The News: Hopkins’ COVID Map Prevails, Mosby’s ARPA Bill Passes Unanimously, Decarbonization Plan Divergence

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: Baltimore Tree Trust cut out of contract, Community Fridge heats up, immigration reform in Baltimore and beyond, and more reporting from Maryland Matters, WYPR, Baltimore Magazine, and other local and independent news sources.



Image via Coronavirus Resource Center

Some governments stopped sharing COVID-19 data. Johns Hopkins’ map is still going strong
by Stephen Babcock
Published November 1 in Baltimore

Excerpt: We’re still in a pandemic, and Beth Blauer still talks to Lauren Gardner nearly every day.

Gardner, a professor at Johns Hopkins’ Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE), and Blauer, the civic data leader who is the university’s associate vice provost for public sector innovation, are collaborating with a team that continues to run and grow Johns Hopkins’ much-viewed COVID-19 map, nearly two years since it was launched with the onset of COVID-19.

“The mission has always been to make sure that there was a trusted source, and we want to make sure that continues,” Blauer said. “We continue to do that with no evidence of stoppage.”

It means data on the spread of COVID-19 and vaccinations is still coming in every day. It also means the Baltimore-based team behind one of the top global resources to emerge in the pandemic is still working to gather, analyze, visualize and contextualize all of the data.



Executive Director Bryant Smith with Baltimore Tree Trust neighborhood forester Louis Middleton. (Fern Shen)

City nonprofit says it was unfairly disqualified on a tree planting contract
by Mark Reutter
Published November 1 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: The Baltimore Tree Trust today called on Mayor Brandon Scott and the Board of Estimates to reinstate its low bid for planting 3,000 trees on city streets.

As as result of a minor irregularity, the nonprofit said, its bid was tossed out, allowing the contract to go to “a well-connected, for-profit vendor from Baltimore County” whose bid is 69% higher.

“What is scheduled to happen at the Board of Estimates meeting on Wednesday is an outrage,” declared Bryant Smith, executive director of the Tree Trust at a press conference in Druid Hill Park.

“In a city that’s trying to encourage nonprofits and NGO’s to get contracts to do work in the community, employ local people and train youths, why would they turn us down for minor technicalities,” he asked.

See also:

BREAKING: Scott withdraws tree planting contract to well-connected Baltimore County company
by Mark Reutter
Published November 2 in Baltimore Brew



Charm TV / Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby speaks at a Monday council meeting.

Council passes bill requiring monthly ARPA spending hearings from Scott administration
by Emily Sullivan
Published November 1 in WYPR

Excerpt: The Baltimore City Council unanimously passed a bill from Council President Nick Mosby that mandates monthly reports from the Scott administration on federal relief spending during a Monday meeting.

The all-Democrat group expedited the legislative process to pass the bill faster than usual, after Mayor Brandon Scott announced $130 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding allocations last month.

“This ordinance just allows for more engagement of the council… to ensure that we’re driving as much transparency as possible to the citizens of Baltimore,” Mosby said after the vote.

The bill would go into effect 30 days after receiving Mayor Scott’s signature. Senior administration officials, who signed on to quarterly briefings with the council before Mosby introduced the legislation, objected to the bill, arguing that monthly reports would be burdensome on staff and fail to provide meaningful data. The U.S. Treasury, which oversees all ARPA spending, requires quarterly reporting from municipalities.



Illustration Jon Stich

Between a Rock and a Hard Place
by J. Brian Charles
Published November 2 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: Baltimore’s 190th homicide victim this year was a 64-year-old man named Vaseles Nettles. He was shot on July 19 in Forest Park, a Northwest neighborhood lined with single-family homes, blocks away from where many wealthier Black professionals call home. Like so many killings in Baltimore, where violence spiked in 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray and has remained high, Nettles’ death attracted brief media attention before quickly fading from the news.

That said, just as police found the man’s body, the City Council considered its latest strategy in beating back the steady pace of killings and shootings: cash rewards for any information that could lead to an arrest, through a bill introduced by Councilperson Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer. “Right now the clearance rate is under 50 percent,” Schleifer says, “so you have over a 50 percent chance in Baltimore of getting away with murder.”

That Schleifer would propose cash rewards, a strategy that has limited evidence of success behind it, speaks to the city leadership’s state of desperation to tamp down violence: People are willing to try something, anything, to stop the city’s record-setting pace of homicides—more than 250 by the end of September.



The Maryland Climate Change Commission backed recommendations to decarbonize homes and commercial buildings in the state, despite an effort by the head of the Maryland Energy Administration to block the provision from an annual report. Pixabay photo.

Hogan Administration Officials Diverge on Building Decarbonization Plan
by Josh Kurtz
Published November 2 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: The head of the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) tried to block a provision under consideration by the state’s Climate Change Commission on Monday that would strengthen green building standards in the state.

Mary Beth Tung, director of the MEA, had contacted fellow members of the climate change commission and several state agency leaders by email late Sunday night, just hours before the panel’s quarterly meeting, to outline her objections to the commission’s recommendations for decarbonizing homes and commercial buildings. Workgroups of the Maryland Climate Change Commission have been meeting for more than 18 months to develop standards for new residential and commercial buildings to be heated by electricity rather than natural gas and to make suggestions for retrofitting existing homes and office buildings with electric-based heat.

The recommendations were to be part of the commission’s 2021 annual report, which is due to be submitted in two weeks to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and the General Assembly. The commission, an advisory body consisting of leaders of eight state agencies, lawmakers, environmental advocates, business representatives, and other stakeholders, serves in an advisory capacity for the administration and the legislature and makes policy recommendations to help the state meet is greenhouse gas reduction goals.



A bird flies from its perch on what appears to be ShotSpotter technology attached to a building of the Southern Hills apartment complexes on Oct. 16, 2013, in Washington, DC. The neighborhood has ShotSpotter sensors, a gunfire locator system that reportedly detects and conveys the location of gunfire using acoustic, optical, and potentially other types of sensors, as well as a combination of such sensors. Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Baltimore City Spending Board Approves Additional Shotspotter Funding
by Brandon Soderberg
Published November 3 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: Baltimore City’s Board of Estimates voted to approve an additional $759,500 to continue the usage of ShotSpotter, gunshot detection technology that uses artificial intelligence to identify gunshots and reports the location of those gunshots.

The vote on extending the city contract with ShotSpotter surveillance technology was deferred last week by the Board of Estimates, after City Councilperson Ryan Dorsey and activists such as DeRay Mckesson challenged the technology’s efficacy and called attention to concerns about its surveillance capabilities.

Mckesson spoke out against the renewed contract last week, tweeting that ShotSpotter “is not a crime-fighting tool, has no scientific validity, & is not a value-add,” and encouraged Mayor Brandon Scott and Comptroller Bill Henry, who are on the Board of Estimates, to defer the vote.

“On their website, @ShotSpotter claims that they are responsible for a 15% reduction in shootings from the prior year. What’s their source? It’s the BPD Crime Reduction Plan that does not support this claim at all. Again, we don’t need ShotSpotter,” Mckesson tweeted. “By delaying the vote, you’ll be able to see more data that shows that @ShotSpotter is a liability in communities and not a value-add. Their tool is *not* a crime-fighting tool and, again, has not been proven to hold up their claims at all. Please delay the vote.”



A new refrigerator at B’more Community Fridge (credit: Rudy Malcom)

Food as a love language: Community Fridge gets upgrade
by Rudy Malcom
Published October 29 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: B’More Community Fridge, a popular outdoor pantry offering free refrigerated foods and other items to Baltimoreans in need, is getting a facelift before its first anniversary in November.

Installed earlier this month in the Greenmount West neighborhood, a new refrigerator features better temperature control than its predecessor — a hand-me-down from 1998 — as well as a colorful facade. On the mural, a vibrant yellow American goldfinch snacks on the seeds of sunflowers, a crop first cultivated by Indigenous tribes that now grows in a nearby garden. Shadows cast by the above trees become part of the mural, bringing it to life.

The mural — painted by local artist Jessy DeSantis, who draws inspiration from her Central American heritage — speaks to the Fridge’s roots in the ideas of activists of color.

People of color have had to build systems to meet their needs “because there’s not a system that shows up for them,” said Christina Calhoun, a co-organizer of the Fridge, which is meant to serve the elderly, people experiencing homelessness and anyone else in need.



Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Top prosecutors in Baltimore, Prince George’s release list of 148 current or former police officers with credibility problems
by Ovetta Wiggins, Katie Mettler and Steve Thompson
Published October 29 in the Washington Post

Excerpt: Top prosecutors in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City on Friday released the names of 148 current or former police officers their offices will not call to the witness stand because of concerns over disciplinary histories.

The “do-not-call” lists have historically been shielded from public view, but the prosecutors say a new law aimed at improving police accountability in Maryland allows the disclosure. The release also comes on the heels of an appeals court ruling reversing a lower court decision that allowed Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to withhold from the public a list of police officers with potential integrity issues.

The lists include officers from local, state and federal agencies whose credibility have been called into question, the prosecutors say. The majority of people on the lists have retired, were fired or left their police agencies. More than a quarter of them are still members of a police force, though police say most or all of those officers are either suspended, on administrative leave or on restricted duty.



Critics say the immigration court needs to be depoliticized.

Ex-immigration judges from Baltimore and beyond call for reform
by Daniel Zawodny
Published October 29 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: When Dania finally had her day in Baltimore Immigration Court, where she was appearing in hopes of receiving asylum, she spared no detail.

She recounted the painful domestic abuse she had frequently suffered in Guatemala, only to be surprised at how the judge reacted:

He wanted to speed up the trial.

“I was sure we would be able to win my case, but the judge didn’t consider all parts of my story,” said Dania, recalling how he peppered her with questions but repeatedly cut off her answers.

“He wouldn’t let me speak – he would tell me that I had to respond ‘yes’ or ‘no,” she recalled.

Hearing about the October 2020 experience endured by Dania, whose last name has been omitted because of concerns about her immigration status, John F. Gossart Jr. says she was probably a victim of what he considers an unfortunate reality – immigration judges who lack judicial independence.



When a Witness Recants
by Jennifer Gonnerman
Published October 25 in the New Yorker

Excerpt: For nearly four decades, Ron Bishop has had nightmares about an afternoon from his youth. It was November 18, 1983, and he was in science class with his friend DeWitt Duckett, at Harlem Park Junior High School, in West Baltimore. When the bell rang, the boys, both fourteen and in ninth grade, left class with another friend. They headed to the cafeteria for lunch, and, to avoid the crowds of students, they took a shortcut down a deserted corridor. As they passed rows of metal lockers, Bishop joked about Duckett’s antics back when they were in first grade. “We were laughing,” Bishop recalled. “And within seconds I turned, and someone had a gun in my face. And then the gun went from being in my face to the back of DeWitt’s neck.”

The assailant—an older teen-ager in a gray hoodie—reached for Duckett’s collar. “Give me your jacket!” he demanded.

Duckett wore a navy-blue satin Starter jacket with “Georgetown” emblazoned across the front. At the time, Georgetown’s basketball team was dominant, and the jackets were extremely popular, selling for sixty-five dollars apiece. Duckett was among the first students in their school to get one. His mother later told a reporter that he had bought it with money he’d saved from his summer job as a stock clerk.

Now, with a gun pointed at him, Duckett tried to take off the jacket. Bishop caught the eye of his other friend, and they ran to the end of the corridor. The sound of a gunshot echoed behind them. They kept running, down a flight of stairs and into the cafeteria, searching for help. Bishop remembers calling out, “Someone shot DeWitt!”

Duckett soon appeared, without his jacket, pressing one hand against his neck. Bishop later recounted, “I saw my friend stumbling into the cafeteria and collapsing in the principal’s arms—and that was the last time I saw him alive.” Duckett left school in the back of an ambulance, and he died that afternoon.



Header image: Illustration Jon Stich from Baltimore Magazine

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