Op/Ed: Response to Sun's Article by Justin Fenton
This is our response to the recent Baltimore Sun article on the protests around the City State's Attorney's Office, Shomrim, etc. in hopes that you can print our view as an Op-Ed or letter.
Fenton’s article, “City prosecutor is focus of protests” an example of poor journalism
Shomrim, the Baltimore Police Department, City Prosecutor and City Government
WHY RACISM MUST BE REJECTED!
(BALTIMORE - January 30, 2011) - Justin Fenton’s recent article in the Baltimore Sun “City prosecutor is focus of protests” hits an all time low in its obvious attempts to discredit the recent protests at Baltimore’s courthouse. He uses inaccuracies and general distortion of what is, not even behind the controversy, but right out in the light of day.
In this day and age it takes mere minutes to fact-check sources through the Internet. Fenton, an award-winning journalist who covers the police beat certainly knows this. Yet his article employs both subtle and outright crude methods to unjustly discredit four of the community spokespersons involved in the protests.
For example: Fenton tries to impugn Rev. “CD” Witherspoon, a critic of the police department and prosecutor, by directly implying that he is misrepresenting himself as the president of the Maryland SCLC. Fenton writes that allegedly, Howard Creecy, vice president of the national Southern Christian Leadership Conference, says that there is no record of a Maryland chapter of the SCLC.
Rev. Witherspoon clearly introduced himself from the Baltimore chapter not the head of the Maryland chapter. But if the author of the Sun article checked his facts he would have learned that there is a Maryland chapter headed by Rev. Dr. Ruby Moone. At present, Rev. Moone is out of town attending a funeral and the local Baltimore meeting of the SCLC will be scheduled when she returns. Fenton could have also viewed a video of the Prince George’s County SCLC head, McArthur Bishop speaking at a meeting of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400.
So much for claiming there is no Maryland chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
BUT MUCH BIGGER ISSUES THAN POOR OR UNETHICAL JOURNALISM ARE AT STAKE
The storm of anger that has erupted has nothing at all to do with religion or even necessarily how one interprets law.
The issue is not that the City States Attorney or that Shomrim’s members are Jewish, anymore than a group like the KKK’s members are Christian.
In fact, outspoken Jewish critics of Shomrim stated they were ashamed of the group’s actions and wanted to distance themselves from Shomrim’s extreme racism. These remarks were expressed on email threads posted in the Sun.
What the events of the past several months — the beating of a 15-year old high school student from Northwestern Senior High School and the police shooting spree at the Select Lounge, a Baltimore city night club, which left a by-stander and an African American officer dead — have revealed is the deep disparity between how the City has treated different neighborhoods and the dangerous rise in racism and activity by groups that in one form or another are paramilitary hate groups, whether they function in the Arizona desert hunting down so-called illegal immigrants (really anyone of Latina/o descent) or the KKK in North and South Carolina.
These events have revealed the need for total transparency in matters of the justice system and the police department and it calls for full community control.
Fenton’s article is quick to point out that journalist and Examiner blogger, Giordano has allegedly received $8,000 in consulting fees from Council President Young (even though one wonders what this even means or implies) while he (Fenton the author) was not so diligent in reporting in this article that Police Commissioner Bealefeld improperly campaigned for City States Attorney, Gregg Bernstein with signs in his front lawn.
What protesters are angry about is only partially wrapped around these individual discrepancies, but has much more to do with the justice system itself and the deep economic divisions apparent to all.
One cannot help but speculate how different the outcomes would have been if the Shomrim group was organized out of a mosque. How quickly does anyone think it would have been before homeland security would have stepped in or that charges of terrorism would have been made?
One wonders, how many defendants in Baltimore city facing similar charges would have been allowed to travel abroad as Shomrim’s member, Werdesheim has done.
His status as a former Israeli Special Forces soldier has relevance. In Werdesheim’s former capacity he played the role of an occupying soldier pitted against the Palestinian people and was inoculated with the kind of hate and prejudice necessary to carry out orders in an occupied territory.
Would the reckless shooting spree by the Baltimore police happened in the same manner if they had been called to a wealthy private upper class club as opposed to a club whose patrons are mostly African American.
Would the police have handled the situation in a similar fashion?
COMPARING THE CONDITIONS OF LOWER AND UPPER PARK HEIGHTS
First it’s important to state that disparity and inequality doesn’t just manifest itself in Northwest Baltimore alone. You can find glaring differences between Guilford and Rolling Park and the Remington neighborhood and the lower Greenmount Avenue corridor.
Northern Parkway is the dividing line between lower and upper Park Heights. The differences in the two neighborhoods are so huge that you might as well consider Northern Parkway to be a huge concrete wall.
Lower Park Heights suffers from joblessness and neglect. Foreclosures and evictions have left vacant buildings and refuse everywhere. Absentee slumlords function with impunity.
So some might say ok, well upper Park Heights in rich and predominately white and lower Park Heights is poor and African American. What does this have to do with government or the city?
Aside from the fact that the supposed purpose of government is to protect all of its people and to promote everyone’s well being — and that much of this neglect could be turned around with an intensive jobs program, health care and other services -- there is painful evidence that upper Park Heights actually receives a form of strange but preferential treatment.
Many of us who live in Baltimore’s inner city have mixed emotions and reactions to the blue light cameras that have been installed sporadically in our neighborhoods.
We frankly protested them as another police incursion into people’s rights. We did not and still do not feel that increased police repression or locking up people will end the serious health problem of drug addiction in our neighborhoods.
The police department and city asserts that they installed these cameras in areas where there is increased drug trafficking and that the purpose of the cameras is to monitor crime.
We are sure that there must be some criteria to why a camera is erected at North Ave and Greenmount Ave. as opposed to none at 33rd and Loch Raven Blvd.
So what a surprise to find that there are blue light cameras not on one corner but on every single corner, of both sides of the street on Park Heights Avenue from Northern Parkway north to the city line.
How much does this cost the city? Are we to believe that upper Park Heights has turned into a drug trafficking area? Or is the placement of cameras simply a way of saying to anyone “who doesn’t belong”, as Eliezer Eliyahu Werdesheim pointed out to the Northwestern Senior High School student, that you are being watched.
Shouldn’t there be transparency on this issue. Who is paying for the cost of these cameras and who is doing the monitoring? Are our city police department spending hours and resources on this? We frankly do not know.
SOLUTIONS AND REMEDIES
The All Peoples Congress has called for a number of measures including disbanding Shomrim and increasing services for the lower Park Heights community — that is reparations for years of neglect based on the historical promise of reparations for those whose ancestors were victims of slavery — who never received the promised 40 acres and a mule.
Surely, there will be some who will immediately cry, where is the money to do this? How can this happen. We assert that if there is a “will, there is a way”.
Both Johns Hopkins and the Stadium authority have operated in the city for decades without paying taxes although utilizing the vast services of our city at their fingertips.
Johns Hopkins owns large parts of the eastside of Baltimore. Both are repositories of highly profitable businesses — in one case sports teams and food services and the other doctors and the medical industry. Tax them.
This is also true of the major banks. If the city had the will it could pass an ordinance to curtail the devastating foreclosures and evictions simply by declaring a moratorium; and it could tax the big banks to free up the investment cash they are hoarding. (Of course, there is little will within the political establishment to do this — and we have no illusions, only the power of the people themselves will change this equation.)
We are also sure that some will say how can Shomrim be disbanded?
This is one of the reasons we have called for the City States Attorney to file hate crime charges. But there are all sorts of other ways to begin the process. Shomrim has 501(c)3 non-profit status, which means that they can be scrutinized on a much higher level than a regular business, both in terms of their books and in other standards.
A similar group that operated prior to Shomrim was shut down because it refused to admit women into the organization. (Of course, none of this might transpire and in that case it might be more practical for people to immediately set up a “community watch group” composed of members of both lower and upper Park Heights of civil rights activists, union members and clergy, rabbi and iman to watch Shomrim.)
Any investigation of the police department and the justice system itself in all of these cases should be conducted independently by representatives in the community, for instance, parents and students from Northwestern Senior High school should have a seat at the table and the community must directly be able to have information and intervention in the process.
Some have called for the FBI to conduct the investigation. This is completely understandable given the distrust for local city officials. But it would be important to remind everyone of the role that the FBI played in hounding Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., its role in the Birmingham church bombing where four innocent girls were murdered, the infamous Co-Intel program, and the more recent revelations of racism inside the FBI against its own African American agents.
Malcolm X stated it best, when he said the “fox can not guard the chicken house.” This is true of both local and federal agencies that are riddled with their own scandals of racism and bias.
A very good local example of how the present system circumvents real justice is the Civilian Review Board in Baltimore.
Many of us including the All Peoples Congress were part of a community coalition that fought hard and long to curb police abuse in the city. One of the demands, along with community control, was for a civilian review board — but an important component to this demand was that the board would be elected. The City Council after months of being pressed did enact a Civil Review Board but the board members ended up being appointed by both the police department and the city council.
Once again, the “fox guarding the chicken house”.
What is necessary is complete transparency and community control.
RACISM MUST BE REJECTED
The real issues of implementing a massive jobs program that can put the millions of jobless back to work, the defense of pensions and social security, the fight for a genuine health care plan that will cover all of the uninsured, the immediate need to stop foreclosures and defend families from homelessness and even hunger — must be our priority.
When you trace the money behind much of the rise of racism, hate and division, you find that it comes from billion dollar corporations who benefit directly in keeping people divided. The Wal-mart family is just one example. They have given generously to help fund the tea party movement, the same movement that portrayed Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s' district in the crosshairs of a gun sight.
The press has announced that Weirdeshiem will be coming to trial on misdemeanor charges on February 15, 2011. We along with many other community groups will be holding a protest outside the court to demand an end to all racist attacks.
We urge all fair and just minded people regardless of religion or nationality to speak out and to be present. We are at a pivotal point: The events in upper Park Heights and in this case can a teachable moment and can mark an opening in the struggle for justice, or they can remain just one more example of injustice marked by half truths as evidenced in the Sun article.
Which will it be, Baltimore?
Sharon Black, All Peoples Congress