The News: Safe Streets Leader Slain, Baltimore Takes on Big Oil, and Biden Takes Office

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: Charm City has its day in Supreme Court, ACLU report on Baltimore policing, Hogan’s slow vaccine rollout, and more reporting from Maryland Matters, Baltimore Magazine, Baltimore, and others.



Photography by Joe M. Giordano

Dante Barksdale, Respected Baltimore Safe Streets Leader, Shot and Killed Sunday
by Ron Cassie
Published January 18 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: Dante Barksdale, the respected and well-known Baltimore Safe Streets leader, an ex-offender who turned his life around to save others from gun violence, was shot and killed Sunday morning. Even in a city beset by violence, the shocking daylight homicide of the 46-year-old Barksdale, an outgoing personality and familiar face to many in Baltimore, stunned the city, which grieved his death yesterday as the news of the slaying quickly spread throughout the afternoon.

Barksdale joined the then-new gun violence prevention program in 2008 as an outreach worker. He was an integral part of the Safe Streets team that kept McElderry Park homicide-free for two years, something the neighborhood hadn’t experienced for decades, earning a Community Hero Award from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Mayor Brandon Scott, who had named him to his transition team, described Barksdale as the “heart and soul” of the gun-violence prevention program. He called his death a “major loss to Safe Streets, the communities they serve, and the entire City of Baltimore.”

“My heart is broken with the loss of my friend Dante Barksdale, a beloved leader in our community who committed his life to saving lives in Baltimore,” Scott said, vowing to maintain his commitment to the Safe Streets program while highlighting the “sobering reminder of how dangerous this frontline work is.” “While I am devastated by the loss of my Brother in the fight to save lives in Baltimore, I will not let those who chose to violently take his life dampen the light of his work.”



On Wednesday, Jan. 20, Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, and Kamal D. Harris was sworn in as the 49th Vice President of the United States. Photo courtesy of Joe Biden/Instagram.

Maryland leaders react to the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris
by Marcus Dieterle
Published January 20 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: On Wednesday, Jan. 20, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, and Vice President Kamala D. Harris was sworn in as the 49th Vice President of the United States — the first woman, the first Black American and the first Asian American to hold the position.

In his inaugural address, Biden vowed to “restore the soul of America,” as the nation grapples with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the tremors of a pro-Trump insurrection of the U.S. Capitol building that took place just two weeks earlier on Jan. 6.

“We have much to do in this winter of peril, and significant possibilities,” Biden said. “Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build and much to gain.”



Joe Biden at South by Southwest.

How will a Biden administration influence Maryland’s economy?
by Stephen Babcock
Published January 20 in Baltimore

Excerpt: Four years can be a long time.

It’s enough to evaluate whether big ideas that were proposed in year one became actions by year two, and perhaps even start to figure out whether they were successful. As multiple years pass, events also have a way of intervening on those plans. To take the example staring us in the face: Most people didn’t even know about COVID-19 a year ago, so at this point four seems like the distant past.

Today, as the nation watches a new four-year term begin with the inauguration of President Joe Biden, it’s worth remembering that while he’s getting ready to lead the U.S. through the cascading crises we now face including a pandemic and the fallout from a coup attempt, he is also setting out a vision for the next four years.

There’s the matter of what he must address today, and more structural changes that could make change going forward. photo by Emiliano Bar.

‘The House Is on Fire’: Prisoners’ Rights Activists Call on Hogan to Act Immediately
by Hannah Gaskill
Published January 20 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Alonzo Turner Bey went into Maryland’s prison system at age 17. He served 31 years, six months and 15 days with asthma, high blood pressure and problems with his kidneys.

“I was fortunate enough to make it out” in light of the pandemic, Turner Bey explained at a news conference Friday.

Not everyone is so lucky.

Before he left, Turner Bey said that he had a friend who contracted COVID-19 and died in the hospital.

“I’m watching men die in there,” he said tearfully. “Men who I respect ― men I look up to ― all because the staff is taking this as a joke.”



Baltimore is struggling to pay for the massive infrastructure and public health costs associated with global warming. As in many cities, flood risk has dramatically increased as the Earth has gotten hotter. Ryan Kellman/NPR

Supreme Court Considers Baltimore Suit Against Oil Companies Over Climate Change
by Rebecca Hersher
Published January 19 in NPR

Excerpt: The Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday in a case brought by the city of Baltimore against more than a dozen major oil and gas companies including BP, ExxonMobil and Shell. The city government argued that the fossil fuel giants must pay for the costs of climate change because they knew that their products cause potentially catastrophic global warming.

The Baltimore case is one of more than 20 similar suits brought by cities, states and counties in recent years. The cases make a variety of arguments about why fossil fuel companies bear responsibility for the costs of climate change, including that companies misled the public about the threat burning oil and gas poses to the climate.

The Supreme Court is considering a narrow jurisdictional question: the Baltimore case was filed in state court, but during the 75-minute opening arguments on Tuesday, an attorney for the fossil fuel companies contended that such cases should be tried in federal court.

“These cases have the potential to be quite powerful if they finally see their day in court,” says Karen Sokol, a law professor at Loyola University of New Orleans who has written extensively about climate liability cases. Sokol says state courts have a long history of handling cases about consumer protection, including lawsuits involving alleged corporate misinformation campaigns. If the Supreme Court decides in Baltimore’s favor, it would likely pave the way for cases against oil and gas companies to proceed in state courts across the country.

See also:

Opinion: Baltimore Is Leading the Fight to Hold Big Oil Accountable for Climate Change
by Mike Tidwell
Published January 18 in Maryland Matters



At East Baltimore’s Collington Square school, ventilation filters have been upgraded for common spaces, but classrooms have not yet received air purifier units. (Fern Shen)

Only 1 in 4 Baltimore schools set to reopen are now equipped with ventilation upgrades
by Brenda Wintrode and Mark Reutter
Published January 19 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: It was almost midnight Friday when Danielle Hopper Dubasak got the news in an email from her employer, Baltimore City Public Schools:
Dubasak had been selected to report back to work as a part of the district’s plan to bring more students back to buildings for in-person learning next month.

But the mother of four young children had already told her principal she wouldn’t return to the building as long as the Covid-19 pandemic raged.

“I would quit if it came down to it,” said Dubasak, who works as an Individual Education Plan (IEP) team associate at Collington Square Elementary/Middle School.
Even “on a normal day,” she pointed out, the 59-year-old East Baltimore school not only lacks basic sanitation supplies such as hand soap, but is stuck with an HVAC system that is “unreliable.”

Her worries are not unfounded.



Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brown.

Years After Freddie Gray’s Death, Baltimore Police Misconduct Persists
by Brandon Soderberg
Published January 19 in The Appeal

Excerpt: The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland published a report today detailing continued officer misconduct in the Baltimore Police Department, despite promises of reform following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray in police custody.

According to the report, complaints were submitted about more than 1,800 officers between 2015 and 2019, a period that coincided with a Department of Justice investigation and the implementation of a federal consent decree. More than 400 officers have been “the subject of at least one complaint of physical violence against a member of the public.”

A complaint is any allegation of misconduct submitted by a resident or internally by the department. The report notes that a complaint “does not imply that the officer has committed a crime, or that the officer committed the offense for which the complaint was submitted if it is not listed as sustained.” The report only lists officers with 15 or more complaints.

According to the police department’s data, available through the law enforcement transparency tool Project Comport, officers who had complaints had an average of 6.5 complaints each between 2015 and 2019.In the past 12 months, about 20 percent of officers have received complaints, according to the data. The department has about 2,600 officers.

See also:

ACLU: Racial disparities persist in Baltimore policing, as thousands of citizen complaints go unheeded
by Mark Reutter
Published January 20 in Baltimore Brew



Baltimore’s Minority-Owned Businesses Tell Lawmakers of Their Struggles to Find COVID Relief
by Elizabeth Shwe
Published January 19 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: When Dasia Kavia signed a lease for her first business in the Locust Point neighborhood of Baltimore, she had no idea a global pandemic would turn her business model upside down.

“I signed my lease and then a week later, the world shut down,” Kavia, the owner of Ice Queens Snowball Shop, told Baltimore City’s state senators Monday evening.

Kavia was still able to open her doors, although six weeks later than she had planned. Then she was forced to quickly shift from an inside business to an outside business model. As the weather got colder and fewer people ate outdoors, Kavia decided to close her snowball shop in December and does not plan to open again until April.

“I’m not able to staff people the correct way because we just don’t have the funds in order to do that right now,” she said. “Though I’m closed, my rent is still due.”

What made matters even harder, Kavia continued, is the fact that new businesses like hers were not qualified to apply for some of the relief grants.

See also:

Hogan’s ‘Economic Recovery’ Budget Will Feature Contentious Stimulus, Retiree Provisions
by Danielle E. Gaines
Published January 20 in Maryland Matters




Saving Little Italy
by Ron Cassie
Published January 18 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: Mario Scilipoti left his newly wed and, unbeknownst to him, pregnant wife behind in their mountainside Sicilian village when he departed for the United States. The 23-year-old did not speak English. He did not have, or need, a visa when his ship, the Patria, sailed past the Statue of Liberty and landed at Ellis Island. He did not have a lucrative job or graduate school admission waiting. Arriving 100 years ago this spring, he only had hopes of a brighter future for his soon-to-be-family and an uncle in Baltimore who was a barber. Following a lengthy apprenticeship while his still-unmet bambina spoke her first words back in Sicily, Scilipoti received his own license from the Maryland Board of Barber Examiners on July 24, 1922. Over time, he built a clientele and opened a shop on East Pratt Street. After five years, he returned to Sicily to reunite with his wife, Domenica, and daughter, Josefa, and they later followed him back to Baltimore.

In 1930, Tommaso, the couple’s second child, was born above that rowhouse Pratt Street barbershop. He, too, would earn a barber’s license and place a spinning red, white, and blue pole outside the window of his rowhouse. However, the younger Scilipoti, nicknamed “Mazzi” in the neighborhood, also had his eye on another career, which would prove fortuitous for the section of Southeast Baltimore already known by then as Little Italy.



Shawn Hendricks, MSN, RN Director, Nursing University of Maryland Medical Center

Senate President Blames Hogan Health Secretary Pick For Slow Vaccine Distribution
by Rachel Baye
Published January 19 in WYPR

Excerpt: Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson is criticizing the state health department for a slow vaccine rollout and blaming the governor’s pick to run the department, Acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader.

Ferguson told reporters Tuesday that the Senate is unlikely to confirm Schrader as health secretary unless vaccine distribution improves.

Schrader was named acting secretary on Dec. 1, before vaccines were available to Maryland.

“Since Acting Secretary Schrader’s appointment, one thing has unfortunately become very clear: Maryland is ineffectively administering vaccines in an accountable manner,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson pointed to data showing that the state administered just over 7,000 doses on Saturday and just over 1,500 on Sunday — far short of the 12,000-a-day rate the Health Department promised legislators they were achieving during a meeting last week.

According to the state’s data, 551,700 vaccine doses have been distributed to providers, but only 265,657 have been administered to patients, a rate of about 48%.

Header image: AP Photo / Julio Cortez

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