Thursday, April 21, 2016

Black activists interrogate Police Commissioner Davis

The official title of the event at the Baltimore Impact Hub was  Devin Allen + Kwame Rose : One Year Later, but to a good extent Kwame Rose interrogated Police Commissioner Keven Davis. That this could take place in Baltimore is testament to the fact that Baltimore isn't exactly the same place that it was a year ago.
Commissioner Davis, Devin Allen and Kwame Rose (photo: Philipsen)

Devin Allen is the young West Baltimore man who as a photographer was out and about on the streets during the time of unrest snapping pictures while his mother called him repeatedly ordering him to come home. One of his pictures would wind up on the cover of Time Magazine.

Kwame Rose is the young man who during the unrest  accosted the Fox reporter Geraldo Rivera on North Avenue for the way the media reported about the riots. That episode was filmed life and became a symbol for the gulf between young black men and the white mass media.

It wasn't entirely clear if Kevin Davis took the two young men with whom he sat down for a "panel discussion" as representatives of the class of young black men of disenfranchised communities or as spokes-people and stand-ins who through their fame bestowed on them by white media gave him an opportunity to polish his own image. That may not matter, Davis certainly new the men and their story and the two activists knew him and had no intention of giving him any slack. The encounter posed a risk for both sides. Davis knew he would be in for rough questions by Kwame, a gifted debater. he began that it is his goal of making the job of cop "go out of business" because others would be stepping up, Kwame was unimpressed and asked cooly "How do you deal with the anti blackness that is naturally in you and to which he attributed the fact that Freddie Gray was killed.
Davis' answer wasn't as pronounced as the question. He talked about growing up in a diverse community and such and then summarized that as a professionals we are looking into the mirror thanks to Ferguson, New York and Freddie Gray. 
Kwame trying to "debate" Rivera last year (screenshot)

Kwame soon arrived at his nuclear question: Cases of brutality that had been brought against Davis himself many years back. Davis responded by listing five terminations and legal cases he had opened against officers as a testament that he isn't taking police brutality easy. Since January I have terminated 5 officers for misconduct. I learned from experiences I'd rather not have had. He pointed out that he had responded to his own brutality cases already during his confirmation hearings and that we eventually all have some episodes in our lives we would prefer not have had this wayI learned from experiences I'd rather not have had, he said.

Devin, when getting a turn in asking Davis in what never amounted to a real panel discussion, tried a more emotional tact: You are there to protect us. But some police officers don't understand us and the culture of Baltimore. Even if one is friendly, one day we are shaking hands the next day we get the cold shoulder. 
Devin Allen's most famous picture

Davis disarmingly offered "If any of you ever had a bad experience with cops, I am sorry about that. Not only for the BPD but the entire profession of 900,000 officers nationwide". 
He went on to explain that hiring more local and more African American cops was made difficult by hiring rules: What prevents us from hiring diverse is the outdated marijuana hiring standard. What a swift debater Kwame is became obvious when Davis declared I am a liberal. Kwame shot back:  "watch out for white liberals" quoting Macolm X.
Davis emphasized that the BPD has been around for 232 years and that he can't be responsible for everything that happened before him. He finished his comments with the same theme he had started: if other elements of society are failing often the only one left standing is the police. That must be changed.

After the commissioner left, Kwame and Devin interviewed each other. Their stories always getting back to the days of the uprising where they both found fame. There were many introspective, funny but also moving moments. Devin who grew up in West Baltimore said that he has lost around 25 friends to violence ("I stopped counting", he said). Kwame clarified that he doesn't want to pretend being a kid from the hood, that he grew up "privileged in Hunting Ridge" but that he is comfortable in the hood, feels like he belongs there and feels safest "in the community". He recalled how in school he had been diagnosed with "oppositional defiance disorder", an affliction, if it is one, that has brought him fame but seems to soften: "There is something we can learn from anybody we encounter", he mused. About negative energy: "Some the energy is so negative because all they do is take away."
Photos taken by youth trained by Devin on display at the Impact Hub
(photo: Philipsen)

It seemed that things have worked out better for Devin who among other things is working with kids in West Baltimore teaching them photography, something that Ericka Alston of the Kids Safe Zone near Pennsylvania Avenue praised with several of the youth in tow.

Kwame, by contrast, stated   "I am so broke as I have never been before in my life".  He blamed the famous Geraldo video for having lost his job with Marriott. But being broke could also come from his casino visits to which he admitted when asked for whom he would vote for mayor by telling the story how Catherine Pugh had called him numerous times at two a clock at night to admonish him to get his butt out of the casino and finally instructed the guards to escort him out.

"I am voting for Catherine Pugh because I know she won't give up on you" 
Catherine Pugh could hardly ask for a better endorsement.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The Impact Hub at the renovated Centre Theatre
seen from he sidewalk (photo: Philipsen)
From the event announcement:

Devin Allen rose to fame when his image of a protestor went viral. The image was shared by major celebrities like Beyonce and Rihanna on their social media accounts which led Devin to gain thousands of followers on his Instagram account, which acts as a diary.Today Allen's posts garner hundreds of likes. He covers topica varying from everything to violent protests, to local happenings in the Sation North Arts district
Devin went on to have his image be the cover of Time Magazine. And, has since had exhibitions at The Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore, and in Philadelphia's Slought gallery. Devin has been featured as one of BET's 29 People You Should Know, won a Russell Simmons RushCard Keep the Peace grant for a photography workshop, been named as on of 2016's Ford Men Of Courage, and has been called "the eyes of Baltimore" by CNN.  Devin is now a Photographer & Media Designer for Baltimore's own Under Armour.
Devin Allen (photo: Philipsen)
Kwame Rose, a social activist, and artist who gained notoriety during the Baltimore Uprising for his heroic confrontation with Fox News' Geraldo Rivera, challenging the media's inaccurate representation of protestors during the peaceful protests. Since then Kwame has become one of the more visible protesters in Baltimore, which has prompted Law Enforcement to continue to target his efforts. Kwame is a contributing writer for Abernathy Magazine,, and City Paper. Kwame’s passion for public speaking once earned him a full scholarship to the University of Texas at San Antonio as a member of the Debate team. As a student, he advocated for hip-hop infused education as a means to educate the youth and give a voice to the voiceless. After the completion of his freshman year, deteriorating social conditions in his hometown of Baltimore prompted the permanent return of the young activist with a firm commitment to improve and serve his community. In 2013, Kwame helped form the organization Brothers In Action, Inc., a mentoring group for young Black males in Baltimore City. He served on the Executive Board, until recently stepping to launch Black EXCELLence, as well as the BE Foundation, in an effort to not only highlight Black youth but also, help them excel in pursuing their dreams and aspirations. Kwame has been featured on countless national and international media outlets and is emerging as a sought out public speaker whose dialogue focuses on justice issues and youth advocacy in the Black Community. At just 21 years old, the concerned citizen of Baltimore has emerged as a servant of the people, and a motivator for youth advocacy.
Ericka Allston of the Children Safe Zone (photo: Philipsen)

Centre Theatre, home of the Impact Hub on North Avenue
(photo: Philipsen)

Davin and Kwame with Commissioner Davis (Twitter photo)

Davin with donated cameras for the work with Sandtown kids (Twitter photo)

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