Writing the Truth – Bertolt Brecht (1935)

“Nowadays, anyone who wishes to combat lies and ignorance and to write the truth must overcome at least five difficulties. He must have the courage to write the truth when truth is everywhere opposed; the keenness to recognize it, although it is everywhere concealed; the skill to manipulate it as a weapon; the judgment to select those in whose hands it will be effective; and the cunning to spread the truth among such persons. These are formidable problems for writers living under Fascism, but they exist also for those writers who have fled or been exiled; they exist even for writers working in countries where civil liberty prevails.” – Bertolt Brecht

– This quote is as relevant today as it was in 1935. Let it serve as an inspiration to those people writing to reveal the atrocities of police brutality!

Tyrone West Anniversary Protest – an account by Nadrat Siddique

Baltimore, MD — Tyrone West was a tall, dreadlock-sporting Baltimore native who grew up on the city’s east side. He loved his family, sporty cars, and his artwork, and had a joie de vivre about him. On July 18, 2013, Tyrone’s life was snuffed out, when he made one “wrong” maneuver in the vicinity of Kitmore and Kelway Road, not far from Morgan State University. Police noticed him driving under the speed limit as he went over a speed hump on a quiet side street (Kelway), and stopped him. They pulled him out of his vehicle, it is said, by the locks and started beating him. According to the States Attorney’s report, they hit him with batons on the knees to get him down. However, eyewitnesses report far greater use of force, saying Tyrone was surrounded by a “sea of blue” and that police continued to punch and to kick him even after he was already down. When it was over, Tyrone lay dead. He had not been charged with a crime, arraigned, tried, or convicted. He was a victim of a police force of control and unaccountable to the People.

Ten to fifteen police officers, including a Morgan State University police officer, were identified as participating in the murder. None of them was suspended or fired. The States Attorney Gregg Bernstein, known for his racially predicated prosecutions–and withholding of prosecutions–did a perfunctory investigation and found the officers had acted according to police protocol. Despite a plethora of eyewitness testimony supporting the view that excess force had been used against Tyrone, not a single indictment of a police officer was handed down in the case, leading many to surmise that the police were above the law in Baltimore (as in many other major cities). When Bernstein was unseated in the subsequent election by a relatively underfunded and lesser known challeger, many said the West case had been a determining factor–one one-sided prosecution too many. In the meantime, Tyrone’s murder still went unprosecuted and the medical examiner’s office continued to withhold the complete autopsy report.

—-

On the one-year anniversary of Tyrone’s murder, activists and supporters of the West family rallied at the site of the murder. The event was called by the family and facilitated by a local grassroots collective called the Baltimore Bloc. The activists included young and old; Muslim, Christian, Jew, and atheist; Black American, Asian, African, Caucasian, and Native American; students, blue-collar workers, health care workers, attorneys, candidates for office, and even a delegate. 

The candidates included David Anthony Wiggins (Baltimore City Sheriff candidate, running on a platform against police brutality and judicial corruption, and for the empowerment of the People); Russell Neverdon, Sr., (candidate for States Attorney); and Duane G. Davis (candidate for Lieutenant Governor). Wiggins, Neverdon, and Del. Jill P. Carter (Maryland House of Delegates) spoke, expressing solidarity with the family. 

Wiggins promised that when elected Sheriff, he would prosecute police engaging in abuses such as that against Tyrone West, as this was a power endowed to the Sheriff (Editor’s note: Sadly, the standing Sheriff, Anderson, in office for decades, has never employed it in defense of his constituents, who, like West, are brutalized by police or otherwise abused by corrupt government officials).

Several Christian preachers, including Baltimore’s social conscience Rev. Heber Brown III (Pleasant Hope Baptist Church), Rev. Kinji Scott, and Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, were present. Masjid Jamaat al-Muslimeen, in Baltimore’s Govens neighborhood, sent its imam, Dr. Kaukab Siddique, mosque administrator Ashira Na’im, and a contingent of half a dozen others to “stand with the family of Tyrone West and all victims of police brutality.” Red Emma’s, a well known Peoples’ bookstore, was also well represented at the event.

Baltimore native Abdul Salaam, a Muslim, was beat by police in a manner very similar to Tyrone West just 17 days prior to the latter’s murder. Salaam, a soft-spoken, slightly built man, addressed the crowd briefly. He described how he had passed police conducting a stop near his home. The cops followed him home, pulled him out of his car, and attacked and beat him in his own driveway, in front of his 3-year old child. They claimed he was not wearing a seat belt (he has steadfastly maintained that he was wearing one). Salaam was body slammed to the ground twice at the start of the attack, hogtied (with his hands and feet behind his back), and beat further. He was never charged with a crime. 

He eventually ran across the West family at one of their weekly protests, dubbed “West Wednesday,” and was shocked to find the similarities between their story and his. Most alarming was the fact that the two police officers who beat him–Chapman and Ruiz–were among those who had participated in the murder of Tyrone West. Both families were befuddled as to why the officers had been allowed to continue on the police force after attacking Abdul Salaam. If normal judicial procedure had been followed, they would have been removed after the attack on Abdul Salaam, and hence been unable to participate in the attack on Tyrone West. Abdul Salaam and the West family have since joined forces and filed a civil suit against the police.

Initially torn by whether or not to hold the event at the very spot where the murder occurred, with all its horrific associations, the West family eventually decided to proceed with it. Despite the emotional toll involved, the family felt they owed it to Tyrone to come together at the very spot where a completely gratuitous act of savagery took his innocent life. They released black balloons, shared Tyrone’s beautiful art, received messages of solidarity, said prayers, and marched. They left just before sunset, aware, at least, that their beloved Tyrone had not been forgotten.

© 2014 Nadrat Siddique

This piece was reposted with author’s permission from her Facebook, where you can view pictures of the event. 

The Ghost of Tyrone West: A Year in the Death

The evening of July 18, 2014 marks the one year anniversary of the beating death of Tyrone West.  On that day at 6:30, the West Family will gather at the scene where Tyrone was killed for a memorial service. There will be a prayer; words shared by the West Family and members of the community—even witnesses who have come forth as well as those who have yet to do so.

Since Tyrone’s untimely death, the West Family has waged an unyielding fight for justice. Every Wednesday, the West Family has mobilized at various locations around the city. These manifestations have become known as #WestWednesday’s, and as of today, there have been over 50, which target the various institutions involved in Tyrone’s death.

To learn more about the movement against police brutality, and how to get involved, join the Baltimore Public Safety Collective at Red Emma’s every Saturday at 2:30 pm… and keep your ears and eyes open for the next #WestWednesday.

On the evening of July 18, 2013, Tyrone West was driving a friend home when an unmarked police vehicle pulled them over for an alleged traffic violation. According to witnesses, officers immediately opened the vehicle and dragged Tyrone out by his dreadlocks, beginning to beat, mace, and taze him. In audio of the two officers calling for back-up, Tyrone’s voice can be heard in the background calling for help, a plea witnesses heard him make too.

By the end of the attack, 10+ Baltimore Police and a Morgan State University officer stood over Tyrone’s lifeless body. None of these officers involved in Tyrone’s death were suspended by the Baltimore Police Department, nor were any prosecuted by the State’s Attorney’s Office, and thus remain on active duty today. The Baltimore Police denied forcibly removing Tyrone from the vehicle. Instead, they said they had politely asked Tyrone and the passenger if they could search the vehicle, to which they allegedly consented to. It was when they attempted to search Tyrone, Police say, that he allegedly attacked the officers. The Police claim they discovered a gram of cocaine in a field Tyrone had ran across in an attempt to flee from them. However, they also said they found that gram in 14 different bags, raising questions that remain unanswered about how and why one gram of cocaine would be divided in 14 bags.

The West Family reject the version of events as told by the Baltimore Police. The West Family argue that the two officers that initially pulled Tyrone over: Nicholas David Chapman and Jorge Bernardez-Ruiz, are “Violent Repeat Offendicers,” and should have already been suspended for their role in the beating of Abdul Salaam, 17 days prior to the beating death of Tyrone. Abdul, who lives only a couple blocks away, was also pulled over for an alleged traffic violation and forcibly removed from his vehicle, like Tyrone had been. The officers beat Abdul in his driveway in front of his three year old son, and then threatened to take him, because he wasn’t wearing his seat-belt. All charges were eventually dropped. A complaint was immediately filed with internal affairs, however they have yet to respond or return any of Abdul’s property.

The West Family was not able to see Tyrone’s body for over 5 days. According to the autopsy report, the Medical Examiner’s Office had completed the autopsy within 24 hours of Tyrone’s death, but it took 145 days before the State’s Attorney’s Office would release a preliminary report, which claimed that Tyrone had “died of Cardiac Arrhythmia due to Cardiac Conduction System Abnormality complicated by Dehydration during police restraint.” However, the Medical Examiner’s Office still ruled that cause of death “could not be determined.”

The West Family approached Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in person on four different occasions demanding accountability, before she finally came out on December 06, 2013 (140 days later) with a public letter addressed to State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein, asking him to release the autopsy report as “expeditiously as possible.” Both, the letter by the Mayor and release of the preliminary autopsy report were on the eve of the Baltimore City Council’s Public Safety Committee hearing on December 12, 2013, which the West Family had forced after confronting Councilman Bill Henry in City Hall back in October.  However the State’s Attorney’s Office and Medical Examiner’s Office abstained from attending the hearing, and the Baltimore Police Department excused themselves after their 10 minute presentation that did not answer any questions about the case.

Six days before Christmas, on December 19, 2014, State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein finally announced that he would not prosecute any of the officers involved in the beating death of Tyrone. When the West Family attempted to attend the press conference, they were threatened with arrest (at 15:30) by Baltimore Police Detectives who guarded Bernstein’s office.

Throughout the entire investigation, the name of one of the officers involved in the case, Morgan State University officer David Lewis, was never identified. It was only until after the criminal investigation was over, and the West Family was able to obtain the FOIA file, that they discovered his identity, and that Lewis had been the officer that sat on Tyrone’s back as he took his last breath.

After discovering his name, several #WestWednesday’s were concentrated on Morgan State University, warning students about a Killer Cop on their campus. Once the West Family obtained photos of some of the officers did they learn that in fact they had come face to face with the Killer Cop while raising awareness on campus. Lewis is also the only officer that refused to participate in the criminal investigation by the State’s Attorney’s Office. The two initiating officers, Chapman and Ruiz, were not interviewed by the State’s Attorney’s Office until October 28, 2013, three months after the incident had occurred. Most of the officers involved were interviewed between October and December.

It wasn’t until the conclusion of the criminal investigation by the State’s Attorney’s Office that the Baltimore Police Department’s Office of Internal Affairs began their administrative investigation. None of the officers were disciplined as a result of the administrative investigation. Baltimore Police have not made the details of the investigation available to the public.

Following the criminal and administrative investigations is what the Mayor and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts have been calling an “independent review board,” which will review the incident and make recommendations (if any) to the Police Commissioner for consideration. The members of the “independent” review board are appointed by the Baltimore Police’s Office of Internal Affairs; in previous cases, such as the in-custody killing of Anthony Anderson, members of the review board held positions in other police departments and state’s attorney’s offices around Maryland.

As of today, the “independent review board” still has not concluded their review.

The Baltimore Civilian Review Board did not play a role in any investigation in the West case because they do not have the authority to investigate deadly use of force incidents. The Baltimore Police recently announced their intention to allow them to do so in the future, however there are many other issues that continue to withhold the Civilian Review Board from possessing any meaningful power.

The West Family continues to pursue an investigation by the United States Department of Justice as they have sought since the beginning.

 

- sk○lA↯tika

2014 Maryland Law Enforcement “Use of Force” Data

An active list of 2014 law enforcement use of force data in Maryland — Collected by the Baltimore Public Safety Collective

Green dates are use of force incidents by the Baltimore Police Department that have been reported. Yellow dates are use of force incidents by other law enforcement agencies besides the Baltimore Police. Red dates are use of force incidents by the Baltimore Police that haven't been reported publicly.   Green names are the victims in use of force incidents that have not been identified. Black names are the victims that were wounded in use of force incidents. Red names are the victims that were killed in the use of force incidents   Green LEO-involved names are the officers that have not been identified. Black LEO-involved names are the officers that have not been charged by the State's Attorney's Office or disciplined by the Baltimore Police Department. Red LEO-involved names are the officers that have been criminally charged by the State's Attorney's Office.   The (SES) besides BPD refers to the "Special Enforcement Section" unit of the Baltimore Police Department, formerly officially known as the "Violent Crimes Impact Section" and most commonly known as "The Knockers"

Green dates are use of force incidents by the Baltimore Police Department that have been reported. Yellow dates are use of force incidents by other law enforcement agencies besides the Baltimore Police. Red dates are use of force incidents by the Baltimore Police that haven’t been reported publicly. Green names are the victims in use of force incidents that have not been identified. Black names are the victims that were wounded in use of force incidents. Red names are the victims that were killed in the use of force incidents Green LEO-involved names are the officers that have not been identified. Black LEO-involved names are the officers that have not been charged by the State’s Attorney’s Office or disciplined by the Baltimore Police Department. Red LEO-involved names are the officers that have been criminally charged by the State’s Attorney’s Office. The (SES) besides BPD refers to the “Special Enforcement Section” unit of the Baltimore Police Department, formerly officially known as the “Violent Crimes Impact Section” and most commonly known as “The Knockers”

Now compare with data provided by the Baltimore Police Department:

policereports

 

“FIT Investigations” were made public on June 1, 2014 on the Baltimore Police Department website. It was part of the long anticipated reforms that were recommended according to: “Public Safety in the City of Baltimore: A Strategic Plan for Improvement” a quarter million dollar bill for taxpayers that is supposed to “provide guidance for the future, setting forth the vision for policing Baltimore, identification of the primary strengths of the department that must be reinforced and protected, the areas for improvement, and the implementation strategy for moving forward with vigor and commitment.”  It was completed in November 2013 and went into effect January 2014.

According to the BPD website:

“To maintain organizational transparency, improve performance and increase accountability, the Baltimore Police Department’s Office of Internal Oversight (OIO) is tasked with responding, investigating and reporting police categorical use of force incidents.  OIO will update this site regularly with data related to categorical use of force incidents, which is defined as actions taken by a Baltimore police officer that may result in serious physical injury or death.”

However if you take a closer look, you will notice the Baltimore Police have failed to report numerous incidents that the Baltimore Public Safety Collective have recorded, and in some cases neither has the Baltimore Sun.

- February 26 – While off-duty, a 27 year old Baltimore Police officer, Alec Taylor, had strangled to death his girlfriends 7 month puppy after it had defecated on the carpet.

- April 26* – 16 year old Taekwon Ford (also known as “Pug” in the documentary “12 O’clock Boys“) was knocked off his dirtbike by a Baltimore Police officer in his vehicle, and then tased. The officer involved has not been identified.

- May 19* – An unidentified Baltimore Police officer shot two pitbulls, wounding one and killing the other, after they bit at an 11 year old boy.

- June 13 – A steer that escaped the slaughterhouse was shot and killed by an unidentified officer.

- June 14 – After Officer Thomas Schmitt had captured a 7 year old Shar-Pei that had gotten loose from the yard, partner Jeffrey Bolger slit the dogs throat–instead of simply returning Nala to her owner. The killing was reported 5 days after it had occurred.

- June 15 – Officer Dean McFadden drove upon what he perceived as a shoot-out between two men, so he shot and killed one, Eric Harris (30),  and let the other escape. Two days later, Baltimore Police announce that the gun Harris was allegedly in possession of was in fact a replica. Initially it was reported that: “Detectives found a gun on the man who was shot and bullet casings from both men’s guns on the street, police said.” but two days later it was announced that Harris in fact had a “true-to-life replica gun.” Which makes us wonder… because replicas fire blanks.

- June 26* – An unidentified Baltimore Police officer shot and wounded a dog. The incident was the second “police-involved shooting” of a dog that went unreported by both the Baltimore Police and Baltimore Sun.

(*) next to the date indicates that the Baltimore Sun did not report the incident. 

Media Coverage

“Media Coverage”

west wednesday - MEDIA COVERAGE

Family & Friends of Tyrone West demonstrate their feelings about Fox 45 News.

Was Tyrone West initially pulled over for a “traffic stop” or a “drug stop?” What was the actual cause of his death? Why couldn’t ten officers arrest him safely? If they really found cocaine on his person, why didn’t they follow normal procedures for drug confiscation? Why such a big delay in taking him to the hospital? TV news networks and the Baltimore Sun have refused to ask these difficult questions, choosing instead to report what the authorities tell them.

The Family of Tyrone West will be at Kitmore & Kelway on the one year anniversary of the murder. Will TV news be there? Will you?

We cannot trust mainstream news or police to give us good information about what’s happening in our city. Thus we are taking media into our own hands.

Watch: “A Year in the Death of Tyrone West”

A new witness to the Tyrone West murder has released new testimony. An excerpt:

I was sitting in my living room The evening of July 18th when I heard police sirens . I looked out my window and saw three vehicles racing down the street and I knew something bad was happening. I called upstairs to my wife and then opened my door, looking down the street to my left (I live in the 1300 Kitmore) Allt he way down at Kelway I saw what appeared to be about ten police officers circling in a frenzy. My wife and I thought someone had committed a robbery or that there was a shooting. Before long I see them place a large handcuffed man on his face. Then something happened and my wife became upset because they turned the man on his back and started cpr. We had no idea what happened until the next day. Here is what bothered us the most…to this day. We kept asking each other why did it take so long for the ambulance and here’s the incredible part that infuriated us….The ambulance sat there for what seemed forever. “Why aren’t they taking him to Good Sam” my wife asked as the minutes ticked and ticked by. Good Sam is 5 or 6 blocks away and common sense tells you that in a cpr situation you continue cpr and get the patient to the professionals asap!!!! They didn’t! My computer has a grainy photo of the crime scene…and it was a crime to leave him there that long!

Read this information, share it around, and, most importantly, think critically about what you read and see!

“Below the Fold” — more people are speaking up about inconsistency and bias in local media coverage.

 

Continue reading

Public Service Announcement

Family members of Tyrone West & Maurice Donald Johnson reflect on the struggle for justice after the “Public Safety Summit” at Morgan State.

Tawanda Jones reports that her family is being harassed by police. They were also approached by a bishop who offered them hush money. She says:

“If anything happens to the West family or friends, please blame the City of Baltimore.”

Marcella Holloman’s son, Maurice Donald Johnson, was killed in front of her, in her house, by police. She reminds us:

“And they think that people don’t get killed in they house, in the United States. Yes, they do. [Yes they do.] They think all this killing happen in Iran and Iraq. They just run up and kill your family member in your house. No, it happen in Baltimore City too, in United States of America. People get killed in front of they family for no reason. It happen here too.”

The Beating of Abdul Salaam by “Violent Repeat Officers” of the Baltimore Police Department’s “Special Enforcement Section”

July 01, 2013 — Abdul Salaam was profiled by two Baltimore Police officers from the Special Enforcement Section, an undercover unit formerly known as the Violent Crimes Impact Section — renamed (or according to Police Commissioner Anthony Batts “dismantled”) after a series of controversial incidents involving officers in the unit.

Salaam was pulling up to his home when the unmarked Baltimore police vehicle turned on its lights behind him. The officers inside — Nicholas Chapman and Jorge Ruiz — immediately approached the vehicle and attempted to remove Salaam from his seat by force. From the point in which he was stopped until the point he was placed in the “paddy-wagon,” the officers had violated his rights on various levels: being pulled-over without reasonable suspicion, being searched without consent or probable-cause, demonstrating excessive force, both before and after cuffs had been applied, on both his hands and legs.

The entire incident was witnessed by over a dozen witnesses, from youth to elderly who were out front of their homes when the police initiated the stop. Many of the witnesses recorded the incident, the content in this video is only from one.

According to documents, the officers said they pulled Salaam over because he did not have his seat-belt on, however Salaam asserts that he did and that in fact when the officers initially attempted to remove him from his vehicle by force, he was being held back by his seat-belt.

Even if it were a seat-belt violation, it does not give the officers any excuse to ask to search his vehicle.

The officers did not find anything illegal after they themselves illegally searched Salaam’s vehicle.

All charges on Abdul Salaam were dropped later.

However no actions were taken against any of the officers involved. In fact, little over two weeks later, two of the officers mentioned above — Nicholas Chapman and Jorge Ruiz — were involved in another similar incident.

On July 18, 2013, Chapman and Ruiz — who should have been on administrative-leave — were driving around in another residential neighborhood nearby, this time pulling over a man named Tyrone West.

According to Police, the officers initiated the stop because West had conducted an illegal maneuver and then was driving suspiciously slow — (in a residential neighborhood, with stop signs every block). According to Chapman and Ruiz, they approached the vehicle and asked for permission to search the vehicle, to which the driver and passenger consented (again, with no reasonable suspicion).

However according to neighbors who witnessed the incident, the officers immediately approached the vehicle and pulled West out by his dreadlocks — a scene that sounds very similar to the one that had unfolded little over two weeks prior.

According to witnesses, West was attempting to defend himself from aggressive officers who had gone beyond the point of their authority. By the end of the encounter, at least ten Baltimore police officers stood around a motionless body that they had beaten to death.

The Baltimore Sun has been aware of Salaam’s experience since November, and has even bee in possession of official documents regarding his case since mid-January of 2014, but has yet to publish anything regarding Salaam — or the connection he has with West.

More to come…