Baltimore Mayor Pugh and Laura Ingraham Go At It Over Gun Protest

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Baltimore’s police problems go beyond just a few criminals in uniform

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It hurts to see Baltimore cops turn criminal, especially for me as a former resident and police officer.

The conviction of two former members of the city’s Gun Trace Task Force on charges of robbery and racketeering does not end the problems in Baltimore or its police department. Six other members of the unit have already pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges, reflecting years of robberies, burglaries, intimidation and theft against drug dealers and honest working folk alike. During the trial, other officers were implicated in crimes. Baltimore City’s state’s attorney, Marilyn Mosby, who professed no prior knowledge of the officers’ criminal conduct, faces accusations that a prosecutor tipped off the officers about the federal investigation. Her office has already dropped or vacated convictions in 125 cases the unit had made.

This current scandal is more than a case of a few bad apples, though bad apples they were. These officers acted with impunity until the FBI caught wind of their actions through an unrelated criminal investigation in Pennsylvania. A specialized police unit cannot survive for years as a criminal enterprise without the implicit — or overt — acquiescence of higher-ups. Effective leadership could have prevented this. Bad leadership has consequences.

In a city reeling from violence and less proactive policing in the wake of riots in 2015, these officers were given carte blanche. When crime goes up, guns and drugs on a table are like catnip to departmental brass. Yet the same people eager to bask in the reflected glory of seized contraband failed to ask how such quantities can be seized through legal and constitutional means.

Major police corruption scandals — whether Michael Dowd or the “Dirty 30” in New York City, Rampart in Los Angeles or Jon Burge in Chicago — share a common template. Red flags should make identification and prevention easier. Often, corrupt officers will be highly decorated, rewarded for their arrests and “productivity” without regards to how they did it. These officers will have a lengthy history of complaints against them, both sustained and unsubstantiated. Complaints are not proof of wrongdoing, and active officers interact more often with the public, but claims need to be flagged rather than dismissed by higher-ups or paid for by city taxpayers. Drugs, specifically the futile enforcement of our failed war against them, will inevitably play a central role.

Corrupt units tend to be specialized and selective. Once murky rumors begin about a unit or officer, good cops stay away for fear of trouble. The corrupt and brutal cops work together, as I once heard, as if pulled together by some magnetic force. You don’t just randomly get assigned to a plainclothes “gun trace task force.” This unit segregation removes officers from the otherwise corrective influence of the honest rank and file. There is no formal colleague review in policing; perhaps there should be.

Honest cops — still the vast majority — avoid trouble, as any citizen should hope. The rank and file cannot be blamed for keeping their noses clean, especially when unresolved questions remain about the integrity of internal affairs and the prosecutor’s office. These officers in Baltimore were guilty, but the systemic problems represent a failure of leadership, the same leadership that absolved itself of responsibility by inviting the Justice Department to investigate after Freddie Gray’s death.

The final DOJ report, which had vague methodology and no named authors, provided the legal and political cover to invite a federal consent decree over the Baltimore City Police Department. And yet, not coincidentally, the investigators failed to find fault with any contemporaneous city leaders, nor did they get a whiff of the criminality of the Gun Trace Task Force that was happening under their noses.

Self-serving political declarations of “reform” can even make things worse. A more reactive policing model is partly by design of those who see policing as inherently repressive. And it’s partly by choice of police who want to avoid any action that might end up on YouTube and the evening news. It’s also become fashionable in certain circles to simply demand police do less, and then blame society and racism for any increase in violence.

In the year following the 2015 riots, indicators of normal policing plummeted. Arrests dropped by a third. Arrests for numbers’ sake aren’t desirable, but officers have reported a dramatic decline in car stops and field interviews, as well. As the saying goes, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” On the plus side, excessive force and abusive language complaints are down. So are police-involved shootings. But homicide and violence are up. And it’s not just Baltimore. Nationwide from 2014 to 2016, murders rose 23 percent, and increased in 55 of the top 72 cities.

As elsewhere in America, racial inequality has deep and racist roots in Baltimore. Discussions of violence too often turn to society’s inequities, which are indeed important, but not so much to day-to-day policing. Officers on patrol cannot wait for a more just or equitable society before responding to a citizen’s complaint. Police must deal with society’s cards as they are dealt. Every measurable socioeconomic variable reflects a very real racial disparity. And yet somehow, we act as if these inequalities appear only the moment police show up. Police can indeed work to end racial bias; society needs to lesson racial disparity. But in a society plagued by structural racism, violence, too, is racially disparate. Over the past 10 years, fewer than 6 percent of murder victims in Baltimore have been white. Calls for police assistance reflect this disparity, as does police response.

Contrary to a police-are-the-problem narrative, a nationwide poll found that more African Americans want more police in their neighborhoods than whites do. Just 10 percent of blacks want fewer police. And two-thirds of nonwhites have “a great deal” of respect for police in their area. Of course, “more police” and “better police” are not mutually exclusive, but the answer to bad policing isn’t less policing. Calls to remove police from the streets or scale back proactive policing are tone-deaf to those who live in high-crime minority neighborhoods. Residents of poor minority neighborhoods deserve the same level of police service and public safety that wealthier, often whiter, communities simply take for granted.

It’s both easy and essential to note what we don’t want in policing: don’t be racist; don’t be brutal; don’t violate laws and the Constitution. But this is only part of the picture. We need to tell police what we want them to do, and some of that involves forcing wrongdoers to stop doing things they really want to do. On a recent day in Baltimore, as is typical, more than one-third of patrol shifts were staffed by overtime. An understaffed police force is tired. Toward the end of a mandatory double shift, patrol officers will do little but answer calls for service.

We know what works in policing — focused deterrence, targeted enforcement on gun-carrying criminals and proactive policing that listens to community quality-of-life concerns, the so-called broken windows. What is falling by the wayside is proactive get-out-of-the-car policing that confronts known criminals and solves problems before a serious crime is committed.

Until 2015, policing and Baltimore had been getting better. After an excess of zero-tolerance policing in the early 2000s, Baltimore saw a sustained decline in both murder and arrests. From 2004 to 2011, murders declined from 278 to 197 while arrests dropped from 42 percent. People even began to move back to the city. After six decades of decline, the population increased. These civic and public safety gains reversed in 2015. Last year 343 people were murdered in Baltimore City, and the population and tax base is falling once again.

This year the police scandal is yet another black eye for a bruised city. Mayor Catherine Pugh, in a statement she later walked back, said she was too busy to follow the trial. The acting and presumed next police commissioner, Darryl De Sousa, is well-respected but will have his hands full. Corrupt police officers deserve special blame for committing crimes while in the public’s trust. But for a wounded Baltimore to rise again, city leaders, both elected and appointed, must accept their responsibility and get things done.

By Peter Moskos/Wapo

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Will Sinclair Broadcast Group take on Fox News after buying Tribune Media in a $3.9-billion deal?

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Sinnclair Broadcast Group Inc., the Baltimore-based company that has kept a low profile, will become a nationwide player with the planned acquisition of Tribune Media and its 42 TV stations, giving it a powerful platform to potentially launch a right-leaning programming service to rival Fox News.

The company, which already is the largest TV station group owner in the U.S. with 139 stations, has operated largely out of the media business fishbowl because it had no outlet in New York or Los Angeles.

Now, with the Tribune acquisition, Sinclair will have a footprint in most of the country’s major markets, spanning about a third of the nation’s households.

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Sinclair said Monday that it will acquire Tribune Media Co. for $3.9 billion plus the assumption of about $2.7 billion in debt. Tribune shareholders are to receive $35 in cash and 0.23 of a share of Sinclair common stock for each Tribune share; based on Tribune’s closing stock price Friday, that’s a total value of $43.50 a share.

WGN is Tribune’s flagship station, founded by the Chicago Tribune in 1948.

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Baltimore Is a Case Study In How Black Cities Are Not Being Served by Black Leadership

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What are Black elected officials doing to help their Black constituents? What is the purpose and value of Black power if there are Black faces in high places in city government, yet the old systems of institutional racism remain in place and the economic conditions of Black people do not improve?

The most recent events in Baltimore raise these questions. Last Friday, Catherine Pugh, the city’s new mayor, vetoed a measure passed by the City Council that would have doubled the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022. The move comes as other cities increase their minimum wage, in the face of a growing national movement for a $15 minimum wage and successful efforts in cities such as New York, the District of Columbia, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the state of California itself. In keeping with Martin Luther King’s fight for economic and racial justice immediately before his assassination, when he supported striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Black Lives Matter has joined the national Fight for $15 movement, as AP reported.

In a press conference, Pugh elaborated on her reasons for vetoing the wage hike, citing the need to “take into consideration all of the needs of all the people of Baltimore.”

What are Black elected officials doing to help their Black constituents? What is the purpose and value of Black power if there are Black faces in high places in city government, yet the old systems of institutional racism remain in place and the economic conditions of Black people do not improve?

The most recent events in Baltimore raise these questions. Last Friday, Catherine Pugh, the city’s new mayor, vetoed a measure passed by the City Council that would have doubled the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022. The move comes as other cities increase their minimum wage, in the face of a growing national movement for a $15 minimum wage and successful efforts in cities such as New York, the District of Columbia, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the state of California itself. In keeping with Martin Luther King’s fight for economic and racial justice immediately before his assassination, when he supported striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Black Lives Matter has joined the national Fight for $15 movement, as AP reported.

In a press conference, Pugh elaborated on her reasons for vetoing the wage hike, citing the need to “take into consideration all of the needs of all the people of Baltimore.”

For a myriad complex reasons, predominantly Black cities such as Baltimore have Black officials in power, controlling the levers of government from the top down, yet economic inequality, systemic racism, gentrification and institutional discrimination have taken their toll. Baltimore has faced years of economic exploitation, redlining and discrimination in mortgage lending, with banks cheating Black residents based on race even to this day. Police brutality against Freddie Gray and other Black victims has continued under Black leadership, as has the removal of poor Black residents from their homes, making Baltimore the national leader in evictions.

“I think Baltimore shows the sophistication of white supremacy and how it operates,” said Dayvon Love, activist and co-founder of the grassroots group Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, in a 2015 interview with Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC. “How it takes Black figures, puts them in institutional positions to give the veneer of justice, when really the same institutional arrangement exists.”

In Baltimore and elsewhere around the nation, Black mayors have taken different approaches to Black power and serving and addressing the needs of the Black community. While some mayors such as the late Maynard Jackson in Atlanta and Chokwe Lumumba in Jackson, Miss., were known for policies that embraced Black economic empowerment, other Black mayors have shied away from the centrality of race, while still others were sent to prison for using their position to personally enrich their bank accounts. Some examples include Sharpe James in Newark, Ray Nagin in New Orleans and Kwame Kilpatrick in Detroit.

Similarly, Baltimore’s leadership has been a mixed bag. Kurt Schmoke, Baltimore’s city’s first elected Black mayor, advocated for economic development and drug decriminalization and enlisted the Nation of Islam with contracts to perform security in public housing. A white mayor on his way to becoming governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley became known for zero-tolerance policing, including unlawful detentions, mass arrests for minor offenses such as loitering and denying elderly prisoners parole, as Think Progress reported. Mayor Sheila Ann Dixon was found guilty of embezzlement for stealing gift cards intended for poor Baltimore residents.

Once a rising star, Dixon’s successor, former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, was cited for poor handling of the police violence problem and the underlying issues of Black deprivation and lack of opportunity in Baltimore. She faced harsh criticism for referring to Black protesters as “thugs” in the wake of the Freddie Gray killing.

Even as a mayoral candidate, Pugh has faced criticism for not wanting to confront racial disparities in a city whose racial inequality problem, part of a national crisis, is often on the extreme end of the scale.

Despite the failure of some big-city mayors, placing the blame solely at their feet is tantamount to reciting the narratives of right-wing think tanks. After all, there are fundamental issues at play, including years of government-sponsored segregation. The exodus of capital and manufacturing away from urban centers has left Black Democratic cities with diminished influence, having fallen out of favor in their state’s political landscape and held fiscal hostage by white Republican state houses.

Exacerbating matters is the role of gentrification, which has hollowed out Black populations and rendered Black folks strangers in their own neighborhoods. The higher rent, property values and taxes that come with gentrification have displaced Black people as white professionals encroach upon these historically melanated spaces. How Black elected officials respond to these socioeconomic forces will make all the difference in how the Black community will fare. If the end goal is to cater solely to the needs of business with tax breaks and other enticements, making way for tech startups and hipsters, then the Black community will lose out. Black political leadership must manage change without leaving their people behind. This means seeking input from the community, making affordable housing a priority and bringing about better communities with improved services and economic development that all can share. Communities can and should be revitalized, but without the harmful side effects of gentrification. It should not take the influx of white professionals for Black mayors to care about improving their cities.

Circling back to Baltimore, if a predominantly Black city — many of whose people are in dire straits — cannot afford a minimum-wage increase, then how can the city grow if its people are left earning pennies? Baltimore is a case study of a larger national issue.

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Colin Kaepernick Is Righter Than You Know: The National Anthem Is a Celebration of Slavery

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BEFORE A PRESEASON GAME on Friday, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” When he explained why, he only spoke about the present: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Twitter then went predictably nuts, with at least one 49ers fan burning Kaepernick’s jersey.

Almost no one seems to be aware that even if the U.S. were a perfect country today, it would be bizarre to expect African-American players to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Why? Because it literally celebrates the murder of African-Americans.

Few people know this because we only ever sing the first verse. But read the end of the third verse and you’ll see why “The Star-Spangled Banner” is not just a musical atrocity, it’s an intellectual and moral one, too:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

“The Star-Spangled Banner,” Americans hazily remember, was written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. But we don’t ever talk about how the War of 1812 was a war of aggression that began with an attempt by the U.S. to grab Canada from the British Empire.

However, we’d wildly overestimated the strength of the U.S. military. By the time of the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1814, the British had counterattacked and overrun Washington, D.C., setting fire to the White House.

And one of the key tactics behind the British military’s success was its active recruitment of American slaves. As a detailed 2014 article in Harper’s explains, the orders given to the Royal Navy’s Admiral Sir George Cockburn read:

Let the landings you make be more for the protection of the desertion of the Black Population than with a view to any other advantage. … The great point to be attained is the cordial Support of the Black population. With them properly armed & backed with 20,000 British Troops, Mr. Madison will be hurled from his throne.

Whole families found their way to the ships of the British, who accepted everyone and pledged no one would be given back to their “owners.” Adult men were trained to create a regiment called the Colonial Marines, who participated in many of the most important battles, including the August 1814 raid on Washington.

Then on the night of September 13, 1814, the British bombarded Fort McHenry. Key, seeing the fort’s flag the next morning, was inspired to write the lyrics for “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

So when Key penned “No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,” he was taking great satisfaction in the death of slaves who’d freed themselves. His perspective may have been affected by the fact he owned several slaves himself.

With that in mind, think again about the next two lines: “And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The reality is that there were human beings fighting for freedom with incredible bravery during the War of 1812. However, “The Star-Spangled Banner” glorifies America’s “triumph” over them — and then turns that reality completely upside down, transforming their killers into the courageous freedom fighters.

After the U.S. and the British signed a peace treaty at the end of 1814, the U.S. government demanded the return of American “property,” which by that point numbered about 6,000 people. The British refused. Most of the 6,000 eventually settled in Canada, with some going to Trinidad, where their descendants are still known as “Merikins.”

Furthermore, if those leading the backlash against Kaepernick need more inspiration, they can get it from Francis Scott Key’s later life.

By 1833, Key was a district attorney for Washington, D.C. As described in a book called Snowstorm in August by former Washington Post reporter Jefferson Morley, the police were notorious thieves, frequently stealing free blacks’ possessions with impunity. One night, one of the constables tried to attack a woman who escaped and ran away — until she fell off a bridge across the Potomac and drowned.

“There is neither mercy nor justice for colored people in this district,” an abolitionist paper wrote. “No fuss or stir was made about it. She was got out of the river, and was buried, and there the matter ended.”

Key was furious and indicted the newspaper for intending “to injure, oppress, aggrieve & vilify the good name, fame, credit & reputation of the Magistrates & constables of Washington County.”

You can decide for yourself whether there’s some connection between what happened 200 years ago and what Colin Kaepernick is angry about today. Maybe it’s all ancient, meaningless history. Or maybe it’s not, and Kaepernick is right, and we really need a new national anthem.

By Jon Schwarz

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Black Lives Matter Activist Announces Bid for Baltimore Mayor

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Image: Time Magazine

Mckesson announced his campaign Wednesday night.

Prominent Black Lives Matter Activist DeRay Mckesson will join the race for Mayor of Baltimore, he announced on Wednesday.

Mckesson, 30, stepped into the already-crowded mayoral contest just minutes before the filing deadline, the BaltimoreSun reports. He announced his run as a Democrat in a statement on Medium.

“It is true that I am a non-traditional candidate ,” Mckesson wrote. “I am an activist, organizer, former teacher and district administrator that intimately understands how interwoven our challenges and our solutions are. I am a son of Baltimore.”

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Trial of Baltimore Officer Goodson postponed by Maryland appeals court

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Maryland’s second-highest court intervened Monday and postponed the trial of a Baltimore police officer in the death of Freddie Gray, potentially delaying for months the trials of all the officers charged in the case.

The Court of Special Appeals issued its last-minute order to halt the proceedings Monday morning, when jury selection was set to begin in the second-degree murder trial of fellow Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr.

The appellate court said it needs time to consider whether Officer William G. Porter can be forced to testify at Goodson’s trial. Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams had ordered the officer to testify with limited immunity, and Porter’s attorneys asked the appellate court for an injunction to block that.

Compelling a defendant with pending charges to testify under immunity at a co-defendant’s trial would be unprecedented in Maryland. The appeals court determined that it was in the “interest of all parties” that Porter’s request be handled before Goodson’s trial begins.

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