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The News: State Funds HBCUs, Baltimore Stands With Atlanta Against Asian Hate, More on the Mosbys

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: Will Maryland “pass the joint”? Former Mayor Young speaks out, Police Reform Bills 101, and more reporting from WYPR, The Outlaw Report, Baltimore Brew, and other local and independent news sources.

 

 

Hogan Signs $577 Million Settlement Bill for Maryland’s Historically Black Universities
by Elizabeth Shwe
Published March 24 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan (R) signed legislation Wednesday that requires the state to direct $577 million in additional funding to Maryland’s historically Black colleges and universities over the course of a decade.

Last year, Hogan vetoed a similar bill that unanimously passed the Senate and passed the House of Delegates by a 129-2 vote, referencing the potential economic fallout from the then-fledgling COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County) reintroduced the bill this year, and it was passed early during the legislative session, allowing a same-session veto override vote if necessary.

Last week, the House of Delegates approved the measure in a 120-14 vote. On the same day, the Senate unanimously passed the bill, with 38 senators signed on as cosponsors.

Sitting with the presiding officers of the General Assembly, Hogan signed the bill at Bowie State University on Wednesday afternoon.

[…]

Hogan’s signature brings the state a significant step closer to settling a 15-year federal lawsuit alleging inequitable resources at the schools. In 2006, a coalition of alumni and supporters of Maryland’s HBCUs filed the lawsuit, contending that the state had underfunded its four historically black institutions and allowed traditionally white universities to duplicate programs offered at HBCUs, undermining their ability to attract students.

 

 

After A Week of Grief And Rage, Baltimore Asians Honor Atlanta Victims
by Sarah Y. Kim
Published March 25 in WYPR

Excerpt: As the vigil came to a close, a chorus of screams echoed across North Avenue.

It was a moment of solidarity and collective rage for Asians and Pacific Islanders (API) in Baltimore City, after a white gunman murdered eight people, six of them Asian women, at three Atlanta spas last Tuesday. The incident has drawn attention to the rise of violence against Asians across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vigil took place at the Ynot Lot in Station North. Baltimore doesn’t have an official Koreatown, but prior to the pandemic, this neighborhood is where many Koreans would gather for food like bibimbap or galbi, to feel a little closer to home.

For Asian Americans, last week’s shootings fit into a pattern of exclusion, hate and violence they have faced—not just during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for centuries.

It’s a pattern that Eunbi Kim feels Americans have long overlooked.

Kim, a Korean American organizer of the vigil and member of Baltimore Asian Resistance in Solidarity (BARS), is also a musician with the stage name EN’b.

“White supremacy ultimately kills us all. All minorities, all people of color,” they said. “Including queer trans folks.”

 

 

Women’s Housing Coalition builds its own bridge across the digital divide
by Donte Kirby
Published March 23 in Technical.ly Baltimore

Excerpt: Through a recently-completed project, the Women’s Housing Coalition(WHC) is providing free WI-FI for over 90 residents in its four Baltimore housing facilities.

WHC provides affordable housing and supportive services to people who have experienced homelessness, especially those with disabilities. The free Wi-Fi program started in August of 2020 at a WHC building called The Linden in Reservoir Hill, and expanded to WHC’s other three facilities in Old Goucher, Charles Village, and downtown Baltimore through a $25,000 grant from the Abell Foundation. Installations were completed by UrCameraGuy, a local black-owned business run by Tommy Watkins. A $20,000 grant from the Franck-Merrick Foundation went toward providing loaner laptops for WHC residents.

Like libraries, the computer labs in the buildings owned by WHC typically see heavy use, and these resources were shut down when the pandemic hit.

“It became really apparent that [the women in WHC programs] couldn’t go to their doctors appointments, see their therapists, renew their housing,” said Beth Benner, WHC’s executive director. “To be successful in today’s world — not just to be successful in getting a job, to be successful in surviving — there’s so much you need to have access to.”

 

 

Under Watch
by J. Cavanaugh Simpson with Ron Cassie
Published March 23 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: Deborah Katz Levi, head of the Baltimore City Public Defender Special Litigation Section, knew something did not square. One of her clients, Kerron Andrews, had been charged with attempted murder after he was picked from a photo array of possible suspects following the drug-related shooting of three people in Southwest Baltimore in late April 2014. The Baltimore police subsequently issued an arrest warrant for Andrews and, three days later, found him inside an apartment, which wasn’t his home, just west of Leakin Park. Andrews just didn’t see how the police knew where he was. “Something kept happening to his phone, his phone kept dying,” Levi recalls. She sensed the police or state prosecutors had not disclosed everything in the case. Turns out, she was right.

Baltimore police had secretly deployed an active cell-site simulator, frequently referred to as a stingray, which masquerades as a legitimate cellphone tower and tricks mobile phones within a certain radius into connecting to the briefcase-sized device. The cellsite simulator BPD used had forced Andrews’ phone into transmitting signals that enabled police to locate its precise whereabouts. This part is critical: The simulator doesn’t wait for outgoing calls to be made. It actively transmits a signal that travels through walls and reaches into cellphones to conduct a general search of cellphones within the device’s radius.

Initially, Det. Michael Spinnato had been unable to locate Andrews, whom he believed to be in hiding. But he was able to confirm Andrews’ cell number through a confidential informant and then went to court to get Sprint, Andrews’ cell provider, to turn over GPS data from his phone. That information narrowed the search down to the 5000 block of Clifton Avenue and an area of 30 or so apartment units situated around a U-shaped sidewalk. At that point, BPD’s advanced-technical team arrived and, using a cell-site simulator by the brand name “Hailstorm,” pinged the real-time location of Andrews’ phone inside a specific apartment. Spinnato rapped on the door. With the consent of the woman who answered, Spinnato and other officers entered and found Andrews sitting on the couch. His cellphone, it would later come out in court documents, was in his pants pocket. Police secured the apartment, got a search warrant for the premises, and found a gun between the sofa cushions.

In the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, however, Andrews’ lawyers successfully argued the court approval for police to access his Sprint records did not extend to use of the cell-site simulator. The judge ruled use of the Hailstorm device without a warrant was an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment and suppressed all evidence gathered from the apartment as “fruit of the poisonous tree.” It did not help that police failed to disclose the use of the Hailstorm device during the discovery portion of the trial, or that Andrews, currently incarcerated on unrelated charges, had not been picked out from two previous photo arrays of potential suspects.

More disturbing: What came to light as part of another case around that same time was the Baltimore police—which had received instruction from and signed a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI—had long been engaged in the questionable practice of using the phony celltower devices to surveil Baltimoreans. In 2015, a Baltimore detective testified that the department had deployed the technology 4,300 times during the previous eight years without telling defense attorneys, judges, the public, and apparently, any elected officials. In the process, the BPD had temporarily interrupted the cellular service of untold thousands of completely innocent Baltimoreans, who would’ve had no clue why their phone wasn’t working.

 

 

Hitting back at federal prosecutors, Marilyn Mosby’s lawyer tells a different story from the 2018 rendition
by Mark Reutter
Published March 24 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Behind the accusations of “troubling misconduct” leveled by Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby against two federal prosecutors leading the grand jury investigation of her and her husband, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby, is a contradiction:

Three years ago, Mosby fired a veteran attorney in her office based on information from the two prosecutors she’s now blasting—then Acting U.S. Attorney for Maryland Stephen Schenning and Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo J. Wise.

Back in 2018, Mosby hired a high-powered Washington lawyer, James M. Webster III, to write a letter to Anna Mantegna, the fired attorney, warning her not to publicly criticize Mosby or to discuss the FBI investigation into the corrupt Gun Task Trace Force.

The letter stated that “you were terminated. . . after Mr. Schenning informed Ms. Mosby that you had revealed” confidential information to GTTF ringleader Wayne Jenkins – an accusation Mantegna has repeatedly and vehemently denied.

“If you make any false or defamatory statements regarding Ms. Mosby,” Webster warned in his April 20, 2018 letter, “Ms. Mosby intends to pursue any and all appropriate remedies, including filing a lawsuit against you.”

Mosby’s campaign committee would later pay Webster’s law firm $11,015 in apparent violation of the prohibited use of campaign money for private legal costs.

 

 

After News Of Federal Probe, Mosby Says He Has Three-Plus Years Ahead Of Him As Council President
by Emily Sullivan
Published March 22 in WYPR

Excerpt: Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby said he was looking forward to serving the rest of his term on Monday, despite the federal probe into the finances of the Democrat and his wife, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

In his first public appearance since reports of the investigation broke, an upbeat Mosby highlighted the legislative actions of his first 100 days in office and told the city council he is “excited about the next three-plus years as it relates to working with each and every one of you.”

He did not acknowledge the investigation.

Neither the Council President nor the State’s Attorney have responded to WYPR’s requests for comment about the probe. The Baltimore Sun reported Friday that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office subpoenaed Marilyn Mosby’s campaign treasurer and requested records tracing back to 2014, some related to the Mosbys’ private consulting and travel businesses.

Mayor Brandon Scott’s office issued its first comment on the investigation Monday night.

“The mayor is aware of the pending investigation but is rightfully focusing his energy on addressing the urgent challenges facing Baltimoreans,” Scott’s communication director Cal Harris told WYPR in an email.

 

 

Maryland Lawmakers Want to Reform Policing. We Break Down the Bills That Would Do It
by Hannah Gaskill
Published March 22 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Police reform has been top of mind for many Marylanders this General Assembly session — lawmakers included.

Following a year fraught with nationally highlighted examples of lethal police brutality against Black people, several legislators in the General Assembly have pushed police reform to the top of their list of legislative priorities.

And after months of debate, study and pressure from reform advocates and police unions, both chambers passed their own sweeping reform packages: in the Senate, a series of nine bills tackling everything from officer mental health to the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR); in the House, one very large, comprehensive piece of legislation that takes up myriad issues, including increasing the role and responsibilities of the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission (MPTSC).

There are a lot of similarities between the package, but there are some stark differences, too. Maryland Matters broke it down bill-by-bill:

 

 

As Scott Delivers His First State of the City Speech, Jack Young Speaks
by Josh Rydell
Published March 22 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Bernard C. “Jack” Young remains bitter. It’s been three months since the former mayor of Baltimore departed City Hall after finishing a disappointing fifth in the Democratic primary last June.

Before he left office, and since then, Young has declined all interview requests, saying he was fed up with negative media coverage of his time as mayor.

But now, in an exclusive interview with Maryland Matters, Young is reflecting on his brief time as mayor and the many challenges he faced running a city that recorded more than 300 homicides a year over the past six years.

“I’ve never done anything against the law,” says Young, 66, who was first appointed to fill a vacant city council seat in 1996. He later served as City Council president and became mayor in April 2019 when then-mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) resigned amid political corruption charges. In November of that year, Pugh pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and tax evasion. She remains in prison serving a three-year sentence.

 

 

A Trans Woman Died in a Baltimore Jail Cell. Her Family Wants Answers
by Britni De La Cretaz
Published March 18 in Them

Excerpt: Kim Wirtz, a 43-year-old transgender woman, died in a cell at the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center in February, but city officials have reportedly not released details to the family about her cause of death nearly a month later.

Wirtz, who was housed in a men’s lockup facility, was found unconscious in her single cell just after midnight on February 25, according to a statement from the state’s Department of Safety and Correctional Services. As The Baltimore Sun previously reported, the statement goes on to say that when she was found, officers began CPR and called for medical assistance.

“At this time, DPSCS has found no evidence of foul play,” the statement says. “The investigation continues, and the Department is awaiting a cause and manner of death to be determined by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.”

Wirtz had been arrested and charged with first-degree rape, along with other charges, after a woman told Baltimore Police that Wirtz had threatened her with a gun and forced her to perform oral sex on January 31.

According to Wirtz’s niece, Shakisha Glass, her aunt transitioned at age 13 and spent most of her life struggling to find work and housing because she was trans. “We haven’t been able to get any information,” Glass told the Sun regarding her aunt’s cause of death. “My biggest concern is that she deserves justice and making sure this doesn’t happen again.”

 

 

Advocates Push For Cannabis Legalization in Annapolis With a 51-Foot Joint
by Brandon Soderberg
Published March 18 in The Outlaw Report

Excerpt: A 51-foot long inflatable joint with the words “Maryland Pass The Joint!” and the logo of Maryland Marijuana Justice (MDMJ) stamped on the side of it appeared near Annapolis’ State House earlier today, Mar. 18, as part of a protest pushing the cannabis reform-averse legislators in Maryland towards passing a legalization bill.

“Some legislators won’t like seeing the big fifty one-foot joint, I guess because they like to pretend that people don’t actually use marijuana,” MD NORML’s Luke Jones said in a press release. “We’re saying—we are past that point now. Cannabis consumers are obviously here, and are obviously going to fuel the tax revenue legislators are so excited about, so we might as well call it what it is. It’s a joint—legalize it for goodness’ sake already!”

 

 

BONUS:

Fate of controversial ‘Male/Female’ sculpture “to be determined,” developers say
by Ed Gunts
Published March 23 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: Will the renovation of Penn Station claim the Male/Female sculpture in front of Pennsylvania Station?

The question arose last week when Amtrak and its development partners shared their latest plans for a nearly-$500 million revitalization of the area around the historic train station, and the drawings didn’t show the 52-foot-tall sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky that’s been on the entrance plaza since 2004.

The forum was an hour-long briefing organized by the Greater Baltimore Committee. The subject was brought up by GBC President and CEO Donald Fry, who was relaying questions from the audience.

There’s “one question that is always a topic of discussion when we think about Penn Station,” Fry said. “What is the future in the overall plans for the Man/Woman statue that is in front of the building?”

 

 

BONUS BONUS

White Fear, It’s Your Final Act — You’re Fired
by Alanah Davis
Published March 23 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Many moons ago I was a house manager at a theater downtown here in Baltimore. I was inevitably almost fired from that position. I say almost because I was warned by a fellow staff member in the spring of that particular year that I was going to be let go, and I quit in perfect early ’20s fashion with a millennial email tantrum.

It was eloquent. I was unwilling to take the trash out at the end of my shifts — I mean, eww. They were probably right in wanting to fire me? During my shifts and especially at night my tasks were comprised of taking out the trash in what was probably a haunted, old, and big Baltimore building, carrying a walkie talkie… the kind that gives you perceived power while you have none whatsoever.

Another piece of my role was supervising the theater’s volunteer base that was mostly comprised of seniors, retired folks, and just a speckling of young Black theater hopefuls including actors, writers, and directors who thought their best way into the theater world would be to start somewhere by volunteering (Black theatre folks, feel free to chuckle here). The volunteers, especially the ones at the intersection of old age and whiteness, did not like my being there very much, but that’s another story.

 

 

Header image: EN'B, a Korean-American producer performing at a Baltimore vigil for the victims of the mass shooting in Atlanta last week. (MD Matters)

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