The Battle of Mondawmin

Caution: this post contains some graphic images & videos of organized police violence against black youth.

Most of the injuries, arrests, looting, arson, and property destruction occurring during the so-called Baltimore Riots took place (so far) on the night of Monday, April 27. They followed a confrontation between heavily armed police and school-age children which took place at Mondawmin Mall, starting at 3PM. This event should be considered a critical moment in the unfolding of the “Riots” because it marked the beginning of organized police action and was narratively linked to the wave of mayhem which moved, from 3PM to midnight, along North Avenue, and south-eastward down Pennsylvania Avenue. With blame still flowing freely in the commentary on this incident, it is crucial to understand how things began. Juvenile delinquency? Political rage? Police provocation? Where is the evidence? Who else played a role? We know that the citizens of Baltimore are justifiably angry, and that the police are often unduly provocative, but do we know how the Battle of Mondawmin in fact began? And what actually happened once it did?

News reports on this incident have been curiously scarce, with the Baltimore Sun devoting only a few sentences of its voluminous riot coverage to the confrontation at Mondawmin. The Sun‘s Scott Dance (with a dozen other regulars listed as contributors) reported:

The confrontation near Mondawmin escalated quickly Smoke filled the air as police responded with shields and a tactical vehicle. Demonstrators pelted officers with rocks, bricks and bottles and assaulted a photojournalist, and officers fired back with tear gas and pepper balls.

The Sun does not describe how this confrontation began—seemingly a key question if this incident sparked the “Riots”. National coverage was even more questionable, with Donna Leinwand Leger of USA Today asserting:

The Mondawmin Mall, where city redevelopment authorities had worked for years to bring Target, Ross Dress for Less, Payless Shoes and other chains, closed early to prepare for the anticipated riots. Still, looters broke into the shops. At Deals, a variety story [sic], looters had broken two windows and made off with merchandise before 30 police with armored cars and riot gear arrived. A police helicopter hovered overhead. By 8 p.m., police had established a presence and chased away the looters.

Al Jazeera did not do much better. The Washington Post published a story on Mondawmin which focused on the “purge” rumor circulating on the internet earlier in the day. Most stories followed the same pattern and based their reporting entirely on official sources.

The only detailed mainstream coverage of the Mondawmin events came from Sam Brodey and Jenna McLaughlin of Mother Jones, who wrote:

According to eyewitnesses in the Mondawmin neighborhood, the police were stopping busses and forcing riders, including many students who were trying to get home, to disembark. Cops shut down the local subway stop. They also blockaded roads near the Mondawmin Mall and Frederick Douglass High School, which is across the street from the mall, and essentially corralled young people in the area. That is, they did not allow the after-school crowd to disperse.

This report, the only one to cite any sources other than police and city officials, corresponds with the evidence as scrutinized by the Eclipse since Monday. Plenty of Frederick Douglass students were picked up by parents earlier in the day, due to concerns about trouble at Mondawmin. Others tried to get home on their own, only to find their path to the buses blocked by a line of heavily armored storm troopers. Mondawmin is one of the biggest transit hubs in the city: a necessary stop in the homeward journies of thousands of students forced by “education reform” to attend schools dispersed across the city. Already this artificial situation requires high school students to congregate here—and where go groups of black high school students, so too go antagonistic police.

More bus routes stop at Mondawmin than at any other station on the West Side.

More bus routes stop at Mondawmin than at any other station on the West Side. (Eleven, plus the subway. Source: MTA transit maps.)

What follows is a preliminary investigation into the events at Mondawmin, based on limited witness testimony, photos, and videos.

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‘the use of the news columns for propaganda purposes’

It was not many years ago that newspaper editors resented what they called ‘the use of the news columns for propaganda purposes.’ Some editors would even kill a good story if they imagined its publication might benefit any one. This point of view is now largely abandoned.

Edward “Father of Modern Public Relations” Bernays, Propaganda (1928), p. 150

Maryland Correctional Enterprises: Prison Labor With A Smile

Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE) is the state’s own prison labor company. A semi-autonomous subdivision of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), MCE commands a workforce of thousands of prisoners, paid just a few dollars per day.

According to a search of the ProQuest database (available with your Enoch Pratt Free Library card; County residents try here), The Baltimore Sun has run a total of nine articles covering MCE since it changed names in 2005. That’s about one article per year. One hundred percent of these articles show MCE in a neutral or positive light, reporting mostly on officials who worked as overseers of MCE and on good works done by prisoners, e.g. “From the Prisons Comes a Thanksgiving Feast“, written by Peter Hermann in November 2009.

“Myra Wooten’s Thanksgiving came from prison.  Officers from state correctional institutions in Jessup and Baltimore delivered a large box packed with a week’s worth of food, including a frozen 13-pound turkey, to the East Baltimore resident.”

Later in the article:

“Even inmates get into the act: Those who work at the Maryland Correctional Enterprises Meal Plant in Hagerstown cooked more than 700 turkeys for the poor.”

The Sun has  also described MCE as a useful stepping-stone for inmates, which will help them to find employment after they are released. (TV news outlets report on MCE with similar cheeriness.)

These reports do not provide the public with meaningful information about the scope of prison labor in Maryland. Futhermore, they gloss over serious questions about the practice of using prisoners as hypercheap labor. MCE workers make far less than minimum wage, earning between $1.50 and $5.10 for an entire day’s work.

MCE logo etc

The Sun, seemingly, goes out of its way to highlight the arguments in favor of prison labor, but fails completely to cover the other side of the story. Critics of the practice say that prison labor, akin to outright slavery,  is unethical, abusive, and bad for the economy.

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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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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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