Policing in America 2020: Vestiges of Slave Patrols on Contemporary Urban ‘Plantations’

It was Negro History Week, 1968. I couldn’t wait to get home from school to tell my grandfather what I had learned. Papa, 89-years-old, still lucid and engaged, always asked about my ‘lessons’ in 4th grade.

When I told Papa that President Lincoln freed the slaves he chuckled. I asked why?

He said Lincoln hadn’t freed slaves. He said President Lincoln signed a paper that changed very little. We had heard stories that Papa’s parents had been born slaves, and how he was raised a slave even though he was born in 1879, after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Papa said since slaves were mostly illiterate, had no money, nowhere to go, and no way to get there, setting them ‘free’ wasn’t real.

Not fully grasping ‘slavery’ at nine-years-old, I got a bitter lesson in what it meant to be African American eight weeks later, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It was the first time I saw my parents and grandfather cry.

Living a half-mile from Baltimore’s downtown and two blocks from the 5th Regiment Armory, the staging area for the Maryland National Guard, whose heavy military vehicles and jeeps full of guardsman rumbled past our front door 24/7 preparing to repel the uprising that followed King’s death, was eerie.

The all-white troops with automatic weapons and German Shepherd’s like the ones I’d seen on TV attacking civil rights marchers looked ominous. My parents’ fear was palpable.

From my 3rd floor bedroom window I saw fires raging downtown, and heard sirens day and night, along with loud radio dispatches from the National Guardsman’s walkie-talkies. The evening news reports of fires, people killed, hundreds injured, and thousands arrested compounded my fright.

A white man had killed Dr. King and more white people were coming to kill the rest of us was how my nine-year-old brain processed it. These series of events and being called a nigger, threatened with arrest, and ordered out of the store by a merchant, fours years later left ugly impressions on my psyche.

These heavy-handed policing tactics had grown out of slave patrols, a more than 300-year policy of subjugating African Americans. According to a scholarly analysis on this topic in 2006 by Turner, Giacopassi and Vandiver, “the Slave Patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.”

Slave Patrol behavior continued openly as a legal police policy and practice despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Fast forward to 1980. On a cold winter night a guy I knew came by at 1 a.m. on a Monday to say my 21-year-old brother had been shot by Baltimore City police and was taken to University of Maryland Shock Trauma, clinging to life. My brother survived the shooting after a two-month hospital stay.

The police report said he matched a robbery suspect and was approached from behind by patrol officers with guns drawn, telling my brother to raise his hands. The report continued that my brother wheeled around with a gun in his hand and officers fired. The report concluded that a gun was found under a nearby car, without a firing pin.

The medical report concluded he had been shot 3 times— all from the back. One bullet through his left forearm, one lodged near, his spine and a bullet through his right thigh.

When my brother was released from the hospital, despite having no ability to stand or walk, police attempted to toss him into the back of a patrol wagon, Freddie Gray-style, to be arraigned for attempted murder of cops. I protested and cops took him in a squad car instead.

At the arraignment, our family was represented by a sitting city councilman in private, law practice. Our attorney asked the judge for a sidebar. After five minutes the judge dismissed all charges. Case closed.

“Members of slave patrols could forcefully enter anyone’s home, regardless of their race or ethnicity, based on suspicions that they were sheltering people who had escaped bondage,” according to criminologist Gary Potter, who further explains that police were empowered to brutalize the “dangerous underclass” which included African Americans, immigrants and the poor. Sound familiar?

Harassment, beat downs, shootings and killing people of color by police, who evolved from official strong-arm

enforcers of America’s overtly racist system, not surprisingly, continues because the culture that historically spawned such treatment was never dismantled. The urban terrain is different but the racist plantation enforcement mentality of many cops is unchanged.

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, native son Freddie Gray, all among the countless unarmed African Americans killed at the hands of police. Too many of us have personally lived these stories. Institutional slavery is dead. Slavery’s legacy is alive and lethal.

Oletha Devane BMA Artifacts Installation Equally Vibrant Artistically And Factually

World-renowned Baltimore artist and educator Oletha Devane is featuring a new installation, “Traces of the Spirit,” at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) through October 20, 2019.

Oletha Devane is featuring a new installation, “Traces of the Spirit,” at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) through October 20, 2019.

Oletha Devane is featuring a new installation, “Traces of the Spirit,” at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) through October 20, 2019.

The exhibition is a stunning collection of monoliths, totems and wall art meticulously crafted in very fine detail by Devane utilizing a wide array of colors; textures; paper; cloth; beads; shells; plastic; wood; metal; various-sized figurines and masks; and reflective glass, some materials ingeniously re-purposed, to create unique art well-suited for showcasing at a historic classic art venue.

Housed at the iconic Spring House, circa 1812, a former slave abode acquired by the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1932 and located on the western grounds of the museum’s campus, the one-room structure is a suitable metaphor intimately linking Devane’s assembled works to the African Diaspora. The Traces of the Spirit exhibition is further accentuated using light and sound in the installation, bringing the exhibit to life.

The sound of flowing water can be heard as if from a nearby river. The sounds were apparently recorded by the artist’s son during a trip to Haiti last year and are intended to signify the various river and ocean voyages that dispersed Africans worldwide over the last several centuries, as explorers and also as slaves.

The installation is housed at the iconic Spring House, circa 1812, a former slave abode acquired by the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1932 and located on the western grounds of the museum's campus.

Jourdan Taylor

The installation is housed at the iconic Spring House, circa 1812, a former slave abode acquired by the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1932 and located on the western grounds of the museum’s campus.

Traces of the Spirit is a must see. The uniqueness and intricacy of the individual pieces do not lend themselves well to written descriptions sufficient to describe their beauty, the emotional, intellectual and spiritual stirrings they evoke, nor the myriad interpretations one might come away with. Every individual piece among the installation speaks eloquently in a unique artistic voice that documents and reveals aspects of Afrocentric history, spirituality and mythology as precisely as any Egyptian hieroglyph.

Religion is a major theme in the installation with several of the works patterned after altars. There are subtler references symbolized by angelic dolls, Gothic-style images and serpents. Thorough appreciation of the artist’s imagination will require observer’s of her work to pay close attention to the detailed mosaic, which comprises every piece. There is magic in the minutiae.

Interestingly, Devane’s works might be viewed as “art” only because they immediately delight the senses and stir the imagination, a feast for the eyes and ears. Her works are beautiful in the way one might view ancient artifacts. Just like traditional artifacts, Devane’s creations are craftily engineered as sophisticated communications devices that happen to be aesthetically appealing.

These are major works of social commentary that have historic roots and contemporary meaningfulness. Devane’s skillful use of a cacophony of materials come together in a visually impressive artistic synergy displaying her keen creative sensibilities and her talent for weaving coherent messaging into works of exquisite art.

A sneak peek at the installation, graced by the artist’s presence, revealed how much historic symbolism is imbued into her individual works, identifying rich cultural strands linking the past to the present, while providing a more multi-dimensional understanding of both.

Despite Devane’s wide array of accolades and professional accomplishments, she may have been discounted in one-regard. She is an amazing raconteur. The anecdotes she shared about her father and other life experiences that have informed her work were themselves compelling and demonstrated an art form. Her work is the artistic equivalent of wisdom and knowledge imparted by an esteemed African griot.

Is The Black Jockey Demise A Precursor Of Where Pimlico Is Heading?

Imagine if your great, great grandchild was viewing some cultural data on the Baltimore Times virtual communications portal during Black History Month in the year 2169, and happened upon a surreal account of a time 150 years earlier, in 2019, revealing that of the 494 National Basketball Association (NBA) players, 370 or 75 percent were African American, compared to only twenty or four percent, who were playing in the league contemporaneously.

Well, you don’t have to imagine that this exact scenario has befallen the horseracing industry in America. In a 2012 CNN exposé, The Forgotten Godfathers of Black American Sport, Sheena McKenzie examined how the post-Civil War, pre-Jim Crow horseracing industry, then a nearly exclusive vocation for African American jockeys, had dwindled to less than three dozen riders nationally, of nearly 800 currently registered jockeys.

“Today you’d struggle to find an African-American jockey on a U.S. race track. Just 30 of [roughly] 750 members of the National Jockey’s Guild are black,” according to McKenzie’s CNN report. African American jockeys have gone from domination to decimation in American horseracing, representing only four percent of professional riders today.

As in other instances during and since slavery, when African Americans turned garbage into gold, former slaves elevated thoroughbred racing to an artform despite being conscripted by slave owners as jockeys due to the perilous nature of racing horses for sport in the mid-1800s.

Not only were African American jockeys the original ‘horse whisperers,’ able to harmoniously engage with their steeds, they were able to develop a synergy that allowed them to function and perform as one with a horse, effectively channeling their mutual energies toward finishing first— efficiently and consistently.

Moreover, the early success of African American jockeys was further buttressed by the expertise of their support crews, also African Americans, who bred, trained, conditioned and groomed the race horses. These horse handlers were unsung but just as professional, and integral to the jockey’s success at the finish line.

The very first Kentucky Derby Stakes, in 1875, was won by a renowned African American jockey, Oliver Lewis, at age 19. Maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise since 13 of the 15 jockeys competing in that race were African American. Fifteen of the first 28 Kentucky Derby Stakes were won by African American jockeys. However, the last African American jockey to win the Kentucky Derby was nearly 120 years ago in 1902 by 19-year-old James Winkfield, who also won the sweepstakes in 1901.

Twenty years after Winkfield’s first Kentucky Derby win, 1921, the last African American jockey would compete in the prestigious Churchill Downs sweepstakes for the duration of the 20th century. Since 1921, only two African American jockeys have competed in the Kentucky Derby stakes: Marlon St Julien in 2000 and Kevin Krigger in 2013.

Besides seeing a previously spectacular display of African American athleticism essentially stolen as many of the culture’s contributions have over the centuries, your great, great grandchild’s visit to the Baltimore Times history portal would also provide them a glimpse of the admiration, even if fleeting, that the larger society would have for African American sports heroes.

African American jockey’s success earned them cultural adulation and financial wealth comparable to today’s sports superstars. Isaac Burns Murphy the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby three times, in 1884, 1890 and 1891. By 1887 he was arguably the highest paid athlete in the U.S., the first millionaire black athlete and in some quarters considered the best professional jockey of all time.

Some estimates say Isaac Murphy won 44 percent of his races, while the consensus accepts his success rate on the track being at least one win in three. An anonymous sports writer wrote about Murphy at the time: “He has a steady hand, a quick eye, a cool head, and a bold heart.”

Not only did Burns employ a Caucasian valet, his purchase of a large home in Lexington, Kentucky was covered on the front of the June 13, 1887 edition of the New York Times.

The prevalence and good fortune of African American jockeys began to wane around the turn of the century. After 1900, the backlash of racism exercised through Jim Crow laws, and the lucrative lure of horseracing was attracting Caucasian riders who employed racist threats and physical intimidation to drive African American jockeys out of the sport.

There were frequent accounts of African American jockeys and their horses being steered against the rail, and sometimes shoved over, during races. Horse owners began to deny opportunities to African American jockeys less concerned about the riders well-being as much as their concern of possible injury to their expensive thoroughbreds.

Regi Taylor is a West Baltimore native. The married father of four is an artist, writer and media professional specializing in political history.

After Over 50 Years Of Failure Why Does Social Promotion Still Have Merit In Baltimore City Public Schools?

The evidence is clear. The practice of promoting Baltimore City Public School students to successive grades despite their apparent failure to master their contemporaneous grade level curriculum is abysmal, counterproductive and shameful.

Essentially, “Social Promotion” advances and matriculates students based on three loosely defined criteria: behavior, attendance and engagement. If a student displays no egregious or outrageous disciplinary conduct, attends school more regularly than the most truant students – an amorphous standard, and demonstrates an interest in learning or a rudimentary understanding of the subject matter, he’s ‘successful’, and moves on to the next grade or graduates.

A review of first year college performance for too many Baltimore City high school students graduating at the top of their classes will reveal that despite their ‘superior’ academic status compared to their classmates many may require remedial education to become fully competitive in a higher learning environment.

Unfortunately, the practice of Social Promotion is so old and pervasive it has created several generations of ‘professionals’ and para-professionals whose communication skills are not sufficient to master their own native English language. This includes a few teachers.

Current Baltimore students are sometimes ‘learning’ from teachers who are not sufficiently learned themselves to teach speaking, writing and comprehension as dynamic subject matter, never mind providing instruction that would lead the average student to a high achievement of language eloquence.

Baltimore students’ inability to articulate their native language fluently is further exacerbated by the long-time cultural stigma associated with communicating effectively referred to as “talking white.” This may be true of some of their teachers as well who have encountered that same stigma in their earlier development as they themselves ‘progressed’ through Social Promotion during their own Baltimore City public school experiences.

Over one million immigrants from every continent come to America every year to seek their fortune, armed with superb aptitudes, skills, abilities and education. However, without a firm grasp of the standard American English language they would never be successful. The language shunned as “uncool” when spoken properly by too many native-born Americans is coveted as invaluable by newly arrived immigrants.

Social Promotion does not emphasize the critical communication skills students will eventually need to successfully navigate the educational, social, cultural and commercial worlds that await them, in America and in the global economy.

Due in part to the shortage of entry level American workers with strong communication skills corporations have outsourced millions of customer service call center jobs overseas primarily to Central and South American, European and Asian workers.

Even though the current focus is on STEM— Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics— these professional paths are not alternatives for students who are not thoroughly fluent in English communication.

Whose idea is it— and why— to continue Social Promotion in lieu of sound, rigorous academic preparation, as the standard that has rendered generations of urban students incapable of competing in the world economy, or even in their homegrown communities as engaged citizens?

Why aren’t students informed that mastering their native language can open up a world of opportunity tantamount to the success of some of their favorite sports and entertainment idols. There are performers and athletes who will substantiate that despite their level of success as viewed by the world, their potential to achieve their greatest success may have been stifled due to lack of a more thorough education, notably communication skills.

The international language of business, English acumen is not only the ticket to local academic and professional advancement but a ticket to success in the global culture and economy. An examination of Baltimoreans who have completed their secondary public school education or have been marginalized by Social Promotion, will show:

*Less than 55 percent of Baltimore residents have a high school diploma

*Roughly 30 percent have a college degree

*Officially, 15.9 percent or one in six are functionally illiterate

*Median household income is $46,600 (U.S. median income $61,400)

*Overall unemployment 5.6 percent (African American unemployment 14 percent)

*Underemployment (regionally) 34.3 percent

*Nearly one in four live in poverty

While people on the losing end of Social Promotion might argue that the glass is less than half empty, there is an argument to be made— albeit ominous— that the ‘victims’ of Social Promotion make the glass more than half full for the rest of society, relative to how slavery functioned.

Not only will the undereducated not compete for limited classroom space and financial resources for college and advanced job training, and by extension prime employment opportunities, they will likely never compete for the chance to live in better housing or achieve home ownership.

Most recipients of Social Promotion, based on current statistics, will likely

become members of the perpetual underclass, the permanent class of consumers whose role in society is to routinely recycle money into the economy on subsistence wages and government assistance, profiting the merchant class and powering the urban economic treadmill.

For Baltimore students, and the city at-large, Social Promotion is a societal demotion spelled— f-a-i-l-u-r-e.

West Baltimore native, Regi Taylor is a married father of four. He is an artist, writer and media professional specializing in political history.

Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch’s Final Thoughts, In His Last Days, In His Own Words

Surrounded by loved ones, the State of Maryland’s longest serving Speaker of the House of Delegates, Michael Erin Busch, passed away on Sunday, April 7, 2019, after contracting pneumonia resulting from complications associated with a 2017 liver transplant.

Sworn-in unanimously as House Speaker for the 5th time on January 9, 2019, Busch, known as Coach by many due to his lifelong involvement in sports and athletics, was beloved and well-respected by political colleagues on both sides of the aisle for his conciliatory demeanor and reputation as a consensus builder.

Busch self-identified as a Progressive. He is on record that he was strongly influenced by his parents’ values of inclusiveness, embracing equal rights as a result of lessons learned during the height of racial segregation challenged during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s.

He shared with the Associated Press in a 2002 interview that “[equality] was ingrained in me from my grandparents to my parents and through [turmoil of] the ’60s.” Busch recalls two pictures on the mantel in his grandparents’ home— Jesus and Franklin D. Roosevelt. He said both his paternal and maternal grandparents “believed that Roosevelt gave average people a piece of the American dream,” adding, “I really believe government is there to give people opportunity.”

The Speaker’s advocacy for equality also extended to the LGBTQ community.

“When I first got to the legislature, he wasn’t somebody who worked against us. But he wasn’t our ally,” former Maryland state Del. Heather Mizeur said in an interview the Washington Blade.

However, after counsel with his daughters, Busch would become “our greatest ally,” Mizeur said.

“He was pushing marriage before it was popular or easy to do, and I’m really honored that I had an opportunity to work under him,” she informed The Blade.

As well, part of Mike Busch’s recipe for success in Annapolis perhaps culminates from lessons learned as a young athlete. In 1969 during his junior year at Temple University in Philadelphia, Busch set a record as a running back, gaining 185 yards in a game against Bucknell University.

However, Busch’s potential career as a professional football player in the NFL was sidelined by a leg injury. Before word of his condition became general knowledge, Michael received a letter from the Dallas Cowboys organization that read: “you are being considered by our ball club as one of our top draft choices.”

Considering that the primary roles of a running back are to receive handoffs from the quarterback, to catch passes out of the backfield, and to block tackles, it has become clear that Michael Busch exported his formula for winning on the football field and carried them over into the field of politics.

He took bills quarterbacked by his fellow delegates and maneuvered them past the goal posts into law. Important legislation that might be meandering in the backfield of political gridlock were passed to Michael Busch and scored. Bills that he felt might be against his constituent’s best interests in Annapolis were blocked and tackled.

Yet the converse is equally true. Mike Busch was not timid about crossing the aisle to support legislation from his political rivals that he recognized as beneficial to Marylanders. The quintessential team player, Busch earned a reputation for even-handedness in doling out committee assignments and giving fair hearing on issues to his Democrat and Republican colleagues, both long-time and freshman Delegates.

The forgone thumbnail of Michael Erin Busch’s career is gleaned from an examination of the available public record. However, a more revealing insight into Busch— the man, the person— requires a glimpse at his Twitter feed during the last 90 days of his life.

Speaking to everyone and no one in particular, these are random, honest, candid thoughts, observations and feelings of The Speaker:

Mike Busch‏ @SpeakerBusch Jan 9

I am honored to be unanimously elected by the House of Delegates to serve as Speaker of the House. We will work to provide affordable health care, a world-class education, and wages that allow working men and women to provide for their families.

Mike Busch‏ @SpeakerBusch Jan 21 — Mike Busch Retweeted MD House Democrats

Martin Luther King Jr. inspired me to get involved in public service. Today, let’s take a step back and remember the values that we share, how we are all created equal, and that when we work together we can accomplish great things.

Mike Busch‏ @SpeakerBusch Jan 21

We as elected officials have to be examples, for tolerance, acceptance, and understanding. We must be examples for civil rights and equality. tonight I pledge myself to do that. The annual wreath laying is a constant reminder.

Mike Busch‏ @SpeakerBusch Feb 1

Today is National #WearRedDay – We are lucky to have so many women in the House of Delegates who represent every corner of our diverse state. This month, join the

@American_Heart to raise awareness about heart disease

Mike Busch‏ @SpeakerBusch Feb 12

Proud to present my good friend Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones with the Cas Taylor Award for her dedication to public service and for representing the spirit of the House of Delegates

Mike Busch‏ @SpeakerBusch Feb 18

Our Democratic Leadership package speaks for itself. Strong support across the state for legislation to build a stronger middle class in Maryland

Mike Busch‏ @SpeakerBusch Feb 25

The oyster population is at a critical tipping point. This legislation is about protecting public investment and ensuring that the Chesapeake Bay can experience long term economic and ecological benefits

Mike Busch @SpeakerBusch Mar 18

Tonight two important gun safety bills passed the House of Delegates:

☑️ Background checks on all private rifle & shotgun transfers

☑️ 3D printed gun ban

Mike Busch‏ @SpeakerBusch Mar 26

I’m proud of what we have accomplished by passing this year’s state budget. It’s bipartisan, balanced, and with over $7 billion for public schools — it’s the most ever spent on education in Maryland

Mike Busch‏ @SpeakerBusch Mar 29

I want to thank my good friend, Speaker Pro-Tem Adrienne Jones, for taking the rostrum and guiding the House this week in my absence. I’ll be back next week and look forward to seeing everyone

West Baltimore native, Regi Taylor is a married father of four. He is an artist, writer and media professional specializing in political history.

Who Will Police The Baltimore City Police Department?

The State of Maryland Public Local Laws Sections 16-4 and 16-7(12), Article II, Section 27 of the Baltimore City Charter, and a 2008 Maryland Court of Appeals’ decision states unequivocally that “the City is denied, in the most positive manner, any right to interfere with or control” the Baltimore City Police Department (BPCD).

For more than a century and a half, Baltimore City has had the dubious distinction among Maryland jurisdictions of paying for a police force, in this case over half a billion dollars annually, over which it does not wield ultimate management authority.

The debate goes on over whether or not, why and/or how city control should be reinstated over it’s police department and has increased since the municipal crisis that was precipitated by Freddie Gray’s death and the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. However, a recent report published by the Abell Foundation, and authored by former Baltimore City Solicitor, George A. Nilson strains credulity.

Nilson advances the argument that the state of Maryland should maintain legal control of BCPD so that the agency can continue to benefit from favorable tort and liability laws that state agencies enjoy, which limit payouts resulting from lawsuits brought by citizens against Baltimore police for maiming, killings and other misdeeds.

“If the Police Department becomes a city agency, it would lose the protection of state sovereign immunity and be exposed to significantly higher damages awards in civil lawsuits,” opined Nilson in the Abell Foundation report entitled “The Baltimore Police Department: Understanding Its Status As A State Agency.”

Nilson’s position mirrors the explanation offered in a 2017 response to an inquiry from Baltimore Delegate Curt Anderson about changing the BCPD back to municipal control. Sandra Benson Branley, Counsel to the General

Assembly, wrote: “Making the BPD a city agency will result in the BPD having only local governmental immunity. Unlike state sovereign immunity, which provides ‘total protection’ for sate constitutional torts, local governmental immunity does not provide any immunity for state constitutional torts. In addition, the city could become liable for negligent hiring and supervision, which have lower burdens of proof than a federal pattern and practice claim requires.”

Translation: The primary objective is not to desist the harassing, maiming and killing of Baltimore citizens by police officers, but, maybe, possibly mitigate how many millions of the taxpayer’s dollars City Hall spends to personally indemnify lawless cops every year for “beatdowns” of residents, a designation BCPD accepted when their signatures appeared on the 2016 Department of Justice consent decree.

Really? People are being routinely brutalized by public servants who swore an oath to protect and serve them, and are footing the very substantial bill, while the perpetrators are rarely called to task (two percent of the time according to statistics), and supporters of continued state control are less concerned about loss of life and limb, and more concerned about loss of revenue!

In the five-year period from calendar year 2010 through 2014, the City of Baltimore spent $12 million in police settlement payouts and associated legal costs; an average of $46,153.84 per week for 260 straight weeks, plus hundreds of civilian lives destroyed. To boot, the average cost to treat a gunshot victim, most of whom are uninsured, is $112,000 according to Maryland Shock Trauma physician-in-chief, Dr. Thomas Scalea. Add this amount to every Baltimore police shooting victim’s cost to the public.

With 3000 officers, the Baltimore City Police Department is roughly the size of the Maryland State Police (1500) and the Maryland National Guard (1800) combined, providing Governor Hogan with a well equipped, heavily armed 6300-member militia under his ultimate control.

Could there be a future occasion like the Freddie Gray standoff when Gov. Hogan’s outspoken criticism of Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s handling of the emergency, and his not-so subtle, anguish about the level of property damage allowed to take place before police engaged protesters more aggressively, possibly cause a public clash for ‘authority’ over police command.

As an agency of the state government, the Baltimore City Police Department is ultimately under the authority of the governor. Could the governor order a more hostile crackdown against citizens by Baltimore police over the objection of the mayor? This option, not likely but plausible, must not be among any Maryland governor’s arsenal to quell a future urban insurrection in Baltimore City?

The arguments pro and con for continued state control versus returning municipal authority over Baltimore police have run the gamut of historical, political and scholarly rationales flavored by political ideology with no apparent consensus emerging that suggests an imminent policy change— until now.

A group of four Baltimore-based Maryland State Delegates led by Talmadge Branch, are pushing House Bill 278 entitled Control of Police Department of Baltimore City, which if successful would return control of Baltimore police to the city by October 1, 2019.

“I am confident, the mood is clear, it appears this bill is on track to succeed,” Delegate Branch said, authoritatively adding, “This is overdue.”

House Bill 278 was introduced and first read January 25, 2019, passed another legislative milestone Friday, March 8, 2019, and seems on track for ratification in the fall.

Regi Taylor is a West Baltimore native. The married father of four is an artist, writer and media professional specializing in political history.

Baltimore, State of The City: Connect the Dots

Baltimore City mayor Catherine Pugh delivered her 2019 state of the city speech on Monday, March 11, 2019. Her presentation was informative, identifying accomplishments like the new police commissioner; a 10 percent reduction in the murder rate; neighborhood investments; and free community college, as well as some challenges, including: crime, affordable housing, youth employment opportunities, and the cost of potable water.

One very important area the mayor was remiss to address is the problem of how to handle the thousands of ex-offenders returning to the streets of Baltimore annually. A major problem whose ramifications are reflected mostly in the city’s crime and violence statistics.

Among Baltimore’s population of 621,000, the incarceration rate is 1,255 per 100,000 residents, compared to 455 per 100,000 nationally, and 329 per 100,000 statewide. Baltimore City incarcerates citizens nearly three times more than the U.S. government, and nearly four more than the State.

Despite only one of ten Marylanders reside in Baltimore City more than one in three of Maryland’s prison inmates are from the city. Approximately 10,000 ex-offenders return to the streets of Baltimore City from prison cells annually. With a recidivism rate of 40 percent over three years, 4000 of these ex-offenders will be re-incarcerated within 36 months. This is a sad but dynamic paradigm for several reasons.

Young men are coming of age in a consumer-driven, bling-coveting, violence-drenched popular culture in neighborhoods of barren, scarred cityscapes, bereft of stable homes, well-equipped schools, meaningful employment opportunities, overflowing with deadly intoxicants, and a pervasive sense of perpetual desperation.

Consider those circumstances within the context of their anger for historic treatment in America as chattel, being considered 3/5 of a man, having been beat down or witnessed beat downs by police, and too many young African American men may develop a deep-seated animosity towards the world bordering on pathological.

Suppose these characteristics upon someone who is illiterate, unable to understand, interpret or decipher the world around him, unable to negotiate a store transaction, complete a job or benefits application, follow directions, or figure out a bus or train schedule.

For those who somehow make their way without resulting to law breaking, without new resources, improved environment or drastic intervention the chances are successive generations of their families and communities will devolve into the same morass of poverty, ignorance, drug and alcohol dependence, and possible violence and criminality.

“Eighty-five percent of all juveniles who come into the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate. So are 60 percent of all prison inmates. Inmates have a 16 percent chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70 percent for those who receive no help,” according to invisiblechild.org.

While this scenario describes an incubating subculture that is antithetical to the dominant American culture, the converse is happening at the same time, in the same place, exacerbating already dire circumstances.

Ex-offenders are not only competing with thousands of other ex-offenders for scarce resources, they are competing with tens of thousands more undereducated, uneducated and/or illiterate residents with no criminal backgrounds for those same resources. Worst of all perhaps, thousands of ex-offenders are returning to Baltimore communities annually, bringing the prison culture with them.

An already violent street culture is being infiltrated with a higher level of viciousness, imbued with the ferocious creed of prison gangs, onto Baltimore’s streets. The revolving prison and street cultures are evolving as two edges of the same deadly blade holding Baltimore captive to steadily increasing mayhem. Michael Harrison cannot police his way out of this alone. It will require everyone.

Regi Taylor is a West Baltimore native. The married father of four is an artist, writer and media professional specializing in politics & history. Regi encourages your feedback on his opinions and will respond in print to ALL replies that do not use vulgarity or profanity. Contact: rtaylor@btimes.com

New Baltimore City Health Commissioner Takes Over This Month

“We are fortunate to have attracted a candidate of Dr. [Letitia] Dzirasa’s caliber and broad experience to advance our agenda to improve the health prospects of all Baltimore residents,” Mayor Catherine Pugh announced as she introduced Baltimore’s newest city Health Commissioner.

Dr. Letitia Dzirasa will take over the nation’s oldest continuously-operating municipal health department this month, established in 1793, overseeing a department of 800-plus employees and a $150 million annual budget.

Dr. Dzirasa, a pediatrician by training, earned her doctorate of medicine from Meharry Medical College in Tennessee and did her residency at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Most recently she worked as “health innovation officer” at a Baltimore-based software company, Fearless Solutions, which she founded with her husband, Delali. Dzirasa was formerly director of the Baltimore Medical System. As a pediatric specialist, her expertise will well serve Baltimore’s 130,000 youth under 18.

Dr. Dzirasa’s leadership role at the Baltimore Medical System was a precursor to her elevation to lead the Health Department. During her tenure, the doctor oversaw a substantial health and medical organization that employed 350 personnel and serviced more than 45,000 patients.

The Baltimore Medical System morphed from four existing City Health Department clinics in East Baltimore in 1984, transferred to the community-based, independent non-profit System’s management, which has since grown to six locations.

Designated as a school-based community health provider since 1987, Dr. Dzirasa, in her former post, administered services to eight public schools, elementary through high school, across seven city zip codes.

The Baltimore City Health Department has established behavioral health as its number one priority with the focus on attacking the Opiod epidemic. Baltimore has arguably the highest rate of heroin use and overdoses in the country, exacerbated by Fentanyl, and outpaces murder as a cause of annual deaths in the city.

Dr. Dzirasa faces one of the most challenging caseloads of any big city health department. Here is a snapshot of municipal health and health-related crises awaiting the new commissioner when she assumes office this month:

  • • 30 percent of children in Baltimore have Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) scores of 2 or more, meaning that they have experienced more than two incidences of events such as domestic violence, living with someone with an alcohol/drug problem, the death of a parent, or being a victim/witness of neighborhood violence
  • • Leading causes of death in Baltimore City are heart disease, cancer, stroke, accidents, and chronic lower respiratory diseases
  • • Life expectancy differs by up to 20 years between city neighborhoods
  • • Baltimore’s HIV diagnosis rate is more than twice that of the state—57.93 versus 24.64 per 100,000 residents
  • • African Americans constitute 63 percent of the City’s population but account for more than 83 percent of those living with HIV in the City
  • • One in three high school students is either obese or overweight
  • • Less than half of middle school students have access to breakfast on a daily basis
  • • Asthma-induced emergency department (ED) visit rate is three times the state rate
  • • 12.3 percent of babies born in the city are low birthweight, compared to the
  • national average of 8 percent
  • • 23 percent of adults living in Baltimore are current smokers, compared to a state average of 15 percent
  • • 11 percent of Baltimore City residents (aged 12 or older) are estimated to abuse and/or be dependent on illicit drugs or alcohol
  • • There are approximately 20,000 active heroin users in Baltimore City

Dr. Dzirasa takes over as Baltimore City Health Commissioner from Dr. Leana Wen, who left this post to become president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Pseudo Tough Guys Can’t Rattle Calm Collected Cummings

Kenan Thompson is a world-class professional funny man. The longest serving cast member of 45-year-old Saturday Night Live is a proven comedic quantity with the awards, credits and pay grade to prove it.

However, despite his best attempts, Thompson struggled to get more than a grin or chuckle from viewers during last Saturday’s show when he labored to convincingly channel Baltimore Congressman Elijah Cummings as a caricature.

The Saturday Night Live skit featured Representative Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, presiding over the hearing of President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen.

Although Thompson’s superb makeup job uncannily transformed him into Cummings visually, he could not quite transcend the congressman’s serious, commanding demeanor into raw humor.

Thompson’s ability to mimic some of the great contemporary pop-culture characters of our time in his 15-year SNL career precedes him, but when the subject was Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore the complexity, intensity, and depth of this particular man overshadowed attempts to portray him as the butt of lighthearted humor.

Despite a couple of amusing wisecracks from Kenan’s Cummings persona, anyone familiar with the congressman’s actual countenance would clearly recognize the comedian’s relatively no-nonsense exhibition being more comparable to the actual committee chairman who wielded authority at the outset of last Wednesday’s televised Capitol Hill proceeding.

Republican Oversight Committee member, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, tried an abrupt bullying tactic to postpone the Cohen hearing before it started, followed-up with aggressive maneuvering by Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, Ranking Republican member, in an apparently scripted tough-guy intimidation ruse that backfired when street-savvy Cummings, quickly recognizing an attempt to punk him, called for a procedural vote that shot down the Republican’s weak pseudo-thug strategy without a second thought— and without losing his Baltimore cool.

Although Congressman Cummings’ hearing was conducted by-the-book without partisan grandstanding or malice, it was equally clear he was no pushover. Cummings was carefully chosen for this committee chairmanship, leapfrogging over another Democrat who exceeded his seniority on Oversight, to command the chair.

New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney with three years congressional seniority over Cummings campaigned for the top spot with the support of the immediate past Democratic chair, Edolphus Towns, also from New York.

Media consensus suggests that congressional leadership chose Cummings in 2011, as a stronger counter against powerful incoming Republican oversight chair, Darryl Issa of California, whom it was believed would attempt to wreak partisan havoc on the Obama Administration.

Despite Kenan Thompson’s best effort, the Elijah Cummings who coolly resisted and prevailed over the Republican’s political sleight-of-hand at the beginning of the Cohen hearing, and subsequent attempts to coerce him, found its way into Saturday night’s comedy sketch.

A champion of the moral principles of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which were honed and fortified by his Apostolic preacher-father’s religious teachings, Cummings reverent, judicious demeanor could not be upstaged even by a skillful comic like Thompson.

For these reasons it should be no surprise that while Cummings overall performance as the hearing’s chair was given plaudits because he maintained decorum and civility, it was his closing remarks that garnered the most praise.

Rep. Cummings never lost sight of the big picture. He advised the hearing that this too shall pass. That the country must pull together to overcome the current national political crisis in a way that assures Democracy will prevail intact. Cummings refrain, “We’re better than that!” as Americans, strongly reverberated throughout the media and political circles.

Despite the seemingly no holds barred disrespect and the demeaning conduct Democrats suffered at the hands of Republicans these last two years while the GOP controlled the House, this very first oversight hearing under Democratic control was run with fairness, even-handedness and congeniality under Elijah Cummings leadership.

Baltimore voters who have sent Elijah Cummings to Capitol Hill 12 times know the measure of the man. Yes, he smiles. He has a keen sense of humor and a very hearty laugh. However, when he presents legislation, votes on a bill or gavels his committee into session, he is all business.

In fact, the Center for Effective Lawmaking (CEL), just last week ranked Congressman Elijah E. Cummings second for effectiveness among all House Democratic lawmakers, 196 members, for the 115th Congress (2017 – 2018 session).

Regi Taylor is a West Baltimore native. The married father of four is an artist, writer and media professional specializing in political history.

2020: End Of beginning Of Equality Or Beginning Of End Of Hate In America?

As America concludes its 43rd Black History Month, we are 60 days into the 400th year since enslaved Africans were brought in chains to the Land of the Free. It should come as no surprise that African Americans are currently facing a struggle for full emancipation as vital as any time since slavery. Only in the last two generations have African Americans enjoyed any semblance of the freedom enjoyed by Caucasians after 250 years of slavery and a century of Apartheid, Jim Crow.

Were it not for the intestinal fortitude and all-or-nothing-at-all determination African Americans brought to the Civil Rights movement 50 years ago Jim Crow, or worse, might still be the law of this land. It was never the intention of the 1960’s American power elite to capitulate on the issue of equal rights for African Americans, then, now or ever.

In the intervening years between the civil rights crusade and now the cultural table turned 180 degrees in America.

The cries, pleas and prayers of African Americans for racial justice transformed to an African American on the Supreme Court dispensing justice, and others who’d become captains of industry, renowned academicians, artists, scientists, religious and political leaders, and idolized multimillionaire athletes and entertainers.

On the other hand, the in-your-face, vociferous champions of a “white only” privileged America went mostly underground with their politics and became more subtle and strategic in their racism.

Thanks to the “Make America Great Again” movement it has become racial reckoning time in America. Not only have the former champions of Jim Crow become fed up with the societal strides of African Americans, the increasing browning of the U.S. population with non-Caucasian immigrants, and the ultimate signal of America’s impending doom— the election of Barack Obama, the prospect of permanent loss of Caucasian preeminence in America has emboldened some to take drastic measures.

Despite all the gains made since MLKJ was martyrd a half-century ago, African Americans continue to be complicit in maintaining the perception of their second class citizenship compared to Caucasians, through the acceptance and perpetuation of the labels, ‘blacks’ and ‘minorities.’

The term “blacks” is antebellum and derogatory, defining Africans as subjugated and inferior. “Whites” on the other hand symbolizes superiority and privilege.

These terms create an artificial dichotomy between the races that is stark, extreme and impossible to bridge because their connotations are so deeply entrenched in our psyches and in the historic American caste system that despite our slowly evolving appreciation for each other’s shared humanity the intrinsic, subconscious identification of skin color repels our attempts to expedite racial and social equilibrium.

While it would represent a monumental step toward improved race relations to suspend the use of centuries-old terminology whose original application was to describe America’s “superior” versus “inferior” populations, this only applies to African American and other non-Caucasians who use these labels because of longstanding indoctrination, and Caucasians who’ve been equally socially conditioned.

While it is true most Republican politicians have been lockstep with Trump, the blackface scandals of prominent Democratic politicians is likely only the tip of the iceberg of bigotry among so-called liberals. It is true that some abolitionists who vehemently opposed slavery believed in the inferiority of Africans to Caucasians and did not support racial equality in any regard.

Although it may appear Donald Trump is leading a movement, he is actually a not-very-astute front man chosen by a movement to resuscitate white supremacy in America. Trump is a symptom, not the source of an America that wants to be great…again.

Every four years it is said this is the most consequential presidential election of our time. Well, 2020 may actually be that proverbial “most consequential” election.

Never mind Jim Crow, Charlottesville, and other places where violent protests and threats have accompanied attempts to remove Confederate symbolisms make it clear America would be great again for some if slavery still existed.

Jefferson Davis-inspired “nationalists” extend far beyond the South.

Hovering just under 40 percent of America’s voting population, most MAGA stalwarts want nothing less than to reclaim the America that existed before Civil Rights.

Original indigenous “Americans” notwithstanding, and except for the original European settlers, African Americans themselves are indigenous to America, a hybrid race existing nowhere else on this planet.

Yet despite being uniquely, distinctly and unarguably American their right to be here and enjoy the fruits of 400 years of free labor as builders of this nation they continue to be beguiled, exploited and denigrated.

Hatred towards Africans and other non-Caucasians in America, including 250 tears of slavery, will not allow this country to heal until there is an honest conversation about hate. Healing must take place or this country could implode. No amount of wealth or high-sounding ideals alone will rescue this republic.

The beast of hatred has been overfed for too long in America. There must be a catharsis. No outside threat or geopolitical foe poses a greater risk to the stability of the United States of America.

Regi Taylor is a West Baltimore native. The married father of four is an artist, writer and media professional specializing in political history.