In The News…

Earlier this week on December 8, 2014, cell phone footage emerged on YouTube showing a Baltimore Police officer attacking and arresting a woman for filming other officers arrest a man across the street.

No, not Makia Smith, who in March of 2012 had experienced a very similar incident, after she was beaten after filming Baltimore Police officers beat a man.

Earlier this year, Kianga Mwamba was filming police arrest a man while stopped at a red light. When officers demanded that she move, she attempted to explain that she couldn’t because officers were standing in front of her vehicle. Shortly afterwards, officers dragged her out of her vehicle and tazing her before before being placed under arrest. Officers then attempted to delete the film she had captured, however unable to do so.

Charges were later dropped when the evidence in the film proved officers had lied. Officers had accused Mwamba of attempting to hit officers with her car – an accusation that has gotten many people in Baltimore (and beyond) shot (and killed), such as Thomas Mims, earlier this year.

Right around the same time the incident had occurred, a Baltimore Bloc member and homeless rights veteran, Tony Simmons testified before the Public Safety Committee and the Baltimore Police command staff that he too had his cell phone broken after filming officers harass a homeless friend of his at the corner of 25th and Greenmount.

The officer had told the homeless man that he wasn’t allowed “around here,” and then proceeded to take what little money he had and rip it up in front of the camera. Eventually the officer forced the Tony’s friend into his patrol vehicle and drove him up to Towson before leaving him stranded without shoes.

After hearing Simmons’ experience, a Baltimore Police commander met with him and took a report, however still to this day there hasn’t been a response from them.

Before any of these incidents had occurred, the Baltimore Police Department had published General Order J-16 in November 2011, which stated that “no member of the Baltimore Police Department may prevent or prohibit any person’s ability to observe, photograph, and/or make a video recording (with or without a simultaneous audio recording) of police activity that occurs in the public domain…”

#D2 TUE – Day of Action – #BaltimoreBloc

( Day 7 of #BmoreFerguson | Day 502 of #TyroneWest )

The following events are occurring Tuesday, December 2, 2014

at 9:30 AM, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s “Working Study Group” on Body Cameras for the Baltimore Police Department will be held at the University of Maryland’s School of Law. This will be the group’s second meeting, and the first time the Mayor has publicly announced the meeting. We encourage all community members who are able to do so, to attend this meeting and take notes / film, and then share your thoughts with Baltimore Bloc.

Despite claiming that she wants Baltimore Police to wear body cameras, the Mayor is preparing to veto a bill that was recently passed by the City Council that would require them to do so. Her excuse has been that the Baltimore Police have yet to conduct a comprehensive study on how best implement the technology; therefore nothing can be done until her research group finishes their project.

Baltimore Bloc released an open letter on November 8 declaring their support for body cameras on the condition that all officers, especially those with a history of violence or misconduct (“Violent Repeat Officers”) and those officers in the Special Enforcement Section, more commonly known as “The Knockers” or “The Jumpout Boys.” In addition to that, Baltimore Bloc also demanded that an independent 3rd party store the data collected.

at 3:00 PM, the Baltimore City Council’s Public Safety Committee will hold their Quarterly Oversight Hearing of the Baltimore Police Department, in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and his command staff will speak before Councilman Warren Branch, Chairman of the Public Safety Committee, and other councilmembers.

As Baltimore Bloc has observed on several occasions before, there has been very little community participation at the Quarterly Oversight Hearings. As the entire nation focuses on issues of police brutality and accountability in the wake of Mike Brown’s murder by a Ferguson, MO police officer and the failure of the grand jury to indict his killer, Baltimore Bloc calls on the citizens of Baltimore to attend this hearing and work toward an end to police brutality and for a fully-accountable police department here at home.

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(Videos are from “Quarterly Oversight Hearing” on April 3, 2014)

Police Commissioner Batts

PFK BOOM

Duane “Shorty” Davis

Tiffany McAllister

Tony Simmons

Shaka Zulu

For more info on the movement to end police brutality and mass incarceration in Baltimore and beyond, follow the Baltimore Bloc on Twitter and Facebook.

The Baltimore Bloc Opposes 14-0443: An Open Letter

The following is an open letter from the Baltimore Bloc:

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To the Baltimore City Council, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts.

We write to you today to voice our opposition to Bill 14-0443, and any other decision made regarding public safety and the Baltimore Police Department without the participation and approval of the West Coalition and other families and victims of police violence here in Baltimore.

Any action taken without the support of the families and victims of police violence lacks true legitimacy; therefore, any discussion regarding the implementation of body cameras by Baltimore Police must from here on include the West Coalition. The City Councilmembers can refer to a letter they received from the West Coalition (West Family Coalition Letter) on September 7, outlining the Coalition’s list of demands, the first of which demands body cameras for all Baltimore Police officers.

The current bill that Councilman Warren Branch and Council President Jack Young are trying to pass is a weak piece of legislation that does not meet the standards of transparency and accountability that we as victims and families of police violence expect. We would ask for the following changes:

It should not be new Baltimore Police recruits that begin wearing the body-cameras first, as the bill currently states — it should be, first and foremost, the officers that already have histories of police brutality and misconduct, and also the plainclothes unit known as the Special Enforcement Section, which perpetrated the murders of Anthony Anderson and Tyrone West, as well as the brutal assault on Abdul Salaam.

The video and audio content captured by the body cameras should automatically be archived directly to an independent grassroots party, who will maintain the footage and preserve it in the event that charges or civil suits are brought against officers.

Furthermore, the implementation of the body camera program must be observed closely by an independent grassroots body, such as Baltimore Bloc. This would include access to the research and findings of the  “working group” appointed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, as well as oversight of the training of the officers.

Regardless of what happens here and now at the city level, we demand that the members of the City Council and the Mayor’s Office unconditionally support any legislation sponsored by the West Coalition and Baltimore Bloc in the upcoming General Assembly, regarding not only the issue of body cameras but also any other public safety issue that has to do with the Baltimore Police Department, including legislation aimed at amending or repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.

– Baltimore Bloc

PUBLIC SAFETY ANNOUNCEMENT – Baltimore Bloc #BmoreFerguson Call To Action

 

 

 

PUBLIC SAFETY ANNOUNCEMENT

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NOT ONE MORE!

On Tuesday, November 25th AND “West Wednesday,” November 26th, at 6PM; Baltimore Bloc will gather at Baltimore City Hall (100 North Holliday Street) and march in solidarity with the Family of Michael Brown, the People of Ferguson, and all victims of police violence across the nation and around the world. Come early – bring signs – dress warm. The route will be announced when we’re about to start marching.

If you want us to keep you informed with the latest information; drop us your contact information here.

WE ARE DEMANDING:

(1) That all Baltimore Police officers to be equipped with body cameras; the first of which should be those with histories of brutality and misconduct (“Violent Repeat Off(end/ic)ers”) and officers in the Special Enforcement Section (“The Knockers”).

(2) That Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the City Council support any legislation that is introduced by the West Coalition in the upcoming General Assembly, especially those having to do with the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights and Civilian Review Board.

(3) That the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice investigate the Baltimore Police Department.

#BmoreFerguson

Baltimore Bloc

 

 

 

Morgan State University Protecting Killer Cop David Lewis

Baltimore Public Safety Collective and West Coalition to protest at Morgan State University Homecoming

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Students, staff and alumni of Morgan State University will be among the coalition of anti-police brutality activists protesting the festivities at Morgan’s homecoming on October 18, 2014.  Morgan State police officer David Lewis was one of more than 10 officers who beat Tyrone West to death in New Northwood on July 18, 2013.  Lewis was among the first to arrive on the scene of the traffic stop at the intersection of Kitmore & Kelway and join the beating. Once Mr. West was handcuffed, Lewis sat down on Mr. West’s back until Mr. West stopped breathing and ultimately died. During the investigation, Baltimore Police officer Chris Jennings told the State’s Attorney’s Office in an interview that “Somebody (Officer Parker) said, ‘get off his back, let him up’ and (Lewis) got off of him. When they rolled him he was ‘dead weight’ and his face was ‘gray.’ One leg that was bent stayed bent’ they had to straighten it out manually…The salive in his mouth was ‘bubbling'”

 

The Baltimore Public Safety Collective make the following demands:

  • That David Lewis be fired from his position at Morgan State University without pension or other state benefits;
  • That David Lewis charged with homicide in the death of Tyrone West;
  • That Morgan State University publicly apologize to Tyrone West’s family for their employee’s role in his murder and for the school’s failure to take quick action to protect the community from this murderous officer;
  • That any licences or clearances Mr. Lewis holds that would allow future employment as a law enforcement officer or security guard be revoked;
  • That Morgan State University dissolve its partnership with the Baltimore Police Department and confine university officers’ jurisdiction to the campus only.

 

Two time MSU alumni (‘98 and ‘07), prospective PhD student, and brutality victim Ameejill Whitlock said, “If this officer can murder somebody in the community, he can harm a student.  Because he is a MSU officer, he’s been able to hide from investigation and prosecution, and Morgan is coddling him.  I’m disappointed in my university president that he hasn’t even had the nerve to speak to the family.  I hope other students, staff, and alumni will support the call for his firing.”

 

Abdul Salaam: “I speak as a son, father, Northwood resident, Morgan State alum, and victim of police brutality at the hands of Baltimore City Police. My beating was unique, in the sense that my offenders terrorized me while with my son, who was 3 years old at the time. Even more stunning and frightening, my offenders went on to kill Tyrone West 17 days later, in spite of my neighbors as well as my family reporting these rogue offenders to Internal Affairs. As a proud graduate of Morgan State University, I reach out to the Morgan family and most importantly the student body to recognize, embrace, and partner with the West Coalition. I emphasis the student body, because it is within the idea, spirit, and politics of the ‘New’ that true change will be embodied.”

Video of the Family of Tyrone West catching Killer Cop David Lewis harass a student while at Morgan State University for West Wednesday warning students about rogue and killer cops.

Addressing the New Plan to Reduce Police Brutality in Baltimore

Like many major metropolitan areas, the city of Baltimore has had a major police brutality problem. The recent police shooting in Ferguson as open the spotlight on the issue across the nation. In Baltimore, police brutality has been an ongoing issue for years. Only recently have officials started to address the problem after many families began protesting the deaths of loved ones that were victims of police brutality. Some of the more visible accounts have included the deaths of Tyrone West, Anthony Anderson and George King. Others have included beatings or attacks like the case of Kollin Truss (Baltimore Sun, 2014). Countless hours of meetings, protests, official letters to call for investigations and the released video from the Kollin Truss case has finally resulted in several visible steps to address the problem. These steps include a possible Department of Justice investigation and a new plan or report to deal with police brutality. Unfortunately, the city has a history of either implementing empty reforms or simply pushing the issue under the proverbial rug. Hopefully there will be real steps taken that ensure that police brutality will be effectively monitored and addressed with real investigations.

S.R.-B. & Batts were not thrilled.

The Mayor and Police Commissioner addressing a forum on policing in Baltimore

What is being touted as a major plan to deal with police brutality, the Police Commissioner Batts and Mayor Rawlings-Blake have produced the report entitled “Preventing Harm”. In the Baltimore Sun article “Baltimore officials offer plan to curb police brutality”, the authors, Luke Broadwater and Mark Puente, describe the report as a 41 page document detailing a number of potential solutions that could be utilized to reduce the incidents of police brutality.   Some of the solutions put forward include a call to increase internal affairs staffing, conduct a study on wearable cameras, utilizing more tasers, changing the current laws that sometimes protect rogue officers and a proposed new citizen’s police academy. While many of these options have potentially positive effects, there are many questions about their effectiveness in implementation.

In many ways this report has a number of fixes that appear good on paper. The problem is that the solutions might not work as effectively as there are promised. For instance, the proposal of utilizing wearable cameras could be a good option. It could bring greater accountability and a more candid view of how police interact with people on the streets. Unfortunately, there could also be several problems with their use.   Would such video recordings be made available to the public? Who would have access to the video recordings? Would civilians be able to request recordings or would they be buried under “ongoing investigations” that seem to go one forever? There is also the issue of privacy and surveillance. Would such recordings be abused or mishandled? These problems would need to be addressed fairly quickly if they were to be implemented effectively.

The case of Tyrone West has generated a great deal of protests over the past year in Baltimore.

Numerous protests over police brutality have brought the issue to the front headlines

While the plan to implementation can be a good step in creating an atmosphere of greater accountability, would all officers wear them? Several proposals have been put forward that limit their use to either new recruits just graduating from the police academy or phasing in their use. There would need to be a full implementation if they were to be utilized fully. Simply creating a lengthy timeframe for implementing such devices could render their use moot.

Another problem is the solution potentially utilizing more numbers of tasers. For some the idea of non-lethal type weapons might appear to be an effective way to reduce police killings. The reality is far different. There are a number of cases including the death of Tyrone West and Kollin Truss where tasers were used as essentially devices of torture. Do we really want to have police officers going around essentially electrocuting residents, even those that are not charged with a crime? Tasers are also potentially deadly, even some people with healthy bodies. In many instances, officers tend to overuse tasers with the belief that they are “safe” or at least leave no marks for potential investigations. Far from reducing incidents of police brutality, tasers could actually increase them. They could also increase the fear factor and divide that the community has for the police as this time.

Beyond these problems, there is also a lack of in-depth review of how current police brutality cases are handled. There is a critical need to reform the current civilian based review board system. According to the article, “Baltimore police review board called irrelevant, ineffective”, the review board is often understaffed with vacancies, has its recommendations ignored by the police and constant complaints about its inefficiencies (Baltimore Sun, 2013).   While the current Mayor and Police Commissioner have taken steps to reform the review the board, there are still some critical changes needed. One is a streamlined process to ensure easier reporting of police related crimes. Another is greater transparency for the general public. Many cases are often kept hidden or secret from the public eyes during review board investigations. Then there are the problems where cases were either ignored or swept under the rug. Even when the review board acts on a case, it doesn’t necessarily bring charges against officers, making it harder for disciplinary actions to be enacted.

Baltimore City Police Cars

A group of police cars can cause fear among the community

A second problem is the lack of action by the state attorney’s office. Even in cases where victims were killed by the police without cause with a great deal of evidence, there is often little effort to prosecute the officers involved. In the case of Anthony Anderson, police officers physically threw the man onto the ground killing him with dozens of onlookers. His death was even ruled a homicide by the coroner’s office. Yet none of the officers were punished. With the case of Tyrone West involving multiple officers beating the man to death over an unwarranted traffic stop, none were ever held accountable. Worse, there were attempts at stonewalling the investigation over his death, delays in performing the autopsy and questions about the overall transparency of the investigation process itself. Essentially the report ignores this problem of a lack of prosecution by the state’s attorney. Even when there is evidence to support the complaint against an officer, there are often little in the way of justice involved.

A third issue is the problem of transparency. While the mayor and police commissioner promise greater accountability, will there be real reforms for transparency? Only in the last year or two have official statistics been opened to the public. These have included reports of police misconduct, legal settlements for victims of police brutality and disciplinary reports for rogue officers.   Unfortunately, there is very little that has been released about past incidents of police brutality, making it harder to discern the real facts about the issue in Baltimore. A full level of transparency would be another good step for helping to address the issue of police brutality as well as helping to re-establish a great trust of the police in the community.

To be fair there are some steps that could be positive changes for the police department. Commissioner Batts would like to reform state level protections that often cover the actions of rogue police officers.   Currently, officers can be suspended with pay during any investigations. Unless they are formally charged with a felony, police officers cannot be dismissed or punished within the police department. Batts would like to see a change in this process and bring greater power to discipline officers within the police department.

Community trust needs to be regained with the city police

Community trust needs to be regained with the city police

Perhaps the biggest positive outcome of the report is the simple fact that city officials are finally addressing the problem of police brutality with real reforms. In numerous times over the city’s history, there has been little real reform to address the problem. Bringing the issue out in public debate, making everyone aware of the problem and hopefully talking about real plans to reform the current system are positive steps in the right direction. The question is whether these steps are enough. In some ways they may not be with further actions needed for change.

Perhaps on a deeper level, there is a foundation issue that is not always talked about. That is the issue of trust between the police and the community.   Part of this problem comes from historic problems of abuse, misconduct as well as racial profiling. There is also the loss of trust that occurred with the implementation of O’Malley’s “Zero tolerance” which resulted in thousands of arrests for crimes that were either dismissed or ultimately considered trivial. This environment, coupled a history of police misconduct, helped to create the current environment where there is little trust with the city police. While Mayor Rawlings-Blake has stated her intentions to change this issue of trust, it will take further actions to do so.

In the end, reducing the incidents of police brutality may take more than what was detailed in the steps revealed in the “Reduce Harm” report produced by Police Commissioner Batts. It’s going to take both concrete actions as well as ongoing efforts to help change how police brutality is handled in the city. Only by making investigations more transparent, changing how officers are disciplined and implementing effective public review polices can the problem start to be addressed. While technological aids such as wearable cameras can be beneficial, they are not necessarily the ultimate answer. There is no quick fix to the problem. Our city requires an ongoing effort that will take years if properly implemented. Only time will tell if the city can rise to the challenge and ensure a proper policing system that does not victimize its own citizens.

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!