By Evan Serpick
The jury in the trial of William Porter has begun deliberations. No doubt, it’s a case that’s been closely watched by many Baltimoreans, and any outcome will certainly be talked about and debated, as it should be.
But many observers, particularly police, school administrators and some media outlets, seem intent on creating an unwarranted level of fear and hysteria which, intentionally or not, may lay the groundwork for a heavy-handed response to any protests, as we saw with the shutdown of the Mondawmin bus terminal in April.
The Baltimore Police Department canceled leave for all officers ahead of jury deliberations and the Anne Arundel County police were seen staging in full riot gear in Druid Hill Park today, much as Baltimore police did at Mondawmin on April 27.
Baltimore city schools CEO Gregory Thornton sent a letter to all city schools parents and the broader community in which he said he was “very concerned about the possibility of civil disorders” and said that “student walkouts, vandalism, civil disorder, and any form of violence are not acceptable under circumstances and that students who participate in such behaviors will face consequences.” (OSI-Baltimore issued a response to the letter earlier today.)
The letter stokes fears and specifically recalls the preemptive measures Dr. Thornton took in response to rumors of a “purge” on April 27, measures that many say were a major factor in instigating the unrest that followed. What’s worse, the letter lumps legitimate forms of protest like walkouts and civil disorder with violence and vandalism, which seems to establish ground rules that allow school police to arrest students for protesting. City Bloc and the ACLU are among the many groups that joined OSI-Baltimore in calling out the letter as an attack on students’ first amendment rights. Porter’s lawyers used the letter to request a mistrial and change of venue for the trial, a request the judge denied.
In addition, Baltimore County schools released a memo postponing or cancelling in trips to Baltimore City for the rest of the week, before any sign of danger, violence, or even protests. Harford and Howard county schools have reportedly followed suit.
And several media outlets, including USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Baltimore Sun have reinforced the false narrative that our city is a tinderbox ready to explode, a narrative that distracts from the more accurate one of a city full of concerned citizens desperately hoping for reform. More serious, sustained attention to the realities of racial and economic injustice that many Baltimore citizens face will be required for any progress to be made.