Baltimore News Updates from Independent & Regional Media 7/9

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This week’s news includes: Hogan’s call for in-person general elections, Maryland’s eviction deadline draws closer, Arabbers in the time of COVID, and more reporting from The Trace, Maryland Matters, WYPR, and others.


A map shows the concentration of buildings with open Vacant Building Notices (shown in pink and brown) in a section of West Baltimore. The green arrow marks the site of the building collapse at 900 N. Payson St. (codeMAP, Baltimore City Department of Housing & Community Development)

Why can’t Baltimore solve its vacant housing problem?
by Amy Scott
Published July 8 in Marketplace

Excerpt: There was a time when you could often find Thomas Lemmon sitting in his beloved car on North Payson Street in West Baltimore, where century-old brick row houses line the block. The car was a cream-colored, 1989 Cadillac — almost a block long itself — with a red top and matching interior.

“He used to love to sit in his Cadillac and listen to his radio in his car,” said Joseph Snowden, a former neighbor.

One spring afternoon four years ago, Lemmon was doing just that, parked alongside a vacant row house, listening to oldies.

“It was real windy, and the wall just collapsed,” Snowden said. “Collapsed right down on the car.”

Two stories of brick buckled and rained down on the Cadillac, smashing the windshield and flattening the roof. Snowden heard the boom from half a block away and ran to help.

“By the time I got over there, there was a whole bunch of kids and they had cleaned all the bricks off the top of it,” he said. “I took my back and I tried to lift up on the top of the car, to push it up, to get the man out of there, but we couldn’t get him out.”

Lemmon died in a hospital that evening. He was 69 years old. On display at his funeral was a red and white wreath in the shape of his cherished Cadillac.



We cannot overstate the devastating consequences likely to result if the State of Maryland does not plan now to mail every voter a ballot for the 2020 Presidential General Election.
Maryland Association of Election Officials

Hogan calls for in-person general election, drawing criticism from lawmakers, advocates
by Marcus Dieterle
Published July 8 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday directed election officials to open all polling locations on Nov. 3 for the general election, and to encourage early voting, absentee voting and in-person voting during off-peak times.

But unlike the June 2 primary election, where mail-in ballots were supposed to be sent to all eligible voters, anyone who wants an absentee ballot for the general election will need to request one. And that has drawn criticism from some state lawmakers and advocates.

Many Marylanders received their primary election ballots late, with errors, or not at all, while others stood in line for hours to vote in person, Hogan noted in a letter to State Board of Elections Chairman Michael Cogan.

See also:
Hogan Envisions a More Conventional General Election Voting Process
by Bennett Leckrone
Published July 8 in Maryland Matters




The Willful Blindness of Reactionary Liberalism
by Osita Nwanevu
Published July 6 in The New Republic

Excerpt: It was always a given that 2020 would be a year to remember. Even so, it continues to surprise. It seems likely that June will go down as one of the pivotal months of our political era, a period when our streets, our press, and some of our major institutions were rocked by the force of progressive identity politics. Conversations over the implications of all that’s happened in recent weeks will continue for some time. One of the more active debates is whether our recent social controversies should be seen as further evidence for the advent of what the writer Wesley Yang has called a “successor ideology” that might supplant liberalism altogether.

This was the conclusion of an essay on upheaval in the media from journalist Matt Taibbi. “The leaders of this new movement are replacing traditional liberal beliefs about tolerance, free inquiry, and even racial harmony with ideas so toxic and unattractive that they eschew debate, moving straight to shaming, threats, and intimidation,” he wrote. “They are counting on the guilt-ridden, self-flagellating nature of traditional American progressives, who will not stand up for themselves, and will walk to the Razor voluntarily.” In another recent essay, New York’s Andrew Sullivan charged that progressives now believe “the liberal system is itself a form of white supremacy” and that “liberalism’s core values and institutions cannot be reformed and can only be dismantled.”

Versions of this argument have been circulating for over half a decade now. In a 2015 piece, New York’s Jonathan Chait warned readers to take a series of then-recent campus controversies seriously. “The upsurge of political correctness is not just greasy-kid stuff, and it’s not just a bunch of weird, unfortunate events that somehow keep happening over and over,” he wrote. “It’s the expression of a political culture with consistent norms, and philosophical premises that happen to be incompatible with liberalism.”

Now, it really would be quite remarkable if American students and activists had, within the space of five or so years, constructed or wandered into a real and novel alternative to the dominant political ideology of the last few centuries. But they haven’t. The tensions we’ve seen lately have been internal to liberalism for ages: between those who take the associative nature of liberal society seriously and those who are determined not to. It is the former group, the defenders of progressive identity politics, who in fact are protecting—indeed expanding—the bounds of liberalism. And it is the latter group, the reactionaries, who are most guilty of the illiberalism they claim has overtaken the American Left.



image courtesy MVLS

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service’s data scraping tool is making record expungement easier
by Donte Kirby
Published July 6 in Baltimore

Excerpt: Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) has updated its Client Legal Utility Engine (CLUE) data scraping system that improves low-income residents’ ability to see what cases they have open in Maryland and possibly get their criminal records expunged.

The CLUE data scraping tool was created back in 2015 by Matthew Stubenberg to aid in finding cases where clients were eligible to have their records expunged, or erased in the eyes of the law. The tool is also used by partnered universities and government organizations for researching issues like bail reform or legal issues regarding COVID-19.

“[Clients] figure, ‘That’s been on my record for a really long time and that’s going to stay on my record,’” said Margaret Henn, director of program management for MVLS, which matches low-income Marylanders to pro bono legal aid for civil cases. “A lot of times people really are not aware or don’t think of expungement as an option.”



Speaking outside of City Hall, Elmer Calderon says he lost his job and is facing eviction. (Louis Krauss)

For the homeless and those facing eviction, a dire deadline
by Louis Kraus
Published July 6 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: For some, Maryland courts resuming eviction hearings on July 25 is a talking point, a policy matter – something abstract.

For Elmer Calderon, it means looming homelessness.

If he can’t pay his rent by the end of his month, Calderon’s landlord told him he and his family would be evicted.

“I would be fine sleeping in my car, but how is that okay for three kids?” Calderon said outside of City Hall at a gathering last week of about 50 advocates, renters and homeless people.

The organizers, Housing our Neighbors, a grassroots homeless-led group, and the Fair Development Roundtable, a human-rights-based coalition, said the failings of the city’s housing system during the coronaviurus pandemic constitute human rights abuses.



J. Countess/Getty Images

White allies, stop asking me if I’m OK. Black people are not OK
by Takirra Winfield Dixon
Published July 3 in Salon

Excerpt: I have had enough of this performative bullshit from “allies” issuing statements of support. And I have had enough of the white “allies” who know me sending me flurries of emails checking in and texts with heart emojis and “thinking of you” messages to see if I’m OK, and then asking me to tell them how to be anti-racist in the same breath: “Can you lead a discussion on racism or help me talk to the Black people I know? And what books should I be reading right now?” Do your own self-work, because as you see, Black people are busy with a more pressing issue — our survival.

The cops have been killing us for years — it’s just now being filmed. And America has been doing it for centuries — slowly killing us by design, from the very first steps of our ancestors on this soil as captured people. Now our nation is battling a pandemic with COVID-19; the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others are just a symptom of a virus we have been battling for 400 years. And what we are witnessing in this moment is centuries of oppression and anti-Blackness coming to light in a country that was never built for us, but was built by us.

As a Baltimore native, I was out in the streets in 2015 fighting for justice for Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Black man who was arrested for nothing and died in police custody. And five years later, I’m protesting again — this time fighting my anxiety to risk my life twice, like so many other Black people who are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Could I contract the coronavirus? Sure. But racism is a virus, too — one that would not allow me to sit in the comfort of my home and watch as thousands took to the streets to demand justice. Could I have been shot or beaten or harmed by police? Absolutely. And if Breonna Taylor and so many other Black women’s stories are any indication, I could also have been deemed invisible.

If we don’t use this moment — with millions of people across the country and the world paying attention to Black lives — to get real about fixing the systemic issues in this country, then we’ve already lost.



Photography by M. Holden Warren

Arabbers’ Mission Becomes More Urgent In the Midst of COVID-19
by Ron Cassie
Published July 8 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: In the streets of Baltimore, it’s a familiar, if sometimes forgotten, sound: the gentle clang of bells and clump-clump-clump of hoofs beating the pavement.

Yeah, bananas, cantaloupes, and watermelons. Sweet potatoes and collard greens. Sweet apples and oranges.

Heard less frequently than in the past, the historic singsong of the city’s arabbers has never stopped ringing out. This spring and summer, however, the vendors’ mission to bring healthy fare to underserved communities became more urgent amid stay-at-home orders and fraught trips—often by bus in low-income neighborhoods—to the grocery store. It’s a mission that’s also expanded in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.



In this Oct. 23, 2019, file photo, Baltimore Council President Brandon Scott speaks during a viewing service for the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Scott has won the Democratic nomination for Baltimore mayor. The victory on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, exactly a week after the election was held, puts Scott in a strong position to be the next mayor of the struggling city. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

Baltimore Hits Pause on Gun Violence Command Centers
by J. Brian Charles
Published July 6 in The Trace

Excerpt: At the end of 2017, Baltimore was staring at a grisly statistic: 342 homicides that year, which translated to the highest murder rate in the city’s history. Seemingly unable to control the violence on the streets, the Baltimore Police Department turned to a tool that appeared to be getting results in Chicago.

The following summer, Baltimore rolled out its version of what Chicago calls Strategic Decision Support Centers in two of the city’s most violent police districts. Now the centers, poised for an expansion, have lost the support of City Council President Brandon Scott, who is likely to become mayor in November.

Baltimore finds itself in a position familiar to many cities with high rates of gun violence and a strained relationship between the community and the police. Scott — who came to politics from community activism, and ran on the promise to reduce gun violence — has expressed deep reservations about the intelligence centers.



Wikimedia Commons collage

We’ve Seen This Happen Before
by Anthony McCarthy
Published July 8 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: I can remember the first time I heard the story of the Stonewall uprising — the night 50 years ago when Black drag queens led a revolt against police brutality in New York City.

The LGBTQ community was routinely victimized in raids of bars and clubs, and fearing being outed to family and co-workers, many kept quiet about the torture regularly handed out by law enforcement. But one late summer evening in 1969 something felt different.

This time, when the police rushed into the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, the patrons and employees overcame their fears and decided to fight back, kicking off six days of rioting and violent confrontations which launched the fight for LGBTQ civil rights and changed America forever.

After weeks of protests across the country following the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, the outrage doesn’t seem to be waning. Everyone has an opinion about the need to reform policing in America, and story after story is being shared about racist police misbehavior.

Unfortunately, we have seen this happen before.





Why My Blackness is Not a Threat to Your Whiteness and Black Lives Do Matter
by Myrtis Bedolla
Published July 2 in Cultured Magazine

Excerpt: As “Renaissance: Noir” draws to a close on July 3rd, I reflect on the discussion that gave birth to the exhibition and the circumstances that led to its timeliness. It began with a conversation nearly a year ago with Arthur Lewis, the then newly-appointed Creative Director of UTA Fine Arts and UTA Artist Space. Lewis extended an invitation to curate an exhibition in the UTA Artist Space and granted me full autonomy over the curatorial process. The show, originally slated to open in November 2019, was delayed because of scheduling and further postponed as a result of the pandemic. Because of Lewis’s unyielding commitment, the show became a virtual experience.

In its timing, the exhibition is not a reaction to the murder of George Floyd and countless others who have lost their lives to police brutality or at the hands of white supremacists but, rather, a response to, and an ongoing examination of, the history of Black people forced to live an existence under the social European construct of race and the false notion of white superiority.

In turning to the work of artists featured in “Renaissance: Noir,” there is a celebration of Blackness through narratives that bear witness to the truth of the African American experience, presented unabashedly and unapologetically. There lies within commentaries that cause feelings of dis-ease to those who believe their Whiteness is threatened by imagery that depicts a Black reality that unveils systemic racism in this country. And in its genius, the imagery also serves to validate and elevate the Black body and claim its rightful place in America, while revealing the power of Black strength, intellect and endurance.

Perhaps the imagery holds such potency because it mirrors the current dismantling of white supremacy—the removal of monuments used to perpetuate a fabricated history, as we now seek to face the ugliness of the past and right historic wrongs: a narrative that serves as a common thread that binds the work featured in “Renaissance: Noir.”

In this nation, we are bound by the red, white, and blue. As for the orange—well, I’ll leave that for y’all to figure out. What I am certain of is that Black Lives do Matter. And until this becomes our mantra and conviction by all, we will continue to fester in a cesspool of hate, murder and racial tension.




Image still via YouTube.

New trailer teases forthcoming GTTF book “I Got a Monster”
by Brandon Weigel
Published July 7 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: “It makes me bitter, because it f—ed my life up.”

So says one of the victims of the Gun Trace Task Force, a rogue Baltimore Police Department unit that was federally indicted in 2017 and charged with robbing citizens, dealing drugs, planting evidence, overtime fraud and other misconduct.

Six of the officers–ringleader Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, Sgt. Thomas Allers, Momudo Gondo, Maurice Ward, Jemell Rayam and Evodio Hendrix–pleaded guilty to federal charges of corruption, racketeering, robbery and other crimes.

Two former detectives, Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, took their cases to trial and were eventually convicted.

The victim’s words come from a trailer for “I Got a Monster,” a forthcoming book by local journalists Brandon Soderberg and Baynard Woods that digs deep into the “rise and fall of America’s most corrupt police squad.”



Header image: from Baltimore Brew article by Fern Shen, "Goodbye, Columbus"

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