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…”

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#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.

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.

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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.

 

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