop prosecuting cannabis possession cases was—if you’ll allow us to toot our own horns here—informed by Beat cofounder Brandon Soderberg’s work with Baltimore Fishbowl and while we have explored the limits of this announcement (full legalization now is the truly progressive approach), it is still encouraging to see more forward-thinking weed policy talk. Meanwhile, Mosby also signed onto a legal brief supporting safe consumption sites for drug users—a controversial move in the United States but something that has been revealed to be life saving in places where these sites have appeared (there are 120 safe consumption sites around the world).

-Oh wow, Abell Foundation published a report this week by Sean H. Vanatta titled, “The Municipal Banking Movement: An Opportunity for Baltimore,” which argues that Baltimore should totally have a public bank. Namely, this city’s decades of divestment and general bank consolidation creates “banking deserts.” A little over 40 percent of Black Baltimore is “underbanked,” the report says. Public Banking would also enable inclusive and equitable banking. Read the report here. Baltimore, let’s make this happen.

-We assure you, we aren’t trying to turn this website into the Isabel Mercedes Cumming fan club but Baltimore’s inspector general has again, uncovered ridiculous amounts of wasted time, money, and energy. This time, it’s the saga of a boat stuck in the Inner Harbor which BPD spent more than $11,000 to remove when they could have just gotten the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to remove it—at no cost to the city. Baltimore Fishbowl’s Brandon Weigel told the story better than we ever could so head over to Fishbowl and read, “Report: BPD wasted thousands salvaging a boat, when the state would have done it at no cost.”

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