The News: Police Reform Package Fails, Conflict of Interest at City Hall, Maryland’s Big Budget

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: Police reform shot down, Maryland sings a new tune, Black trans activists speak out, and more reporting from Baltimore Magazine, Baltimore, The Real News, and other local and independent news sources.



Senate Judicial Proceedings Chairman William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), front, and the committee's vice-chair Sen. Jeffrey D. Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Senate Panel Votes Out Jones’ Police Reform Package, Fears for the Fate of Its Own Bills
by Hannah Gaskill
Published March 31 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: After nearly eight-and-a-half hours of contentious debate and over a dozen attempts to amend it, the House Police Accountability Act of 2021 moved out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee late Tuesday night.

The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), passed on a party-line vote of 7-4.

But the mood was solemn in the Senate committee. Republicans on the panel were especially critical of the legislation and the process.

“I think we were destined to have a failing product from the beginning,” Senate Minority Whip Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) said before casting his final vote on the bill Tuesday night. “Both chambers didn’t start with similar legislation; neither chamber conferenced it; we’re taking the House bill in one day and trying to rewrite it and their process is very flawed.”

In early March, the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee passed a package of nine police reform bills over to the House chamber. Most measures had bipartisan support.

“I was so proud of the bipartisan bills to be passed in the Senate a month ago that this morning I sent a very lengthy email to everybody on my list, proudly talking about how we had achieved a bipartisan consensus and the Maryland State Senate was working in exactly the way that people should expect us to work,” Sen. Christopher R. West (R-Baltimore County) said Tuesday night. “Now I’m going to have to send out another email saying I was too early or premature because everything seems to have collapsed.”



City Council Vice President Sharon Middleton participates in an online roundtable sponsored by Rhino. (Twitter)

Middleton participated in roundtable sponsored by company with a bill before her committee
by Fern Shen
Published March 27 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Baltimore housing advocates and some members of the City Council have been trying to slow down a suddenly fast-moving bill they say contains a “Trojan horse” provision that will potentially hurt city renters.

“It’s part of a trend of measures that are being pushed around the country that create an opportunity that basically benefits one company,” said Councilman Ryan Dorsey.

Dorsey pointed to detailed testimony by the coalition group Baltimore Renters United, warning that the bill as written “does not include any guardrails to protect the tenant or prevent predatory practices.”

“A tenant who thinks they are purchasing insurance will be shocked when the surety sends an invoice for the full amount of apartment damages and unpaid rent,” said Tisha Guthrie, of the Bolton House Residents Association; Jane Santoni, a partner with Baltimore consumer rights law firm Santoni, Vocci, and Ortega; and Marceline White, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition.

“Imagine the double shock when the invoice includes arbitrary extras, like processing, administrative, legal and collection fees, not to mention interest charges that will compound quickly if the tenant does not reimburse the surety within a very short time (likely thirty days),” the three said in a statement to The Brew. “Imagine how this could affect a tenant’s credit record.”



Dwight Campbell and Nicole Foster, founders of Cajou Creamery in Baltimore. PHOTOGRAPHER: GABRIELLA DEMCZUK FOR BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK

Worker-Owned Businesses Are Having a Moment
by Lawrence Lanahan
Published March 31 in Bloomberg Businessweek

Excerpt: At a small table in an empty retail storefront in Baltimore, Nicole Foster pores over blueprints with her husband, Dwight Campbell, and architect Evan Wivell. For years, Foster and Campbell had made plant-based ice cream from scratch for their lactose-intolerant children. It turned out the public liked it, too. Could Cajou Creamery squeeze a production space and a cafe into 700 square feet? The architect was doing his best. “I spent some time in Rome in college,” Wivell says. “Tight cafes with three or four seats. That’s the inspiration—that and the scarcity of space you have.”

Sunlight reflects off the windows of a nearby vacant building to illuminate the blueprints. Baltimore is perennially on the cusp of revival, and Foster and Campbell left the Washington, D.C., area to come here in August 2018, lured by a thriving food scene in a majority Black city with an eager sense of community. With Cajou Creamery, the couple is hoping to build more than a business. A former criminal defense attorney, Foster never forgot the obstacles people faced after incarceration. She wants to hire returning citizens. “If we rise, we want to rise with others,” she says.



Will we stand up for Black trans lives, too? (video)
by Eddie Conway
Published March 30 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: Last summer, during what some have called the largest social justice uprising in United States history, the lives of Black trans people were ignored. While many rightly raged against the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, few know the names of Black trans people like Kim Wirtz, who have also been murdered by a racist policing and prison system. In Baltimore, trans activists from the LGBTQ organization Baltimore Safe Haven protested, demanding an end to police violence and an end to the erasure of the Black trans community. The Real News’ Eddie Conway talks to activists on the ground in Baltimore about their fight.



Abell Foundation report: Tutoring could help Baltimore students overcome COVID learning loss by building workforce of recent college graduates
by Marcus Dieterle
Published March 30 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: More than 70 percent of Baltimore’s elementary school students are reading below grade level based on testing at the beginning of the school year.

But a new report from the Abell Foundation recommends investing in tutoring services could help students recover from learning loss experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic — and employing recent college graduates who are looking for work.

The report, which was released Tuesday, shows that a total of 24,902 Baltimore City students in kindergarten through 5th took the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) assessment at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. Of those, 17,960 students — or about 72% — were found to be reading at a level “below” or “well below” proficient, while the remaining 6,942 were proficient readers.

The authors of the report credit the Baltimore City Public Schools system for their efforts to continue teaching students during the pandemic, but acknowledged that some students have faced difficulties with remote learning and have fallen behind their peers.

“Although City Schools invested the time of talented developers and teachers in creating and implementing remote teaching for students and distributed thousands of computers to provide students with access, many students still were unable to take full advantage of remote learning opportunities. As a result, many elementary and secondary students will be far behind grade-level expectations,” the authors wrote.



House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) held a joint announcement at the State House on Wednesday, describing coordinated plans to spend more than $3.9 billion in federal stimulus funding. Photo from the Executive Office of the Governor.

Hogan, Legislative Leaders Unveil $3.9 Billion Supplemental Budget. We Break It Down
by Danielle E. Gaines
Published March 31 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) announced a coordinated plan to spend more than $3.9 billion in federal stimulus funding to help Maryland’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hogan introduced a supplemental budget to the General Assembly which was the largest in-session change to a spending plan in recent memory. He hailed the accord as “historic.”

The governor and legislative leaders also touted the bipartisan nature of the spending plan.

“With today’s announcement, Maryland has once again shown the nation that people from different parties can still come together, that we can put the people’s priorities first, and that we can deliver real, bipartisan, common sense solutions to the serious problems that face us,” Hogan said during a brief appearance with Jones and Ferguson in the State House lobby.



Atman Smith opens a training session with a mindful breathing exercise

To End Cycles Of Violence, Baltimore Promotes Healing From Trauma
by Sarah Y. Kim
Published March 30 in WYPR

Excerpt: Baltimore City is undergoing a cultural shift in the way it approaches trauma and violence in the community.

As part of that shift, senior city officials and employees who deal with the public have begun undergoing required training sessions in what’s called trauma-informed care.

That’s an approach to healing someone who’s had a traumatic experience without re-traumatizing the person and acknowledging that trauma can be widespread in a community.

The sessions are led by the city health department and various community organizations. Members of the media were invited to a recent sample training, which began with a five-minute breathing exercise led by Atman Smith.

Smith is one of the co-founders of the Holistic Life Foundation, a Baltimore nonprofit that teaches yoga and mindfulness.

“We’re going to inhale long, slow and deep through our nose with that audible breath, filling our stomach up with air,” he said.

Before he exhales he counts down – not up – from five.

“Counting up can cause anxiety in people that you’re serving, just because they don’t know when the end is coming,” he explained.



Maryland votes to nix state song, a Confederate call to arms
by Brian White
Published March 29 by The Associated Press

Excerpt: Maryland lawmakers gave final passage on Monday to repeal the state song, a Civil War-era call to arms for the Confederacy against “Northern scum” that refers to President Abraham Lincoln as a despot.

The vote by Maryland’s House of Delegates comes after decades of debate over the song titled “Maryland, My Maryland.” It sends the measure to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

The governor’s spokesman, Michael Ricci, declined to say whether Hogan would sign the bill, because it has not been formally presented to him, but he noted the governor has said he doesn’t like the song.

The song, set to the traditional seasonal tune of “O, Tannenbaum,” was written as a poem in 1861 by James Ryder Randall. It was adopted as the state song in 1939. Maryland lawmakers have tried to replace it since 1974.

Last year’s nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota and other police-involved deaths helped to strengthen resolve to finally repeal “Maryland, My Maryland” as the state song.

“There was a feeling of enough is enough,” said Sen. Cheryl Kagan, who sponsored the legislation this year for her third time.



Animal Farm
by Corey McLaughlin
Published March 30 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: He speaks with an Irish accent: “Let me get the little one for ya.” And the man we just met, wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans, and sporting dark scruff, hops over a wooden fence into the wispy tall grass of the pasture, then glances down where his feet landed. He sees something glinting in the sun, a set of horse blinders and a bug net used to keep critters out of horses’ faces.

“I’ve been looking for those,” he says. “I spent 30 minutes this morning trying to find them.” He deftly picks the items up and places them in his pants pocket.

It’s a warm, late summer afternoon, and I’m holding my 1-year-old daughter, Molly, in my arms as we stand atop a hill, surrounded by farmland, at the Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture. My wife, Jamie, stands next to me with the stroller, and the sturdy Irishman, who later introduces himself as Jim, is off in a nearby field fetching a horse to show our baby. In the distance, four horses, two big and two small ones, are grazing, and when Jim gets about 40 yards away, he whistles to get the smallest’s attention, coaxing the white pony toward us, like he’s walking a dog off leash.

“You’re like the horse whisperer,” Jamie yells to Jim as he gets closer. To me, he looks more like Ray Liotta as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson exiting the cornfields in the famed baseball movie Field of Dreams, with horses in tow instead of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox. The remaining horses, two of them large brown and white thoroughbreds, follow the little one, their tails swooshing with curiosity. “They think I have food,” Jim says with a chuckle.



An Emergent BioSolutions lab in Baltimore.Credit...Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post, via Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine doses are delayed by a U.S. factory mix-up
by Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland
Published March 31 in The New York Times

Excerpt: Workers at a Baltimore plant manufacturing two coronavirus vaccines accidentally conflated the vaccines’ ingredients several weeks ago, ruining up to 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and forcing regulators to delay authorization of the plant’s production lines.

The plant is run by Emergent BioSolutions, a manufacturing partner to both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. Federal officials attributed the mistake to human error.

The mixup has delayed future shipments of Johnson & Johnson doses in the United States while the Food and Drug Administration investigates. Johnson & Johnson has moved to strengthen its control over Emergent BioSolutions’ work to avoid further quality lapses.

The mistake is a major embarrassment for Johnson & Johnson, whose one-dose vaccine has been credited with speeding up the national immunization program.



Todd Blatt with the replica Domino Sugars sign.


A Baltimore maker created a replica of the Domino Sugars sign, and is auctioning it for charity
by Stephen Babcock
Published March 31 in Baltimore

Excerpt: For the next few months, there will be an absence on Baltimore’s waterfront.

Letter-by-letter, the iconic Domino Sugars sign was removed this month after shining out on the city since 1951. The piece of Baltimore’s industrial legacy isn’t going away. Rather, it’s being replaced with a new Domino Sugars sign, which will have modern upgrades like LED bulbs. As the Baltimore Sun reported, the company is assuring folks that the look of the sign won’t be any different when version 2.0 is installed this summer.

However, with the sign being taken down, there’s something of a void for the community. Baltimoreans have attempted to fill it by creating memes as the letters were removed and tracking where in the city the giant icons will end up after disassembling.

Baltimore maker Todd Blatt has more of a more direct-to-Baltimore-homes approach. He created a replica of the sign, and is offering a chance for folks to own it by auctioning it on eBay. It’s a move for charity, as 75% of proceeds going to the American Diabetes Assocation.



Header image: Todd Blatt, twitter

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