Friday, June 9, 2023

F ³: Bearing Witness in Baltimore

On Wednesday evening in Baltimore, Lisa Snowden was driving home from her parents’ house. Then she saw something. 

Snowden, the Editor-in-Chief and cofounder of newsweekly Baltimore Beat, stopped and got out of her car to observe.

Everything that follows (until the break at the bottom of this piece) was live-tweeted by Snowden, on-scene. It is shared with permission. - - jam

Just witnessed BPD slam this young woman on the ground while attempting to arrest two other young men.

This young man is alleging that he was arrested for the smell of weed.* A baby is in a car seat in the car.

"I got a child in the car. There's no guns in the car." He says he was taking the other young man to work. Also says he can't breathe.

Had an officer scream in my face and attempt to physically push me back. He backed off when I said I was a reporter.  This is at Greenmount and Bowen. He waved his pepper spray at me as though he was going to use it on me.

“Y’all got physical over the smell of weed. It took y’all 30 minutes to search my car” he says again that he had no weed and no guns. He says he got angry when he felt his brother and the young woman were being assaulted. Now begging the police to see the baby.

Snowden posted the following video clip with the words: TRIGGER WARNING.

The baby is crying hard. Now neighbors/onlookers are attempting to mediate. Young man in cuffs is still begging to see the baby. An officer is shielding the passenger side where the baby’s car seat is.

An EMT is checking with the man in handcuffs. This man says he is “numb from sitting in the shackles.” However, he won’t go because he does not want to leave the baby. He said he wants to know the “reasoning for anything.” He keeps saying there is nothing in the car.

Now another onlooker is calling the young man’s mom. I’m being told this was a brake lights stop. First by onlookers, then by the young man himself.

The young men are out of the cuffs now. 

The young man tells me officers said his “third brake light” was out. He didn’t know what that was. He shows me his two back brake lights work.

The young woman was taken into custody.

The people who de-escalated the scene were random neighbors and onlookers and they were treated by the officers on the scene with derision. At one point some folks were asking about police training.

The officers just let that baby scream and scream. He blocked the baby from being able to see his dad with his body. The young man was pleading and pleading to see the baby. 

The word I keep thinking of is dehumanizing.


“Ten officers for a third brake light?”one person commented. “They mean the one in the back window, which doesn’t even matter because 2 working lights = street legal,” tweeted another, followed by this explanation from a third:

“If not all three brake lights work, officers can stop you and issue a repair order. If less than 2 then it is a traffic citation.”

Tell me, if your third brake light was not operational, is this how you would be treated?

Lisa Snowden did not run towards an arrest in progress like some kind of eager “cub reporter” hoping for a big story. Yes, she is a journalist. An excellent one. But she was there for another reason: to bear witness.

Results of a Google search for “bearing witness when police pull over Black motorists”

Could the presence of Snowden and other community members have prevented something worse from happening? It’s possible. There was only one arrest. No one was killed or seriously injured on the scene. The baby was not taken from its parents. 

I feel sick to see myself writing, “it could have been much worse.” No human being should be treated like this. Each day going forward those three adults will feel less safe every time they drive. And that baby will carry deeply internalized trauma that will have a damaging impact on its developing brain and emotional wellbeing.

All this for a third brake light?

He said he wants to know the “reasoning for anything.”  So do I.

Ms. Snowden has reached out to both to the Baltimore Police Department and Ivan Bates, the Baltimore City States Attorney. To my knowledge she has not received any meaningful response.

About Baltimore Beat: Baltimore Beat is a Black-led, Black-controlled nonprofit newspaper and media outlet. Our mission is to honor the tradition of the Black press and the spirit of alt-weekly journalism with reporting that focuses on community, questions power structures, and prioritizes thoughtful engagement with our readers.

We aim to serve all of Baltimore City, including those with limited internet access and those who are a part of underrepresented communities.

Our organization aspires toward a more equitable, accountable, and rigorous future for journalism that fully represents the stories of all our neighbors.

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*In its 2023 session,the Maryland State Legislature passed a bill removing marijuana smell as probable cause for police. It goes into effect July 1st.

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