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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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. 

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.”

Baltimore confronts abusers at “town hall meeting”

Abdul-Salaam to Blake & Batts: You say you are trying to help the city, but you are hurting the very people we need in the community. You are terrorizing the children with a police force that can attack citizens with impunity.

Coverage of this event in The Sun is inadequate and misleading. Audience comments overwhelmingly criticized Mayor Blake & Police Chief Batts for enabling violence against ordinary people in Baltimore. Yet this article, by Colin Campbell, devotes only one paragraph — the tenth out of sixteen — to this type of criticism. Most of the article pays fawning tribute to the city’s untested new plan to curb violence, despite the bad record of the officials who are promoting it. (Mr. Campbell’s Twitter coverage was similar. Justin Fenton’s tweetstream was a little better. Remember, Tweets at the top are most recent.)

The article’s title, “Mayor, Batts attend west-side town hall meeting”, also distorts the reality of what happened. Ms. Blake and Mr. Batts did not “attend” a community meeting; they set up their own event, on their own terms, with their own overt & covert security forces. As the city is well aware, these meetings were scheduled for the same time as West Wednesday. Although the official purpose of the event was to reach out to the community, in practice the city officials were quite hostile to the people who came to see them. They also made it difficult for citizen journalists to record the event.

Nevertheless, Baltimore Bloc brings us several videos that show more of what really happened at this “town hall:”:

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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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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?