Jim Crow Justice, Jim Crow Journalism: Shorty versus Dred Scott decision

Sun readers may remember Duane “Shorty” Davis as the man arrested for placing a “toilet bomb” outside of the Baltimore County Courthouse. The toilet, of course, was not a bomb, and Shorty was found not guilty by a jury of his peers. To their credit, the Sun reported on this verdict and even did a follow-up story with a cool photo gallery for the two-year anniversary.

Since then, another year has gone by, and Shorty returned to court on Monday for another trial. This time, he was the plaintiff. What transpired was truly amazing. For example, Shorty was able (for the first time) to cross-examine under oath Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger: the very man responsible for wrongfully jailing Shorty in 2011. You won’t read about it in the Sun or see it on cable, so we’ve brought you an Eclipse exclusive report.

You can also watch videos from outside the courthouse at Freeman Sullivan’s livestream channel. And here’s an interview with Freeman & Shorty, conducted on Sunday 23 Feb, to introduce the case:

Without further ado, our report:

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Police shoot robbery suspect outside Baltimore homeless shelter

Police shoot robbery suspect outside Baltimore homeless shelter

(my summary)

A man was shot by Baltimore City Police because he fit the description of an “armed robber” given by a local homeless shelter. Witnesses state that he did have a gun that he aimed into the air. This is not confirmed. As the man lay “writhing” on the ground the police noted a firearm near him as they placed their crime scene tape around him. A woman, possibly a relative of the shot man, was arrested with no explanation offered.

The police have shot five people this year, four in this past month alone.

No additional details were forthcoming.

_______________________________

(my critical analysis)

Fenton’s narrative is deliberately misleading. While the title of the article states that it will discuss the police shooting of a man, the first two paragraphs deal with a separate, unrelated homicide. By setting the article up as he has, Fenton conjures the image of the brave police valiantly working a homicide, presumably protecting citizens. This helps take the heat off of the police who shot a man who fit the description of an armed robbery, thus, committing the fifth shooting of a citizen by the police this month. Fenton’s tone does not state this as a problematic fact, leaving the reader with the impression that the problem is with the victims rather than the police. Remember – he starts the article talking about an unrelated homicide the police had just come from – which makes it easier to underplay the idea of police actions as problematic.

Reading between the lines, in Fenton’s convoluted article, I know that a man (near a homeless shelter – information designed to cast further doubt on the victim) may have looked like a description of an armed robber. Police encountered him. He allegedly had a gun and allegedly pointed it in the air. A friend says the victim was recently robbed and may have had a gun for protection. He did not point at the police. The police allegedly ordered him to drop the gun and then fired six shots – injuring the victim.

Then Fenton mentions that a probably female relative of the victim who tried to help the man was taken away in handcuffs. Wait. What? They arrested someone who was a relative of the man who was now “writhing” on the sidewalk while they continued to place the crime scene tape around him.  For what? Why? It appears that her crime – witnessing the police action, aiding the victim, or simply getting in the way of dirty cops covering their tracks – required her arrest.

The need to control the narrative – to shape the way in which this story is told – is something Fenton does over and over again. The same theme of big brave police being forced to shoot and/or kill a suspect rather than arresting him/her is found throughout his body of work. He is paid by the Baltimore Sun – there is no money or job security in his telling the truth, turning the lens through which he writes into one of questioning police behavior or even one of neutrality.

Glaring omissions in this story beg to be told but will never be addressed by Fenton or the Baltimore Sun.

–        How does the homeless shelter play into this – I know they are inherently unsafe and so do the police.

–        Is this a homeless man? Because the article implies that he is, and if he is what can this tell us about the relationship that the BCPD have with this population.

–        How did the encounter actually go down? Did the police rush the man? Did they try to talk reasonably or did they shoot first? What procedures were and were not followed in this incident – this seems to me to be the crucial question in all police involved shootings – we need details

–        Who were the police involved? Do any of them have a history of shooting other citizens or other illegal police behavior?

–        Are victims of police shootings considered guilty and in need of serious harm or death because no-one will question the very machine built to protect the cops, the city government, the corporations and all of the powerful who have the ability to stop this genocide? This machinery is one that Fenton perpetuates.

–        RACE. How does Fenton leave this issue out of his articles? Because the police are disproportionately shooting black men in Baltimore. So this story, assuming the victim was black, fits the racial profiling long established by the police here in Baltimore. How do you leave this most important equation out of this story? Baltimore police are involved in a genocide, they are involved in race-based hate crimes.

The Morrell Park “Police Impersonation” (Or Was It?): BPD Kill Burglary Suspect and Sit on Details for Days

On Wednesday, February 12, 2014, Baltimore Police Department officers shot two suspects in two separate incidents, wounding an unarmed robbery suspect at the Mondawmin 7-11 on Liberty Heights Avenue and killing a burglary suspect in a house on Spence Street in Morrell Park in the Southwest.  Details have been spotty from both the Department itself and the Baltimore Sun, which published a confusing, 24-paragraph article from Justin George and Colin Campbell on its website Thursday morning purporting to contain “new details.”  We will look at each incident in its own post, starting with the fatal shooting.

The Morrell Park Shooting – Police Impersonation?

The second paragraph of George & Campbell’s Thursday article reads:

In a span of less than two hours Wednesday night, Baltimore police officers killed a man they said appeared to be impersonating an officer during a burglary and wounded another man they said robbed a convenience store. [emphasis added]

No specific official is quoted saying the man appeared to impersonate an officer, though Sgt. Sarah Connolly is named later as the spokesperson responsible for other, contradictory information.  Much later in the article, the 21st through 23rd paragraphs (which many readers will not get to) give more detail while creating more confusion:

At 10:52 p.m., officers responded to a home in the 1800 block of Spence St. in Southwest Baltimore’s Morrell Park neighborhood for a report of a burglary. As they entered shortly before 11 p.m., officers saw signs of a burglary in progress and encountered two people. Both wore clothes that had the word “police” on them.

Police said one of the men had a gun, and the officers yelled several times at him to drop his weapon before both officers shot him. The man, who was not identified, was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly after. No officers were injured.

Detectives believe the men broke into the home but did not impersonate police to gain entry, Connolly said. [emphasis added]

We do not know which, if any, Baltimore Police Department spokesperson or officer gave the information on the first page: that officers believed the man they shot to death was impersonating an officer.  We do know that the official, named spokesperson says that detectives did not impersonate police.  Readers who did not make it through the first 23 paragraphs of this 24-paragraph article do not know this, however.

Another bit of confusion related to this shooting was what became of the second suspect.  As of the publishing of the George/Campbell article, neither the name of the victim who was killed nor the name of his alleged burglary accomplice had been released.  According to the final paragraph:

Police are not releasing the names of any of the suspects or the officers who fired at the suspects. Their names will be released 48 hours after each incident, which is Baltimore police policy.

Colin Campbell and another Sun reporter, Carrie Wells, were asked for an update that same day:

By Saturday, BPD still had not released the names of any of the suspects as required by their 48-hours policy, according to Wells who was attempting to get the information:

On Monday the 17th, the fifth day after the shooting, neither the Sun nor the Department had reported any new information:

Finally, after asking directly on Twitter, we got the name of the second suspect:

The Department responded to subsequent requests for basic details with silence:

However, later on Monday night, Justin Fenton of the Baltimore Sun published an update on the Sun’s website, headlined “Morrell Park police shooting victim refused to drop revolver, records say,” which he tweeted about like so:

The article names the shooters as Officers Michael McNish and Aileen Villodas and details their claims that before being killed the victim, 22-year-old Bernard Lofton, refused to drop his gun and “turned toward” a third officer, Hovhannes Simonyan, and declared that the officers were “going to have to shoot” him.  It also names the second suspect, Brandon Smith, and in the final paragraph, lists the charges against him:

Smith has been charged with burglary, conspiracy to committed armed robbery, impersonating a police officer, and other related charges, and was being held on $150,000 bond. An attorney is not listed in court records.

There is no mention in the Sun’s coverage to date of the discrepancies in what was reported by the official in charge of the Department’s Twitter account and the actual charging documents, nor any mention of the violation of Department policy that occcurred when BPD held back the victim’s and suspect’s name for nearly five days.

In my next post I will look at the sparser but more troubling coverage of the shooting of the unarmed suspect in the Northwest.

Justice for Jordan Davis? The Sun’s Coverage, Print & Website

On November 23, 2012, 47-year-old Michael Dunn fired ten shots into an SUV, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis.

Dunn alleges that Davis had a gun, but no evidence for this claim has come forth. Did Dunn really need to fire ten shots into a parked car in order to ensure his own self-defense?  Dunn is white; Davis is black;  the case has received nationwide attention not only because of its severity but also because of its similarity to the murder of Trayvon Martin, still fresh in our memory.

On Saturday (February 15), a jury announced that they could not reach a decision on the murder charge against Dunn.

The print version of the Sunday Sun included an article from Michael Muskal of Tribune Newspapers, the Chicago-based company which owns the Baltimore Sun.

Here’s the headline:

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New Baltimore City Police Program to Reduce Racial Profiling and Crime

According to Gigi Barnett at CBS Channel 13, the city police department is beginning a new effort to reduce racial profiling.  The program is initiative started by Police Commissioner Batts and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.  Read the short article on the CBS 13 website.

Essentially the article is a short political write up and a press release by mayor’s office and nothing else.  There is no investigative reporting nor any analysis.  However, what the article’s title raise one very important question.  Is the city admitting that there is a police driven crime problem in Baltimore?  Or is the title merely written to bait readers?