Yesterday, on the fifth anniversary of Baltimore Police shooting Keith Davis Jr., his wife Kelly Davis and more than 50 others adorned their cars with “Free Keith Davis Jr.” signs and caravanned across Baltimore. They honked, hollered, and chanted in front of homes of the prosecutors and judges responsible for taking Davis Jr. to trial five times and sentencing him for a crime he has maintained he did not do.
“For five years, we’ve kind of been on the ground and we’ve been fighting for [Baltimore City State’s Attorney] Marilyn Mosby to do the right thing and drop the charges,” Kelly said. “This year I wanted to kind of take the narrative back because the police and the State’s Attorney have done an amazing job of pushing the narrative and making people forget that Keith was a police brutality survivor. He survived over 40 shots shot at him by four Baltimore City police officers.”
The Free Keith Davis Jr. caravan drove through the neighborhoods where Mosby, Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Seidel, (the prosecutor during Keith’s fourth trial), and Judge Sylvester Cox (who sentenced Keith) each live. It was an incredibly complicated action that involved a degree of secrecy both to not disclose the action itself and to keep the people who had the addresses of public officials fairly limited.
“Most people didn’t even know about the action. It wasn’t a widespread public action for the reason that we wanted to keep everybody safe,” Kelly said. “We might not want to work with the police, but I don’t want to put anyone in harm’s way.”
This moment of nationwide protest following the police killing of George Floyd has led to tens of thousands in the street—Kelly was part of last Monday’s march organized by The Youth and Baltimore Bloc. But the moment has also enabled a more nuanced understanding of the larger carceral network that enables police corruption and fuels mass incarceration and the role prosecutors and judges have in that. Kelly explained that although police shot Keith, this action was focused on Mosby because she’s the one who has continued to try his case.
“We want the police held accountable. But for me, it has always been very clear that although the police shot Keith and they were never held accountable, the person that has done Keith the most harm has been Marilyn Mosby,” she said. “So we just wanted to let the city know that as long as Keith is in a cage, if we don’t get justice and the city continues to railroad him, you’ll never have peace.”
The caravan began around 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, the exact time on the exact day when Davis Jr. was shot by police five years ago. That morning back on June 7, 2015, Keith was chased by police, who claimed he was involved in the robbery of a “hack” cab driver, chased him into a garage and fired at him more than 40 times, hitting him in the face and neck. It was the first police shooting that happened since the Baltimore Uprising and as a result, was of special interest to activists.
It also changed the life of Keith’s then-girlfriend Kelly and turned her into an advocate for police and court accountability and a vocal critic of Mosby. Kelly was on the phone with Keith as he ran away from police. She could hear the cops yelling, and Keith told her, “Baby, I’m gonna die.”
The saga of Keith Davis Jr. is incredibly complicated and has been covered extensively in a podcast titled “The State V. Keith Davis Jr.,” and has been frequently reported on by the Beat, and many other publications (Soderberg, cowriter of this piece, has written about it for The Appeal as well), but here is a quick summary.
After Keith was shot by police, he was charged with a number of crimes including armed robbery and assaulting police officers. The police said they found a gun near Keith. His lawyers would later allege that it was planted. The officers involved in Keith’s shooting were cleared by Mosby before they were even interviewed about the shooting.
Davis then went through a series of trials over the next five years, first for possessing a gun and then, for a murder when the police and State’s Attorney’s Office claimed they connected the gun found on Davis to the murder of a man named Kevin Jones. Over the next four years, Keith would go to trial for Jones’ murder four times, prosecutors introducing circumstantial evidence only: His first trial ended with a hung jury; his second trial resulted in a guilty verdict but he was granted a new trial when it was revealed that one of the State’s witnesses was unreliable; the third trial was also a mistrial (during that one, the State introduced a video never-before-seen that they claimed showed Davis walking behind murder victim Jones moments before his murder); the fourth murder trial resulted in a guilty conviction and a sentence of 50 years.
It is likely Keith will be getting a fifth trial: “We filed an appeal and recently a couple of weeks ago, the Attorney General’s Office filed an opinion and said that Keith would be successful on direct appeal,” Kelly said.
In the meantime, Keith remains in jail where he has been since his police shooting. His lawyers have argued that because his case is on appeal and because of breathing issues Keith developed as a result of being shot in the neck by police, he should be put on home monitoring until the end of the pandemic. A judge ruled in April that Keith would not be put on home monitoring and would remain in jail.
“Keith was completely healthy before he was shot by Baltimore City Police in his face,” Kelly said earlier this year. “It did severe damage to his nasal and sinus as well as, I believe—when he was intubated—it messed with his lungs and so he has had severe asthma attacks. I feel so helpless because the reality is I can do everything I need to do to keep myself and my children safe, but I can’t do anything in Keith’s case.”
This morning’s caravan ended at Druid Hill Park where there was a gathering in celebration of the fact that Keith, unlike many other victims of police violence Kelly stressed, was alive.
“We’ve been marching and protesting injustice for George Floyd for Breonna Taylor, and so many that lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement and Keith actually survived,” Kelly said. “And although me and my children celebrate that every day, we wanted the public to celebrate with us as well.”