The News: Baltimore Artist Paints Baltimore Legend, Hogan-Aligned Group Disputes Redistricting Plan, Tenants Rally for Rights

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This week’s Baltimore news includes: Drug paraphernalia decriminalization denied, the world unprepared for future pandemics, generational wealth woes, a new portrait of Baltimore’s beloved congressman, and more reporting from Baltimore, The Trace, Baltimore Magazine, and other local and independent news sources.



Jerrell Gibbs, “I Only Have A Minute, 60 Seconds In It… Portrait of the Honorable Elijah Cummings,” 2021.Credit...Jerrell Gibbs and Mariane Ibrahim

Painter of Elijah Cummings Portrait Finds It’s a Career-Changer
by Hilarie M. Sheets
Published December 3 in the New York Times

Excerpt: One Baltimore son has painted another.

When Representative Elijah E. Cummings died in October 2019 at age 68, he became the first African American elected official to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, where he served for more than two decades in the House of Representatives from Maryland’s 7th District.

In January, the congressman’s official portrait, painted posthumously by the artist Jerrell Gibbs, will be enshrined for posterity in the Capitol, where fewer than 20 of the hundreds of portraits there are of Black leaders.

For Gibbs, 33, who only started painting six years ago and received his MFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art last year, the commission has “changed the way that I look at what I’m doing,” he said. “It gave me courage that people want to support what I bring to the table and believe that I have value.”

See also:

Portrait of late Rep. Elijah Cummings to be unveiled at Baltimore Museum of Art before being permanently displayed at U.S. Capitol
by Laura Stewart and Ed Gunts
Published December 3 in Baltimore Fishbowl



Meet Prōpa, a social network to find and share houseplants
by Stephen Babcock
Published December 8 in Baltimore

Excerpt: When Pat May was searching for a particular kind of houseplant to complement the Scandinavian interior of his house in Annapolis, he had to dig deep into the web.

On blogs, forums like Reddit and on social networks, he found folks exchanging information, and in some cases buying and selling cuttings from each other. It helped because the plant he was searching for, called Pilea peperomioides, was in limited supply in the US.

But as he looked, he was also struck by the number of people gathering in these forums, and how passionate they were. People were willing to invest time into their searches, and ultimately spend money on clippings. Altogether, it had the makings of a community. But it was dispersed. There wasn’t a central place to easily find and exchange plants.

He thought, “What better way than to crowdsource this and if people have cuttings they can ship it to each other? That way people can get access to these rare and interesting plants a lot more easily than having to wait several years for stores to stock them.”



Anne Ditmeyer / Prêt À Voyager/Flickr

Tangled titles obstruct generational wealth for thousands of city families
by Emily Sullivan
Published December 6 in WYPR

Excerpt: Denita Barnes served as her parents’ caretaker in their final years, living with them in the Northeast Baltimore home they said would pass to her after their deaths. But they died without transferring the deed to Barnes and without writing a will — leaving Barnes to navigate their estate on top of mourning them.

“I really don’t want to think about when I pass away, but I know, one day God’s gonna call me home,” she said. “But I don’t want to leave that stress on my sons because it is very stressful — it was so stressful that I ended up having a mini stroke.”

Barnes is dealing with what housing experts call a tangled title: she lives in a home where her name is not on the deed. City housing advocates estimate that tangled titles keep thousands of Baltimore families, primarily in Black neighborhoods in West and East Baltimore, from qualifying for public assistance with repairs, prevent them from selling homes and make them vulnerable to tax sale foreclosure.

Many Baltimoreans dealing with tangled titles, including Barnes, who is on a fixed disability income, did not anticipate spending thousands of dollars in legal fees on navigating probate court and dealing with the Register of Wills to clear a deed transfer.



Black Yield Institute’s Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden. PHOTO BY JAISAL NOOR

Facing Eviction from an Urban Farm, Baltimore Activists Continue Their Fight for Food Sovereignty
by Jaisal Noor
Published November 30 in Yes!

Excerpt: A 1.5-acre fenced-in plot of land in the heart of South Baltimore’s isolated Cherry Hill neighborhood currently lies barren, its fields exhausted from growing nearly 3,200 pounds of crops for a community marked by disinvestment and a lack of access to healthy food.

After serving the surrounding neighborhoods for over a decade, Black Yield Institute’s Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden will no longer provide vine-ripened tomatoes, kale, squash, or other fresh, affordable, and culturally relevant food to nearby neighborhoods lacking a grocery store. In June, city officials served the garden with an immediate eviction order for occupying government land without permission.

Neighborhood residents, those the garden fed, and the farm’s supporters rallied behind Black Yield Institute, which administers the space and aims to build food sovereignty. They won a six-month reprieve so crops could be harvested and the Black-led grassroots organization could find an alternative space. This has so far proved elusive.



A syringe, spoon, and lighter on the ground. Stock photo via Getty Images

Maryland Democrats Defer Drug Policy Changes Once Again
by Brandon Soderberg
Published December 8 in The Real News Network

Excerpt: After Maryland legislators announced they would not be voting to decriminalize drug paraphernalia, the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition announced they were “grieving this horrifying decision.”

Grief is meant literally here. As Battleground Baltimore reported last week, for people who use drugs, their ability to use without fear of overdose has dramatically decreased in recent years, and decriminalizing paraphernalia such as syringes, needles, and cookers seriously reduces overdoses. That’s not speculation—it’s a fact.

Here’s another fact: There were over 100,000 fatal overdoses nationwide in 2020.

When it isn’t against the law to have them, people who use drugs are more apt to carry syringes and keep them rather than throw them away. Because paraphernalia is illegal, people often use drugs alone or in hiding, which increases the chance of dying of overdose. Cookers are not only for using drugs, but also for testing drugs—as described in Battleground Baltimore’s story last week, “They Want Us Dead”—which also reduces overdose.



Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) met with members of the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission at the State House in November to accept the commission’s proposed electoral maps. This week, the Democratic supermajority in the General Assembly rejected that commission’s proposal and approved a plan crafted by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission. Photo from the Executive Office of the Governor.

Hogan-Aligned Group Announces Plans for Lawsuit Against Just-Approved Congressional Redistricting Plan
by Bruce DePuyt
Published December 8 in Maryland Matters

Excerpt: An organization with ties to Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. announced Wednesday that it will seek to overturn the congressional redistricting plan approved by the Democratic supermajority in the General Assembly.

The announcement, from Fair Maps Maryland, came just moments after the state Senate followed the House of Delegates in voting to accept a map drawn by a legislative panel made up of four Democratic leaders, two Republican leaders and a non-voting former top staffer.

Under that map, crafted by Legislative Redistricting Advisory Committee (LRAC), Democrats would maintain electoral advantages in seven of the state’s eight congressional districts.

Many of those districts would be abstractly-shaped, in keeping with the long practice of both parties to maximize the once-a-decade map-drawing process for maximum benefit.

The biggest changes from the state’s current congressional map involve the Eastern Shore-based 1st District, represented by Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R), a Trump-aligned conservative. It was refashioned by the Assembly to pull in portions of Anne Arundel County, giving it a roughly equal number of Republicans and Democratic voters.

See also:

Senate Democratic Majority Sends Redistricting Plan to Hogan’s Desk
by Bennett Leckrone
Published December 8 in Maryland Matters




Maurice Wilson said his apartment and many others at Queen Esther Apartments have been without heat. (Timothy Dashiell)

Apartment tenants demand help from city amid mold, rats and no heat
by Timothy Dashiell and Fern Shen
Published December 8 in Baltimore Brew

Excerpt: Tenants at a long-troubled East Baltimore apartment building, rallying outside of city offices downtown, are demanding help for living conditions they described as intolerable.

“We have roaches and rats littered across the building,” one woman said, addressing about 20 tenants of Queen Esther Apartments (formerly known as Lanvale Towers) and their supporters, who gathered outside of the Benton Building near City Hall.

Others yesterday shared photos of black mold and described leaks, fire safety violations, broken elevators, cloudy tap water and persistent problems with the building’s heating system.

Organizers said apartment units are chronically underheated and get terribly cold during the winter.

“I haven’t had heat for about a year and a half,” said Maurice “Marty” Wilson, who has lived for the last five years in the building, located at 1300 East Lanvale Street.



Countries “dangerously unprepared” for future epidemic and pandemic threats, Johns Hopkins study finds
by Laura Stewart
Published December 8 in Baltimore Fishbowl

Excerpt: A new report from Johns Hopkins reveals concerning information about the world’s vulnerability to future public health crises. 

The 2021 Global Health Security (GHS) Index measured the capacity of 195 countries to prepare for future epidemics and pandemics and found that, despite the devastating health impacts of COVID-19, all countries remain unprepared.

The GHS Index, released by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, with research by Economist Impact, gave an average country score of 38.9 out of a possible score of 100.

No country scored above 75.9, or in the top tier of rankings.

“COVID-19 offers a devastating illustration of how poor pandemic preparedness and response can impact health and security at every level—local, national and global,” said NTI CEO Ernest J. Moniz, in a news release.

“The stakes are high, and world leaders need to act. Biological risks are growing in frequency, and all countries need more investment in durable capabilities to address these risks,” he said.



Spencer Platt/Getty

Baltimore’s Crime Plan Is Missing a Key Component: Community Buy-In
by J. Brian Charles
Published November 30 in The Trace

Excerpt: On a recent Wednesday evening, Jeremy Biddle stood in front of three dozen chairs spaced far apart in West Baltimore’s Robert C. Marshall Recreation Center and tried to sell a plan that city leaders hoped would finally break Baltimore’s record level of violence.

Biddle, a consultant Baltimore hired to help shape Mayor Brandon Scott’s crime plan, was holding the first of six community meetings across the city. City officials designed the sessions to convince residents that focused deterrence — a strategy that had failed in Baltimore twice in the last two decades — deserved another chance. Focused deterrence aims to reduce violent crimes by offering those closest to the front lines a choice: either stop the violence and accept assistance with housing, employment, and addiction counseling, or face severe legal consequences. Despite its history, Biddle assured Baltimoreans that it’s “a proven violence reduction strategy.”

What Biddle and Baltimore officials needed was for the community to have faith in the tactic. As he explained at the meeting, the Gun Violence Prevention Strategy would only work if people held in high regard by the young men and teenage boys closest to the violence could persuade them to pivot away from criminal actions that put them at risk. “The success of the strategy… hinges on the ability to deliver a credible community moral message against violence,” Biddle said. The city would need the community to help “co-produce public safety.”




Call of the Wild
by Lydia Woolever
Published December 6 in Baltimore Magazine

Excerpt: It is still dark as Bo Earnest parks his Toyota Land Cruiser in the Eastern Shore woods and opens the trunk to sling a shotgun over his shoulder. Through the pines, the first blue line of dawn begins to break along the horizon, and while he takes his time, readying his gear and calming his golden retriever, Ruddy, the plan is to be in place before the light of day.

Two hundred yards away sits an old blind—a wooden shed of sorts hidden beneath bundles of dried brush meant to blend in with the rest of the brackish marsh on which it sits. Earnest leans his gun inside and wades into the icy waters to set up a spread of plastic decoys, scaring off a few live birds that flutter to another pond on this 1,000-acre tract of land, most of which he has put into conservation easements with organizations like the Nature Conservancy and Maryland Environmental Trust.

Now, he waits, sitting silently in the blind, bundled up in an olive wool sweater and down-filled camouflage coat, listening for signs of life out there in the marsh. To the unknowing ear, though hard to distinguish, there are many, with perhaps thousands of waterfowl out there afloat on the Choptank River outside of Easton. The chatter of ducks and geese mixes with the chirp of songbirds and bald eagles that flit over the flaxen wetlands on this calm January morning—a bluebird day, as they say, unfortunately for Earnest.



Header image: The artist Jerrell Gibbs at his studio in Baltimore. Jared Soares for The New York Times

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