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In the Media: Unlawful arrests during uprising; The limits of marijuana decriminalization

Baltimore police April 29, 2015.
Arash Azizzada
Baltimore police April 29, 2015.

A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.

From the Baltimore Sun: New lawsuit alleges police brutality, unlawful arrests during Baltimore unrest

"Six men arrested during last year's unrest — but cleared of all charges — have filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department, nearly two dozen officers and the state of Maryland alleging they were beaten by police.

"The plaintiffs — including Larry Lomax, a black 24-year-old Baltimore resident whose pepper-spraying and arrest during a citywide curfew was captured on video that went viral online — allege that city police officers 'tore apart' their constitutionally-protected rights amid heavy-handed enforcement during protests. Lomax had three charges against him dropped and was acquitted of disorderly conduct. Four of the other plaintiffs had all charges against them dropped, and one man whose arm was broken during an altercation with police was never charged, according to the lawsuit.

"In addition to Lomax, the lawsuit names as plaintiffs Albert Tubman, a black 45-year-old city resident, and Roosevelt Johnson, a 44-year-old black city resident, who both say they were trying to avoid the protests when they were wrongly targeted and beaten by police with batons.

"Also named as plaintiffs are Eric Glass, a 27-year-old black city resident and protester who says he was filming police when he was wrongly targeted by officers, thrown to the ground and kicked and punched; Andrew Fischer, a 21-year-old white undergraduate student at American University and co-founder of the news outlet News2Share who says he was working as a journalist when he was arrested for violating the curfew, which media were exempt from; and Myreq Williams, a 21-year-old protester who said police pulled him off a public bus one night after a protest and broke his arm before taking him to a hospital and leaving him there without charging him.

"In addition to Williams' broken arm, the plaintiffs allege they suffered a range of injuries at the hands of police, including abrasions, contusions, nerve damage, swelling and internal organ injuries. Lomax also alleges suffering burning and intense pain from being sprayed not with normal pepper-spray carried by officers, but with 'an incapacitating spray used to disperse large crowds.'

"Howard Libit, a spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, both said they could not comment on the pending litigation. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Brian Frosh, who represents the state in legal matters, did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.

"The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday, are being represented by the Baltimore firm of William H. 'Billy' Murphy, the attorney who negotiated a $6.4 million settlement for the family of Freddie Gray, after Gray died last April 19 from severe spinal cord injuries suffered while in police custody. Gray's death touched off weeks of peaceful protests and a night of rioting, looting and arson on April 27 that spurred Rawlings-Blake to institute a weeklong nightly curfew."

Full Article

From City Paper: How legal weed skips potential black growers and distributors and a chat with Kaitlyn Boecker of the Drug Policy Alliance

"In October of 2014, possession of under 10 grams of marijuana was decriminalized in Maryland and in January of this year, the Maryland General Assembly overturned Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto and decriminalized possession of drug paraphernalia. This means you can't catch a criminal charge for modest amounts of weed or a bong, papers, or pipes.

"This is a good thing, obviously, but decriminalization has not changed the disproportionate policing of pot when it comes to black versus white users. In 2014, there were 2,964 arrests of African-Americans for possession of marijuana and 239 for whites in Baltimore. In 2015, with decriminalization in place for the entire year, 475 African-Americans were arrested for marijuana and only 18 whites. According to a 2013 report by the ACLU, "The Maryland War on Marijuana in Black and White," the state of Maryland arrests people for possession at one of the highest rates in the country, arrests black people at higher rates than whites in every county in the state, and arrests of African-Americans increased by 5,614 between 2001 and 2010 while white arrests increased by only 371.

"This year, Maryland also began moving ahead with its medicinal marijuana program, though it will be delayed because so many people applied, which indicates the huge interest in this business that should propel the state to invest more resources in processing the requests but nope, it's just been delayed. Worse than the state dragging its feet, many black growers, processors, and dispensers are potentially left out of the business because the 2015 application to receive a grower, processor, or dispenser license in Maryland says a felony drug conviction is "an immediate disqualifier" and disproportionate minority confinement statistics indicate more of our black residents would be prevented from growing.

"An excellent article over at BuzzFeed last month, 'How Black People Are Being Shut Out Of America's Weed Boom' by Amanda Chicago Lewis summed up this absurdity quite well: 'For most jobs, experience will help you get ahead. In the marijuana industry, it’s not that simple. Yes, investors and state governments are eager to hire and license people with expertise in how to cultivate, cure, trim, and process cannabis. But it can’t be someone who got caught. Which for the most part means it can’t be someone who is black.'

"With that in mind, City Paper spoke to KaitlynBoecker, policy associate at the Drug Policy Alliance's Office of National Affairs in Washington, D.C. about the limits of decriminalization, the drug war's racism, and how and why weed should be legal."

Full Article

From the Baltimore Sun: Teachers union calls on school to cancel Donald Trump Rally; protests planned

"The union that represents most teachers in Maryland called on the Worcester County school system to block Donald Trump's campaign from using a high school gym to hold a rally Wednesday evening.

"'Donald Trump and his divisive, fear-mongering rhetoric have no place in the halls of Maryland's public schools,' Maryland State Education Association president Betty Weller said in a statement. 'Trump's eagerness to bully minorities would be unacceptable if it came from any of our students.'

"Liberal group Progressive Maryland issued the same call and launched an online petition that had been signed more than 500 times by Tuesday afternoon.

"Trump's rally is being held at Stephen Decatur high school in Berlin at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have already held events in Maryland, as the protracted battle for the Republican nomination continues.

"Carrie N. Sterrs, a spokeswoman for the school system, said the Trump campaign approached the schools about using the gym and is paying a fee of almost $5,000. The school system is aware of the calls to cancel the event, but Sterrs said the rally is still scheduled to go ahead as planned."

Full Article