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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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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