Scattered notes from Baltimore

Hi readers! I’m sorry I have not posted anything here in forever! Life got in the way for a while.

I spent three days last week street medicking in Baltimore. It was an odd time to be there. There was a lull in protest activity, with almost no actions going on. There were, however, plenty of previously-arrested protesters still in jail, so I spent a huge amount of time doing jail support – sitting outside the jail waiting for arrestees to be released, in order to provide them with medical (broadly defined, as street medicking is in general, to include things like giving people water) and emotional support. I mostly did this with some other out-of-town medics who were in Baltimore for a few days.

The Baltimore jail system's intake and release building. I spent a LOT of time here.It was nice to be able to give the medics who have been there for a while a break. Some of them looked pretty tired and stressed, and understandably so. Nightly protests aren’t conducive to getting enough sleep. Several medics had been arrested, and held in jail for multiple days, and must have gotten out not long before I got there. A couple had been shot with pepper balls (similar to rubber bullets in that they’re fired from a less-lethals gun, but plastic bullets filled with pepper spray or similar). I have great respect for the medics who were on the ground through that more escalated period.

I talked to released arrestees who had been denied medical care for both acute police-inflicted injuries and chronic (including potentially-life-threatening) illnesses. This wouldn’t surprise me if we were talking about people arrested the same day, but these were all people who’d been in for several days. In the case of one of the non-protest released arrestees that I talked to, this was someone who’d been in for three weeks without care for his serious chronic illness. I don’t want to get into details because I don’t want to affect someone legally, but I was pretty horrified by the levels of apparent negligence on the part of the jail. One person that I talked to was so ill that she was having trouble walking.

Not all of the protest arrestees had actually been protesting. Some released arrestees were homeless people who had been caught up in curfew violations. A curfew is kind of a problem for people who don’t have an indoor place to sleep. There was one released person who’d simply been lost and approached the wrong, and apparently baton-happy, riot cops to ask for directions. His distraught family spent a week or so trying to get him out of jail.

I chatted with a journalist, Baynard Woods from City Paper, who got care from the street medics, along with one of his colleagues, after they were attacked with chemical agents (I was unclear on whether it was CS tear gas or pepper spray/pepper gas) while doing their jobs as journalists. Woods is trying to follow up on arrestees’ situations, if anyone reading this was arrested or knows someone who was.

I talked to three people at different times who disclosed having been fired after their arrests. Based on the other things they said, I have no reason to think any of them had been, for instance, breaking or burning anything (and one was released with no charges). I have to wonder whether the same people who are very very worried about people getting fired over impolitic tweets, because Justine Sacco, have words of concern about people getting fired over public speech against the police killing black people (or over being in the same general vicinity as people who were engaging in such speech – see previous paragraph). This isn’t totally snark; there are some such people out there that I respect and I would like to think that this does bother them on free speech and other grounds.

I also heard from non-protest-arrestees who, when I asked if they were arrested with the protest, said that they were arrested in “the aftershocks.” Further conversation with them and others suggested that the Baltimore PD may be cracking down on some neighborhoods in the wake of the indictment of the six officers implicated in Freddie Gray’s death.

The jail support medics got to do some interesting connecting of people with legal advocacy – learning about cases from friends and relatives outside the jail and then contacting the legal support people to get them on the case.

There were some funny moments, too. At one point, some guy got out of his car in the road in front of the jail, with the engine still running, and did a dance to hip-hop with multiple fishing poles. Once he finished with the fishing poles, he did another, ass-shaking dance, while washing his car, again, in the middle of the road with the engine running. The jail support medics who were there at the time were deeply confused. We talked to him for a while afterwards and learned that he was celebrating being happier than he was when he used to work at the jail. The purpose of the fishing poles, however, is still a mystery, especially as there are no bodies of water near the jail. You do you, I guess, Dancing Baltimore Fishing Pole Man. There was a car following him that I’m pretty sure was an unmarked police car.

As it was my first time in Baltimore, I was not previously familiar with lake trout, but it is delicious.

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