Week In Review: Maryland reckoning with lynchings, cannabis smell isn’t enough to arrest you, and more

-Around 40 known lynchings happened in Maryland between the years 1854 and 1933, and we are about to find out more about them. The Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission met for the first time on Monday. Members of the commission are tasked with reviewing the history of lynchings in this state in the hopes of learning more about the way anti-blackness still infects American life. The commission’s first public hearing happens September 12 at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Find out more about that here.

WYPR’s Emily Sullivan looked at Harford Road’s “road diet,” a plan spearheaded by City Councilperson Ryan Dorsey, which is aimed at reducing car traffic and making the area more safe. The city reduced four busy traffic lanes to three, Sullivan reported, leaving two lanes to run up and down the street. “Baltimore City has basically shirked any level of responsibility to use its power to design streets in order to move people, and instead has chosen to try to move cars,” Dorsey said. For some reason, it’s hard for people to accept that our old ways of thinking about transit  (i.e. cars over everything) aren’t working. Any movement in the other direction really is a good thing.

-A jury found Keon Gray guilty of the July 2018 death of seven-year-old Taylor Hayes last Wednesday. Hayes was shot while riding in the backseat of a car and died two weeks later. The Baltimore Sun reported, Judge Althea Handy read a statement asserting that lead detective Kevin Brown had changed his testimony. Also, a witness told the court that the car found with traces of Gray’s DNA wasn’t the car she saw near the shooting scene. Gray’s attorney told reporters that his client still maintains his innocence. We want Hayes’ family and community to find peace and resolution for this tragic incident, but coming weeks after the Keith Davis trial, which also resulted in a guilty verdict and also introduced major issues with a detective involved, there are concerns about whether Gray received a fair trial.

-The smell of cannabis is no longer enough of a reason to search a citizen in Maryland, thanks to a unanimous ruling by Maryland’s Court of Appeals. This is crucial because even post-decriminalization (which happened in 2014), police officers could still use the smell of cannabis (or the claim that they smelled cannabis) as a justification for a search. It’s important to stress that police have long used weed smell as a justification for getting into citizens’ pockets, car, or house. And there are plenty of cases over the years in which cops made ridiculous claims about smelling cannabis across the highway or through rolled-up windows, and so on. Taking this away as a shortcut investigative tool will put less people in contact with cops prevents egregious Fourth Amendment Violations.

-Attorney General Brian Frosh has said he wants to charge more people dealing drugs with manslaughter if the person who bought the drugs died of an overdose. Ok, where do we begin on this one? Larry Hogan, who hasn’t found a vulnerable person he doesn’t want to throw in jail, has long said he thinks this is a good idea, so when Hogan is for something, we should all think hard about supporting it. But more importantly, it will actually cause more overdoses because it will prevent people from calling for help when someone overdoses for fear that they might get charged. Moreover, it’s part of a really terrifying pivot surrounding drug war rhetoric: Even as many express more sympathy for drug users, there’s a desire that goes all the way up to President Trump to vilify dealers and it fundamentally misunderstands who sells most drugs (users themselves) and how we reduce overdoses and keep drug users safe.

-We here at the Beat covered the Johns Hopkins University Sit-In in-depth, from its beginning and on through its early morning raid by police and then the Beat’s Brandon Soderberg wrote a piece for the website The Outline, where he revealed that a professor at JHU, Daniel Povey, had tried to break into the sit-in with bolt cutters and brought a small, possibly inebriated crew with him. That happened just a few hours before police raided the sit-in, which means that a person employed by JHU attacked students who were protesting claims by the university that it needed a private police force to keep students safe. The mind boggles. The story about a JHU professor going after students didn’t get much traction—until last week when it was made public that Povey had been fired from JHU. What followed was some really awful news coverage which gave Povey (who wrote an unhinged, bizarre, and offensive rant you about why he attacked students occupying a building) way too much time to explain himself. 

-Public defenders gathered at the District Courthouse on Wabash Ave. on Thursday in support of public defender Durriyyah Rose who was held in contempt of court by Judge Joan Gordon because, the judge claimed, Rose was delaying a court proceeding and was rude to the judge. Rose’s client was charged with petty theft, and was going to not be charged in exchange for paying restitution and Rose asked Judge Gordon to be able to advise her client. So, a lawyer was put in lock-up for asking if she could consult her client about what the client was agreeing to do in exchange for not being charged. If Rose is charged with contempt, she could be disbarred, and after the high-profile nature of the charge and the display of solidarity by public defenders, Judge Gordon deferred the ruling until a later date. Baltimore’s Office of the Public Defender are doing some of the most thankless and often important work in this city (OPD recently represented Keith Davis Jr. and were heavily involved in overturning GTTF cases for example) and this kind of attack of defense attorneys is disturbing—and does no one in the criminal justice system any good.