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On Friday, Apr. 16, youth-led organization Good Kids Mad City Bmore held an emergency action to honor the lives of Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old killed by a Chicago officer, and Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old who was killed by police earlier this month outside of Minneapolis.
The action began at 6 p.m. in front of Baltimore Police headquarters at 601 E. Fayette Street, and was made up of about 100 people of various ages and ethnic backgrounds, some holding signs that read “Abolish The Police,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Konvict Killer Kops.” The group then took over President Street, moving down to Harbor East and back up through downtown Baltimore before ending at McKeldin Plaza, near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
Baltimore police officers diverted traffic as the group walked along city roadways. A helicopter monitored the group from above, occasionally shining down a spotlight as the sun began to set.
“We was just out here a year ago for this same shit,” one organizer told the crowd, standing from the bed of the pickup truck that led the group through the march. “So if your energy’s not really here to change this shit? Roll out, roll out. Because this shit needs to stop right here. Because [police] take this as a joke.”
As everyone rested at the end of the action, Rob Ferrell, a senior organizer with the group Organizing Black, reminded the group that city leaders will soon begin working on next year’s budget. Ferrell noted that a preliminary budget was released, stressed that Mayor Brandon Scott has chosen to raise the police budget by $28 million—more than was cut from it last year.
“We have an opportunity, as taxpayers, as residents, to give feedback in this budget process, and the biggest opportunity to do that publicly is this Wednesday, April 21, taxpayer night,” Ferrell, who urged everyone in attendance to sign up to testify, said. “Make your voices heard. Tell them you want to defund the police.”
‘FAKE INSURANCE’: Baltimore’s Security Deposit Alternatives Bill
Last week, banners appeared on and near City Hall, declaring “Veto Rhino: No Fake Insurance” and “Veto Rhino: Scams Are Not Freedom,” in protest of what is being called the Security Deposit Alternatives Bill (21-002), a bill that pretty much sailed through the city council (only councilpersons Zeke Cohen and Ryan Dorsey voted against it) and now just needs Mayor Brandon Scott’s signature. The bill, presented as a way to help Baltimore City renters who cannot afford to pay a security deposit in full, would allow renters to pay it off in three monthly installments—which few have a problem with—and codifies the option to purchase “rental security insurance”—which most housing advocates in Baltimore have a big problem with. That’s because “rental security insurance” is really a surety bond which can easily trap tenants in fees they can never escape.
The bill has its most vocal support from City Council President Nick Mosby and Council Vice President Sharon Middleton, and heavy backing from Rhino, a venture capital-support startup in the business of selling security deposit insurance that was for a time lobbying without a license, and has pushed these kinds of “rental security insurance” bills in other states as well (Rhino head of public policy Jordan Stein testified in favor of the bill). The Baltimore Brew has, as it often does, consistently and thoughtfully covered this important and kind of confusing controversy.
“We dropped those banners because, in Baltimore and elsewhere, tenants like us are ignored in favor of business interests,” one of the people involved in dropping the banners told Battleground Baltimore. “The city council’s majority refusal to listen to those who work with and advocate for us makes us wonder how to trust our elected officials. It was and remains important to us that the members of the city council and Mayor Scott feel our shame over a scam like the Security Deposit Alternatives Bill even existing.”
On top of Rhino’s involvement, they explained, there is the fact that Nick Mosby is currently being federally investigated along with his wife, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby: “Council President Mosby is under federal investigation, and he and Council Vice-President Middleton are out here posting cutesy fliers that call this scam ‘freedom’ and a ‘choice,’ as if it would be a tenant’s fault that they used a surety bond in the middle of an eviction crisis and can no longer recoup their deposit or retain their rights as a tenant as a result.”
The “cutesy fliers” were covered by Battleground Baltimore last week. These banners in protest of the Security Deposit Alternatives Bill were intended to be in-your-face rather than pleasant, masking the predatory nature of bringing the surety bond to the rental deposit with neoliberal rhetoric—such as renter’s “choice” and renter’s “freedom”—and slick design.
“We wanted to show, very publicly, our own images—ones that are not cute, ones that reflect the violence this bill does to low-income tenants—directly refuting that,” they said. “Allowing a hedge fund-backed company like Rhino to come into Baltimore and treat us how they like was not a so-called ‘renter’s choice’—it was a choice made for us, by some rather wealthy people who do not face the conditions we do.”
The bill, which passed on Apr. 5, could be approved by the mayor or, as the Baltimore Renters United Coalition and those banners that briefly hung around City Hall have demanded, the bill could be vetoed.
“It will only enrich even wealthier people outside of the city if it’s allowed to stand. We hope Mayor Scott will listen to us, attorneys, and advocates and veto this predatory bill,” they said. “Exploitation is not a choice.”
Public Safety Committee State’s Attorney’s Prosecution Policy Hearing
Members of the Baltimore City Council’s Public Safety Committee pressed Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby for answers on her headline-grabbing decision to stop prosecuting low-level offenses at a Public Safety Committee Hearing held last Wednesday.
Mosby’s policy, which would stop prosecution of offenses such as drug possession, trespassing, sex work, rogue vagabond charges, and more, will both reduce police interactions and, as Mosby’s office has argued, will not increase crime. The policy has been in the making for more than a year, but the timing of its announcement—not long after it was revealed Mosby was under federal investigation—has complicated an already-complex issue.
And Mosby has been on a bit of a national media tour lately talking about the change in procedure, while back here in Baltimore, city council members said they are still looking for clarity on what to tell constituents who are worried about the change and don’t quite understand all that it entails.
Mosby told the council that she plans to divert many cases that are usually routed to police to other community partners. However, there still seemed to be some confusion over when and where that would happen—especially in cases involving drugs.
“Madam State’s Attorney, I don’t understand the legal standard, because I’m not a lawyer,” said Councilmember Eric Costello. “But thankfully, an overwhelming majority of my constituents are not lawyers either, so they don’t understand the legal standard, and what I’m hoping to be able to accomplish is get some clarification around what will get prosecuted and what won’t.”
“My goal was to dispel any kind of confusion, so I apologize if I made it even more confusing,” Mosby replied. “The fact of the matter is that my office is prosecuting drug dealers. My office is prosecuting drug distributors. Any sort of network of individuals that are having open-air drug markets and are exchanging drugs, we are prosecuting.”
Hovering in the background of the conversation was the fact that Mosby is currently under federal investigation, which has made many skeptical of the rollout of this plan even if they fundamentally believe that reducing police interactions and arresting fewer people is good. Councilmember Antonio Glover asked Mosby how this policy fits into the discussion of police killings.
“I think when it comes to prosecutorial discretion, one of the things I wrote last year at the outset of the George Floyd killing is that prosecutors have to acknowledge and recognize that when we are prosecuting these low-level offenses that have nothing to do with public safety, for Black people and people of color in this country, that can easily lead to a death sentence.”
Dark City Beneath the Beat on Netflix
TT the Artist’s 2020 documentary “Dark City Beneath the Beat,” which puts Baltimore’s vibrant music scene on display, is now on Netflix. The hour-long doc features music and performances from mainstays in Baltimore’s music scene like Eze Jackson, DDm, Kotic Couture, and more. Also on display are city landmarks that don’t even exist anymore: notably, hallowed dance club the Paradox, which was knocked down last year, and historic Lexington Market, which is being aggressively redeveloped.
DIY artist and promoter Qué Pequeño said the film brings the kind of attention the city needs and deserves: “If there was ever a time for Baltimore to be put in the spotlight, it’d be right now. When it comes to the city people focus too much on our negatives, and it’s not that they shouldn’t be focused on, it’s that they have no answers. But nobody focuses on how the passing of our Club Queen, K-Swift, left this void in the city that allowed opportunists to run with our sound while our own natives were grieving over the past.”
“I think it did an excellent job encapsulating the different aspects of a thriving underground artistic community, said Baltimore DJ Ducky Dynamo, in a written statement. She added that this film paves the way for even more stories about Baltimore music culture. “It’s designation as a documentary, especially being the first for our genre on this scale, set an expectation of content that wasn’t fully met. As a result, the gate for further exploration into our community’s history and culture ALONG WITH every single character featured in the film is open. And that is a beautiful thing.”