In This Episode
DeRay, De’Ara, Sam and Kaya dive into recent overlooked news including child care, income inequality, dental service, and who Biden would appoint to the Supreme Court. Johnetta Elzie joins again to update us about developments around the current protests. Then, DeRay chats with Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg about their new book “I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad” and what it uncovered about Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force.
DeRay [00:00:00] ‘Agents of Chaos’ HBO’s new two part documentary from Emmy and Academy Award winning director, Alex Gibney, offers a timely, revealing look at Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, which we will never forget.
Kaya [00:00:12] The film features in-depth interviews with key players going on the record for the first time, extensive research into the controversial Trump-Russia dossier that follows thread after thread of Trump’s murky Russian involvements, and never before seen footage inside Russian troll farms, the factories of disinformation and chaos that sparked a new age of political cyber warfare.
DeRay [00:00:35] ‘Agents Of Chaos’ digs into how the Russian machine and its American Coggs worked to manipulate the American public and undermine democracy, sounding a poignant alarm ahead of the 2020 election that could highlight that history could easily repeat itself. Watch part one on Wednesday, September 23rd and Part two the next night at nine p.m. on HBO.
DeRay [00:00:55] Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People. This week it’s me, Sam, Kaya and De’Ara, as usual, talking about the underrepresented stories in the news that you should know. And then I have a quick check in with Netta, talking about everything that’s happening nationwide with the protests. And then I sit down and talk to Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg to discuss their new book about the Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force, which, if you didn’t hear about, is fascinating and wild and all true. My advice for this week is to write it down. Not necessarily because writing in and of itself is some magical process, even though it is, but because sometimes having the clarity of language is also a clarity of thought. So there’ve been a lot of things where I’m like, ‘oh, I think this’ and the moment that I actually have to like, find the words for it and put it down into a sentence, I’m like, wow, this is actually what I believe or this is what I don’t believe or this is what I meant to say or this is how I, and that groundedness, in knowing what your intent is or like why you reached a certain point or how you reached it is important.
DeRay [00:01:56] So I say write it down as a way to ground yourself, ground the ideas and ground the work. Let’s go.
De’Ara [00:02:03] Hello, hello, hello, family. Welcome to another episode of Pod Save the People. I’m De’Ara Ballenger @DeAraBallenger on Twitter and Instagram.
Sam [00:02:13] And I’m Sam Sinyangwe @Samswey Twitter and Instagram.
Kaya [00:02:16] I’m Kaya Henderson @HendersonKaya on Twitter.
DeRay [00:02:19] And I’m DeRay @deray on Twitter.
De’Ara [00:02:22] Well, family, we are coming to you again after a really hard challenging loss. It seems week to week we go with trying to remain optimistic. We all are, we’re all, you know, still fighting the good fight. But I think there are losses, even though while we expected them, it’s still very hard to digest and process. And obviously, I’m talking about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who we lost this week, who needs really no introduction, no summary. We all know who she who the great RBG is.
De’Ara [00:02:54] But I think as we are rolling closer to the election and then understanding just the politics and the mechanics of a potential justice, replacing her, that’s the nominee of Trump, I think is all obviously very terrifying. I think where we need to be mindful of is the facts. Senate confirmation processes are long and sometimes challenging, to say the least. But there’s also an institutional process that regardless of what happens, we hope and we assume, I assume as someone that the part of the legal profession, that it will be adhere to. So, you know, I think we just want to kind of open it up and talk about what this all means, what it could mean for the country, what it could mean for the Supreme Court, what it can mean for the elections that are some 40, I think we’re at 40 days now, less than 40 days away. But, yeah, what are you all thinking? What are, what are ya’lls reactions to the loss of RBG.
DeRay [00:03:56] Obviously, it is beyond sad that RBG died. It is frightening that Trump might be able to even recommend anybody, let alone whether they get voted on. But I will say I hadn’t even thought about the strategy of just expanding the size of the court. I feel like I just missed that in social studies. I didn’t realize that the number of justices wasn’t set by the Constitution and that Congress can do it.
DeRay [00:04:15] I’m like go, let us. You Know if he gets his person, when we get everything back, the court is going to be 25 people and we are going to put a whole slew of people in there for life. You know, like I.
DeRay [00:04:25] I didn’t even think of that strategy. Now I’ll say that that we haven’t seen the Dems really fight this administration as vociferously as he is fighting us. And if this is the moment that they fight like I’m ready for it, like let this be the thing that y’all are willing to throw down about, cause he’s going to appoint a 40 year old white woman for sure, like a 45 somebody that is gonna be on this court to our kids have kids and I’m ready for the fight. But I hadn’t even understood that as an option until RBG passed away. And then I was reading all this stuff about it and I was like, oh, we can definitely expand the size of the court. And let’s be clear, the right would do this to us in a heartbeat, I mean, which is not a reason to do it, but it is a reminder that, like, we don’t have to just live with what we got because it’s always been this way.
Kaya [00:05:11] I will say on Friday night I was at happy hour with some friends and got the alert on my phone and literally, like, I was just crestfallen, like it was staggering. I thought we had wrapped this lady in Saran Wrap and were like taking close care of her. I have to say, I’m just thankful for all of the strides that she has made on behalf of America. Right? Not just women, not just whatever. On behalf of America. I’m with DeRay. If this catalyzes the fight Jeez Louise will in less rumball.
Kaya [00:05:46] I don’t think I’ve seen the kind of fight yet that I think we need going into this election and I think we need to, one, do everything that we can to stop this from moving forward, but I think we also need to do whatever we can post election to literally change the rules of the game. And I think this is what the Republicans have been doing. And I do think that if it engages and energizes the Democrats to fight a different kind of fight, then that would be good for us all that believe in this country, that believe in democracy. I’m here in D.C. this week, and I went out to the Supreme Court on Friday night and there were a gazillion people out on the steps of the court. And they’ve been there every day paying respects to Justice Ginsburg.
Kaya [00:06:39] And it, you know, those are the times where I feel most American. I actually a friend had given me an American flag. And I can’t tell you when I ever. I don’t I don’t think I own a flag anything.
Kaya [00:06:55] But here I was wrapped in this flag on the steps of the Supreme Court, feeling more American than I felt in a really long time, because there were so many people out there who were honoring her legacy and her memory and prepared to do whatever it takes to preserve it. So let’s get ready to rumble.
Sam [00:07:14] So the only thing I’ll add is I think what the current situation does is it puts a lot of focus on the Senate. I think up until now, so much of the focus, I mean, rightly so, has been on who is the occupant of the White House next year and for the next four years. And I think now what is clear is that if we don’t win the Senate, the situation is still not going to look good for us, that we are going to have a court that is rigged and skewed in favor of Republicans striking down everything from, you know, Roe v. Wade to the ACA and blocking anything even at the state level that might be progressive and hopeful. The Senate is critical. The map of the Senate is one that we should be paying attention to. Right? Thinking about Mississippi with Mike Espy running in a place where, you know, we’re talking about a state with the largest black population as a percentage of the total population of the state, a state that in the polling is within a few points, which is sort of unheard of. Places like not only Mississippi, but we’re also thinking about even Kentucky, thinking about Colorado, thinking about states where that can actually decide the Senate map and decide who controls the Senate. Because I think that we have to aim for flipping the Senate as a goal with the understanding that if we can flip the Senate, that will put so many different things in play in terms of legislation, in terms of court appointments for the next administration. So so I hope that this can remind folks of how important it is to turn out, even if you are in a state that may not be a quote unquote, ‘battleground stat’e for the presidency. But if you’re in Mississippi, you’re in a battleground state for the Senate. And so, you know, again, that there’s a reason to vote for everybody and it’s going to take all of us turning out all of us. I’m getting engaged right now in many places. You can start to vote early. You can request your vote by mail ballot from now until the election to make sure that next year we can begin the work of actually improving and addressing some of the damage that’s been caused over the past four years and then building a future that we deserve.
De’Ara [00:09:25] I think that’s absolutely right, Sam and, you know, just even taking it back to 2016 when we, you know, still had a Republican controlled Senate and, you know, Merrick Garland not being able to push through as Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court. I mean, and then even in that period of time, Mitch McConnell said, you know, ‘the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice.’ Obviously, he’s not following through to to those words from 2016. And so, you know, just to your point around how important Senate is right now, they’re at a majority, 53 to 47, but hoping that we can in places like Mississippi and places like South Carolina with Jamie Harrison, we can really start to build on a majority in the Senate or get as close as we can.
De’Ara [00:10:08] So with that still keeping on this Supreme Court discussion, I’m going to kick off the news. So my news this week, albeit not really news, because we don’t know a lot about it, however.
De’Ara [00:10:21] Joe Biden, it’s kind of been obviously as a response to Justice Ginsburg passing kind of this revisiting this discussion around Joe Biden, saying that he’s committed to putting a black woman on the Supreme Court.
De’Ara [00:10:33] Now, we don’t know the list of names, but so far his track record is not bad with Kamala, so we know he at least is sticking to it somewhat. So we’ll see. We’ll see how it goes. But I just thought it was an interesting conversation. And just obviously being in my feelings, being in my fifi’s around Justice Ginsburg and also thinking about.
De’Ara [00:10:53] All the incredible black folks that have been a part of the legal profession, people like Pauli Murray, for example, and if you all don’t know about Pauli Murray, you should look her up. But Pauli Murray, because of her arguments in a, in an article that she wrote while she was a student at Howard Law was actually used by Thurgood Marshall in Brown vs. Board of Education. So just understanding the legacy of black folks, black women in particular, when it comes to the spirit and the evolution of law and protecting one, protecting people in this country, I just thought this was interesting. And I think it made me. I don’t know if it made me feel better, but I think it did kind of take me to a place where I started to really think about how important the legal system is, how important it is to have black lawyers. I don’t know if it’s true today. And DeRay and Sam, you all know better than me, but I know there was a time and there were no black attorneys in Ferguson at all. And so understanding that dynamic, understanding the disparities of both what it means to, you know, this conversation we were having about black doctors and how black babies survive more or have a better chance of living with a black doctor as opposed to a white doctor thinking about is, if that’s the same for, you know, somebody who’s been accused of a crime and having a black attorney versus a white attorney. So I don’t know. I think all of this kind of this particular article and obviously thinking about Ruth Bader Ginsburg just really got me thinking about the importance of black folks in the legal profession. I don’t even know if I can wrap my mind around a black woman, Supreme Court justice. I mean, I think if that happened, I think I’d be fine forever. Like, I’d be like, ‘OK, I’m all good.’ So I don’t know, just putting that out there for y’all. Love your reaction. But I think, you know, again, understanding the importance of black lawyers and black law schools, Howard, Southern, FAM, UDC like, you know, these institutions that pump out these incredible black attorneys and like how important they are and how much support that they need.
Kaya [00:12:55] I read this article and it made me really wonder from a strategy perspective how and whether it benefits Biden to say who he’s going to pick for the Supreme Court at this particular point. I wonder, because I think that there is an opportunity, in fact, if you’re going to name names and say who you’re going to pick for what, then it would seem to me that you could name a lot of names and you could begin to introduce your cabinet as an effort to bring lots of different constituencies in support of the campaign. And so I wondered why in this particular case, you would say, why Biden would say he would name an African-American woman when we just had a big African-American woman pick in the vice presidency. And whether that actually. I wonder how much impact that will have to see even further solidified a black vote or if there isn’t an opportunity to either with your Supreme Court pick or with other cabinet picks to signal to other constituencies that there are leadership opportunities that you are targeting.
Kaya [00:14:07] So I’m I’m rooting for everybody Black for sure. And so having an African-American woman on the Supreme Court would make me incredibly proud. I really just it makes me wonder from a strategy perspective what he’s trying to accomplish. One of the things floating around in the wake of Justice Ginsburg’s death, has been a thing that I’ve seen on social media that talks about all of the things that that she’s done for women, the right to sign a mortgage without a man, the right to have a bank account without a male cosigner, the right for women to be pregnant and have kids and work. And at a time where we are celebrating all of these strides that she helped bring together for women. Women are in an incredibly precarious situation as a result of Covid 19. And this economy, in fact, Politico has an article called ‘Crashing Down: How the Childcare Crisis is Magnifying Racial Disparities.’ And it shows us that 93 percent of child care workers in the United States are women. Forty five percent of those are black, Asian or Latino. And that half of child care businesses are minority owned. As you can imagine, in this global pandemic, the collapse of the child care industry is hitting women of color the hardest. In fact, at the height of the pandemic, 60 percent of child care programs around the country had closed and one third of child care workers had lost their jobs. Many of those who remained open were only able to remain open because states had dedicated childcare funding provided in the CARES Act.
Kaya [00:15:50] But that money is running out quickly. And so, it’s estimated that two fifths of child care providers will shut their doors for good. If there is not a federal infusion of funding and it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.
Kaya [00:16:05] If you zoom out a little bit, Reuters did a piece called ‘Retirements, Layoffs and Labor Force Flight may leave scars on the U.S. economy.’ And according to detailed analysis of jobs data, what the labor economists and the Reuters folks have have found is that women are not reengaging in the job market. In fact, the economic growth of the whole entire country has slowed because of childcare issues. And so while there’s a crisis in the childcare sector that is hitting women and women of color incredibly disproportionately. The United States economy, the economic drag is falling heavily on two groups, women and older workers. In fact, women previously accounted for 47 percent of the workforce, but they make up 54 percent of the people who have left the workforce in the pandemic.
Kaya [00:17:01] Most of them leaving the labor force in their early months because of the need to tend to family responsibilities.
Kaya [00:17:08] And in fact, the country can’t grow if women are not returning to the workforce. And if the child care sector, both for women and for everybody else, frankly, doesn’t have the chance to rebound. And so, yet again, the same way that we know that this pandemic has hit our most vulnerable communities and our most vulnerable demographics, women and women of color, specifically, as they’re represented in the childcare industry, and even more broadly, are taking it on the chin and we’ve gotta figure out how to fix that.
DeRay [00:17:47] So, Kaya
DeRay [00:17:47] I didn’t realize that the 2007, 2009 recession was mostly things like construction, manufacturing. Those were the hardest hit. And you’re right, in a moment like this, the service industry is in a in a wild way. And, you know, we’ve been talking a lot on the past like four or five episodes about that the real repercussions are coronavirus for the economy have not been felt that this is like the first wave. But you’re right. Like when, when will babysitters and housekeepers and the people that work at hotels and like there’s going be that whole group that is dependent on crowds like that is like that. You either need crowds or you need to come into people’s homes and go out of people’s homes. Like, I even think about I had to get the air conditioner fixed recently and like that even that service, just like that, is a thing that is allowed to happen now in a way that it was harder to schedule before, you know. So it will be interesting to see what the bounce back looks like. And if the government actually steps up, you know, the federal has a budget deadline soon and Congress will have to come back and figure it out. And it’s like people really are making a way out of no way. And like people have done it for this whole coronavirus. But I don’t know how long that lasts, especially when you think what the East Coast, when it’s like winter’s coming. You know, people will be stuck in the house for real. Like not like I’m choosing to be in the house, but you will be stuck with nowhere to go. How do you do food pick up in a blizzard? I don’t know. Right?
DeRay [00:19:11] So, like all this stuff, I am I am worried about this coming with without a plan, especially for the East Coast, like when the season changes. What that looks like. I don’t know.
Sam [00:19:19] So my news is related to how we sort of got here. Right? Thinking about economic inequality and how it has taken off over the past several decades. A new working paper has just been released by the RAND Corporation, which tries to answer the question, how much money is actually being redistributed in society and in which direction is that redistribution happening? So we’ve heard a lot about socialism and redistribution as this scare tactic or a talking point that we hear oftentimes from Republicans to describe any effort to advance policies that will create a more equitable economy and society. What this study does, is it actually looks at the amount of money redistributed in the opposite direction from low income and middle income folks to the very top of the income bracket. And what they find is that during the 1940s, through about 1974, there was a period where the distance between the top earners and the bottom earners was more equitable than it has been since. And since 1975, through the current moment, and what we’ve seen is economic inequality skyrocket. This is a period of tax cuts and deregulation, neo liberalism pushing policies that sought to unravel and dismantle some of the gains that we saw. Post-World War two imposts, civil rights movement. So what this working paper has done is actually quantified the amount of money that has been redistributed. And their estimate is about 50 trillion dollars has been redistributed from the bottom of the income bracket to the top. And that American workers in the bottom 90 percent of society and would all be making substantially more money in income if not for that redistribution exploitation. So the level of extreme inequality in American society is producing an outcome that we now have a actual dollar figure associated with. And it is a scale at which is just mind boggling. So like 50 trillion dollars is an amount that, like, I didn’t even know existed is like this impossible amount of money. And yet we’re talking about a substantial amount. When you break that down for the individual worker. And this also cuts across race and gender. It cuts across rural and urban areas like basically everybody who is not in the top earners has lost out because of the expansion in inequality since the 1970s. And so wanted to talk about this study in particular. I think we hear a lot about and have experienced this inequality in our lives. But this, like total figure attempting to quantify it is something that is relatively new. And 50 trillion dollars is like an obscene amount of money that even I wasn’t expecting.
DeRay [00:22:11] So we, I feel like we talk about school opening, closing at some point, you know, and I guess I’ll leave it for somebody else to talk about New York City that made a big deal about all these openings and who knows if that actually happened or not. But I want to talk about dental care for students. So what does it mean that we built a public education system that really is the only neighborhood resource in so many places, like it becomes a hub, whether the building itself is just a resource? I think by Baltimore, we looked at the data that was there was one school within every five miles, when we when we did our analysi. So Like the schools in Baltimore, were more equitably distributed than almost anything else in the city of Baltimore, that there were schools in every neighborhood, regardless of income, and they were like put in the cool places. And this article in The New York Times is about what happens when schools are closed. And that actually became one of the most regular avenues for dental visits in America. So it talks about how closures have suspended regular dental health visits in schools from Oregon to New York State and all across the country. They talk about this one dental hygienist who is the director of a school based dental program at Hudson Headwaters Health Network in New York. They say that they used to treat two thousand twenty five hundred children near the Adirondack Mountains every year since the program began. And like there is no school anymore, right? So you think about the hygienest. And I remember being a teacher. I remember working Human Capital. What it meant that like there’d be the dentist, like Vans, the dentist busses are like that same thing with eye care, like school was on the frontline.
DeRay [00:23:48] of figuring out if kids had vision problems because they would they would be in class and then all of a sudden, like, you’re like ‘can you see?’ And we had a whole process for making sure that they got their eyes tested. Baltimore City Public Schools actually had a collaboration with Warby Parker. So kids could get their glasses and it was so interesting. I was talking to one of the co-founders of Warby Parker and he was saying that they would actually give kids two pair glasses. And I was like, ‘why would you give them two?’ And he’s was like because we were like testing out the effect of this at scale right across the district. And we gave them one pair glasses that they kept in the classroom and then one pair of glasses that they took with them, I’m like, ya’ll done planned this. But it was like, how do you get those resources otherwise? And you didn’t have health insurance to take advantage of the dentist. You didn’t need health insurance to get your eyes checked. Like there was a whole apparatus that we wrapped around kids that was rooted in the school building. And what happens now when the building is closed? Again, I think that we are just in the early stages of figure out what we owe these young people because we haven’t quite planned far enough ahead.
Kaya [00:24:45] Don’t even get me started.
Kaya [00:24:46] I mean, I say all the time that schools are the stage on which all of society’s problems show up. Right? And so health care issues show up, environmental issues show up. You know, violence at home issues show up.
Kaya [00:25:00] And schools have to be responsible for all of this stuff where we don’t actually even have the appropriate resources to ensure that teaching and learning happens. But thankfully, through partnerships, we’re able to attend to kids health needs and whatnot. Yes, in this global pandemic, things like dental care and vision care and so many other services for kids are going by the wayside. It is 2020. And to think about kids dying of dental abscesses, which still happens, is astounding. But it happens less because kids get checked in schools. All of these things, vision, whatever. And so many communities have actually leveraged these kinds of partnerships. I think about the STRIVE Network or the work that has been done in Cincinnati to co locate these really important services in school buildings. We are, we’re not scratching the surface, there’s an educational crisis happening because of school closures. There are health care crises happening because of school closures. There is a nutrition and hunger crisis happening because of school closures. And we will reckon with this.
Kaya [00:26:10] We again. I mean, I feel like we are a broken record. We keep on saying we as have not yet seen, right?
Kaya [00:26:19] What we are going to suffer as a result of this pandemic and all these decisions that we’re making. But again, these are choices that that we are making and they will have a much more significant impact and effect than what it seems on the front end.
De’Ara [00:26:36] I don’t even know where to begin. I think part of it is you hear something like this in terms of in you know, you all will see this article when you read it for yourselves. But how, you know, kids that were in school who couldn’t pay attention because that’s how much pain they were in and so embarrassed about the fact that they hadn’t been to the dentist. And so I think one, all these things that break my heart, obviously, but then I think, what do we do about it? And I think the only thing we really can do or one of the things that I think to do is to really be involved in these local elections. And obviously, the national elections. But like, you just got to pay attention and understand what’s happening and the things that, you know, some elected officials and schools are responsible for. But also, just like, again, our accountability as a society like you are paying taxes, you need to understand how these systems are working. One, because we have a contract with one another, to Kaya’s point earlier, how are we treating one another? What are we doing? I feel like at some poin, it’s like, how much are we going to tolerate? How much are we going to actually be complicit in? I don’t know. I just gotta say, you gotta do better. Just gotta do better.
DeRay [00:27:45] Don’t go anywhere. More Pod Save the Pople’s coming. Today is National Voter Registration Day. We’ve got to vote. Vote, vote, vote, vote, vote.
DeRay [00:27:53] If you’ve been listening to our show, you’re probably already registered to vote. But guess what? Now’s a great time to double check that you’re still registered at Boat Save America dot com slash verify.
Kaya [00:28:03] This is especially important if you’ve moved since the last election. Changed your name or if you haven’t voted in a while. Once you’ve checked yourself, make sure your friends and your family have verified their registration as well. Then head to VoteSaveAmerica.com/everylastvote for volunteer opportunities to get new voters registered and to donate to organizations helping get registration info to people in key places ahead of their deadlines.
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DeRay [00:32:15] And Netta, Netta, Netta. Let us know what is going on around the country.
Netta [00:32:19] Hey, what’s up? Everybody it’s me, Netta. And thanks so much for tuning back in. Today’s my mother’s 51st birthday and her six heavenly birthday. I lost her in January 2014 after her long fight with lupus. Before we get to the news, I want to take time to honor her memory and share a few things. My mother was just that, my mother. I was blessed to have her with me for 24 years of my life. And I appreciate many of the lessons that she taught me or actually just made me learn. Consequences and being accountable for my actions were concepts I was introduced to early. She was a Virgo after all. And my mother was many things. She was a talented artist. I still have not met someone whose mind shapes stories through colors the way they’re hers did. It was beautiful. She was also a savvy business owner who had a beauty salon for years. I’m grateful to have grown up as a shop kid. I really did love that place. It was ours. After long days of being surrounded by a sea of whiteness that was often covertly hostile to my black existence, the shop was a daily refuge and recharge space for my spirit. At the shop I got the opportunity to be in the presence of smart black women from all walks of life. I heard them talk about business, their business, family relationships, finances and all these other things that make up this wild ride we call life. I got more gems at the shop than I did at the schoolhouse. If you asked me for that, I’m always grateful to my mother and my grandparents for providing this little black girl a safe space to explore all kind of feelings and ideas in conversations at the shop. So happy birthday, Ma. The last week has been like an avalanche of news, so let’s get to it. In the era of misinformation and deep fakes, black fishing is once again making the rounds in the press. A University of Wisconsin Madison graduate resigned from a teaching position after revealing that they lied about their race. Cv Vitolo Haddad pretended to be black and Latinx, failed to correct people’s assumptions about their ethnicity and declined to not identify as black. When asked by others, Cv is actually of southern Italian and Sicilian ancestry. They also lost a job at the University of Fresno as a result of this black fishing exposee. This is all on the heels of George Washington University professor Jessica Crook, who resigned from her professional position at the University for Black Fishing just a couple of weeks ago. Ya’ll, I’m not quite sure what to say about all of this. While I am happy that these two impostors are suffering some sort of long overdue consequences for their actions,s I still cannot help but feel that everybody is able to benefit from blackness except actual black people. The fight for accountability and the murder of Breonna Taylor continues. The city of Louisville settled with the Taylor family for twelve million dollars, a decision that the family attorney, Benjamin Crump, called historic. But if you think the game is over, think again. After the settlement was announced, Tamika Palmer, Breonna’s mother, said ‘it is time to move forward with the criminal charges because she deserves that much more.’ And I agree with you, Ms. Palmer. Sadly, there is no justice for Breonna, because real justice for Breonna would mean that we would never even know her name in this way because she would still be with us. Twelve million dollars and a bevy of police reforms will allow her family to live a comfortable existence, but none of that will bring her back. So really, how comfortable is it? And that’s the hard part. I dream of a day where we can make the necessary policing reforms or overhauls without the need for people to die as a catalyst. But until then, I join the calls from everyone else. Arrest the cops who murdered Breonna Taylor and protest against police violence are ongoing all over the country still. And true to form. Rising up against police violence is met with more police violence. On September 19, New York City police officers attacked peaceful protesters at an Abolish ICE rally. Yes, that ice, the ones who were performing forced hysterectomy on women in its facilities. That is the ICE that the NYPD is propping up and protecting. At this point, it’s a stretch to say that fascism is coming to America. It is here. It’s here. The only question is how many more people and groups they have to come for before the silent begin to speak. And with that, I’ll talk to you all next week.
Netta [00:37:10] Peace.
DeRay [00:37:11] Hey, you’re listening to Pod Save the People, don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come.
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DeRay [00:41:05] In 2017, the federal government had to step in and arrest a group of Baltimore police officers known as the Gun Trace Task Force. The GTTF, where a group of detectives carrying out every crime imaginable and following their arrest, the stories about the rest of the department just kept getting worse and worse. Today, I’m talking to Baynard Woods and Brandon Soderberg, whose new book, ‘I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad,’ dives into the entire sordid story of the Gun Trace Task Force, in my hometown, Baltimore.
DeRay [00:41:34] Let’s go. Baynard and Brandon. Thanks so much for joining us on Pod Save the People.
[00:41:38] Thanks for having us.
[00:41:39] Yeah, thanks for having us.
DeRay [00:41:41] So I’m interested in digging into the book and the case and the whole moment. One of the things that’s so interesting about the GTTF is that it seems to not have led to anything substantive happening in the city, which is so wild. But can you just give us a primer on what happened and why you put it in the book?
Brandon Soderberg [00:42:02] Sure. You know what?
Brandon Soderberg [00:42:04] With the Gun Trace Task Force was a plainclothes police squad in Baltimore City that were, you know, mainly tasked with getting guns off the street by any means necessary, essentially. And in the process of doing that, they began robbing people, stealing drugs, dealing drugs, routinely violating people’s rights, and also stealing a ton of overtime, which is very easy for them to do.
Brandon Soderberg [00:42:25] And they really took advantage of the post uprising, Baltimore moment where homicides were up and there was a real concern about having another riot, basically, and they really took advantage of that and used that kind of rhetoric to go even crazier and water on the city. And then Baynard usually picks up here and kind of talks about the coconspirators that these guys were also working with that were not cops.
Baynard Woods [00:42:49] I mean, one of the reasons why I think that that nothing really happened is that they weren’t going after these guys in the first place. They happened to stumble upon it when they were doing the same thing that federal agents usually do.
Baynard Woods [00:43:02] They were trying to arrest black people that they thought were selling drugs to white people. And so they got a wire on a phone. That guy ended up Antonio Shuckshire, ended up calling Monodu Gondo, who worked in the Baltimore Police Department and the Gun Trace Task Force. So they got a tap on Gondo’s phone. Then they found out that they were robbing people nightly. The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice had its office right next door to the Gun Trace Task Force while this was going on and they didn’t get a whiff of it at all. And so it was really just, and in fact, the only reason that Leo Wise, the AUSA was really interested in this drug case in the first place, was wanting to be able to get murder charges for people who sold drugs that cause people to overdose. So it’s been sometimes cast as this thing of like, you know, the feds come in on a white horse and clean up dirty Baltimore City. But that’s not really the way it went. It’s not surprising that that nothing has really changed. And Shuckshire got as much time as Jenkins got. Twenty five years and everyone who testified at his trial against him, you know, the text messages were all like, ‘thank you.’ You know, as people who wanted dope. And he supplied them with dope. Whereas Jenkins was trying to break up people’s marriages using ruses to break up people’s marriages so they couldn’t even hire a lawyer and so just crazy harm and damage done to the community.
DeRay [00:44:22] Can you all zoom out a little bit and just say, tell us the players. Tell us the scope. Tell us the numbers of people involved. Like for, you know, one of the things that I realize, especially dealing with policing issues across the country, is that like I know about the GTTF because like Baltimore’s home. I’m From Baltimore, you know, like but I realize that a lot of people across the country, this did not become like a breaking news story across the country that people reference, which is still so interesting to me. So can you, like, lay the foundation for people so they understand sort of like scope, no scale players?
Baynard Woods [00:44:55] Yeah. So, I mean, one of the things that’s hard about the scope is people wanted GTTF to be like this gang. The initials became like BGF in Baltimore. The Black Guerrilla Family became the shorthand. But really most of the crimes committed by, there were seven officers indicted in the first round of indictments on March 1st, 2017, and all seven of them had been committing crimes in different units. So part of the issue is that their crimes have gone back to, people have been charged now as early as 2009, major charges of planting heroin and drugs on people in 2010 going all the way up until the time of the indictment. So when they came together, this group that was initially indicted, it was like a supergroup of of grimy cops that had all been doing dirt elsewhere and came into the same unit for this sort of spectacular and messy crime spree in the summer of 2016.
Baynard Woods [00:45:54] And that was when Jenkins was the sergeant and really the mastermind. That he was a white guy from the county, a drug cop, had made his name as a drug cop, being able to flip people you know, he had a reputation from going from getting a bag on the street to having [00:46:09]to go the of [0.7s] the next day or something the he could really work. So they put him in charge of this unit to try to do that with guns. As the numbers have gone down, the murders were going up in arrests and clearances were going down. In the period of 2015 they gave him a longer leash to do whatever he wanted. And that’s when he took over the Gun Trace Task Force. In it already were Momodu Gondo, who I mentioned already that was working with a drug crew in northeast Baltimore selling heroin, they’d been selling heroin, a lot of heroin in Norfolk County or to people in Norfolk. And those cops were getting a wind of that. Jamell Rayam was Gondo’s partner, he had three shootings back in 09 on the trial that came up that you said he shot one guy because he just didn’t want to chase him. And those were the sort of three most ambitious criminals. Then there was Daniel Herzel, who was a notorious cop in Baltimore who had two hundred fifty thousand dollars in settlements that the department had paid out by 2015. And there were several other, three other cops that were in Jenkins squad that were less involved, but certainly criminally involved. And that was the initial round of people. And then Brandon maybe you want to jump in with some of the scope of what’s happened since those guys all got indicted.
Brandon Soderberg [00:47:26] Right,
Brandon Soderberg [00:47:27] Yes. So you have Jenkins is the mastermind of this crew on the sort of side of that.
[00:47:32] You have, as Baynard mentioned, of Momodu Gondo, who’s working with a heroin dealing crew. Jamell Rayam also ended up dealing drugs with a former Baltimore cop who was working in Philly. Um, and then also Jenkins himself had a bail bondsman and cocaine dealer named Donnie Step that he was pushing off stolen drugs to. So within this squad of seven, you also have at least three of them are working directly with different drug organizations or drug dealers. And then on top of that, there’s sort of over the top drug dealing they’re doing, they’re also constantly kind of arresting people, sometimes planting evidence, often unconstitutionally arresting people. And those impacts are still ongoing. But, you know, over a thousand people have been sort of flagged as cases that need to be dropped. There’s been officers flagged on having integrity issues on the Office of Public Defender in Baltimore continues to push and say that closer to ten or 20 thousand people that have been affected by this. I mean one way to think of it would be that, so you start with just the seven cops who’ve all been the department for somewhere between 10 years or more, and it starts to give every single arrest they do together with other officers no has to be questioned. So that was sort of the big question for lawyers once this indictment happened is how do we possibly even try to get to the bottom of that? That’s still happening. In addition, settlements have started to come out. A man named Ivan Potts got a settlement for four hundred thousand dollars. A gentleman, um the family of another man, William James, who is mentioned in the book. His family got two hundred thousand dollars. And then early this month, there was a burst of settlements, about dozen or so that dropped on a Friday right before right before Labor Day, which may or may not have been a coincidence. And that was some a lot of to a man robbed by these guys or had other issues with that and included a family. The Hamiltons that are in the book that were sort of kidnaped were never charged with a crime. But we’re taken from their house and had about twenty thousand dollars stolen from. So the repercussions, even into 2020 and into 2021 continue. And there has been since those initial seven indictments, eight other people have been federally charged. And we keep, we understand the investigation is ongoing. So, so far, about 15 cops have been roped into another dozen or so are mentioned that haven’t been in trouble or they’ve just left the department. And I think you’ll see more and more settlements. So their reign of terror, which has damages that stretches back at least a decade or so, also continues to sort of have reverberations within the legal community and the city who it’s still kind of mentioned the city as evidence of what Baltimoreans have been saying about police for decades, that they do these things. Now, the federal government charged people with the kind of things people when saying the cops do.
DeRay [00:50:08] Now Baynard
DeRay [00:50:09] You talked about that this was not the result of some incredible internal affairs investigation by the Baltimore City Police Department. Can you just remind us how this happened? Like, was it a how was it a whistleblower for people? Was it was this a mistake? And somebody, like, stumbled across the police being bad. And then after you do that. Can either one of you talk about why do you think the city leadership has been silent? Like when I think about when I think about the only response we’ve seen is like Bill Ferguson fought Pugh really hard. I don’t know if you, like he fought her really hard on getting that state commission, which is like, you know, not even an amazing thing, but it is literally the only thing that seems to have resulted. And he was really intense about that, given his role at the statehouse. Like, why have the city leadership been almost silent about what is arguably the biggest corruption scandal in the history of the police department, at least in a generation?
Baynard Woods [00:51:01] So we were really skeptical of the official story of the of the way that the GTTA was brought down, and so we we sidelined it a little bit in the book because some things didn’t make sense. I walk through it and, you know, what we did instead was the people who had been really calling this out for years are defense attorneys. You know, they’re the ones who know what dirty cops are doing, public defenders, particularly because they work with the most vulnerable. But and there were just cases in cases of judges and prosecutors ignoring what they could have seen. So we can talk more about that. But eventually, the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI get onto these officers. And it’s a really convoluted story that involves, on the one hand, a Harford County deputy, a white sheriff’s deputy investigating a black drug dealers in Baltimore, finding out that they’re talking with a member of the Baltimore Police Department and getting a warrant. But simultaneously, somehow the other guy that they get a warrant to arrest, that second drug dealer they’re on, in northeast Baltimore. When they go to raid his house, they find out that he’s gone. He went to a hotel instead. They. It looks like he’d had a home invasion at his house.
Baynard Woods [00:52:11] They somehow get suspicious about that. When they pull their own tracker off his car.
Baynard Woods [00:52:16] They find another tracker on the car that belonged to a member of the Baltimore Police Department, are the only member of the GTTF that wasn’t indicted.
Baynard Woods [00:52:24] John Clewell. So, you know, it kind of people say, oh, he was a Boy Scout, but he was using illegal trackers at the very least that he’d leant Gondu and Rayam.They did home invade this guy’s house. They knew through Gondo’s, his friend Kyle Wells, that this guy had they thought he had a bunch of money in the house. It turned out he had a bunch of drugs. They kicked in the door. When they thought he was gone, his girlfriend was there. They pointed a gun at her. They stole the money and they left. So somehow these two things come together. This wiretap with them is finding this tracker and they say, hey, we’re gonna get on BPD. And they they thought, Wayne Jenkins was the worst of them, when he took over the squad, here already was the wiretap on Gondo. And they thought they say maybe that it was gonna get better. But then Jenkins, of course, made it worse. So there are a lot of pieces that don’t fit there. How Clewell got out of any trouble? They’ve never you know, they’ve never said that he cooperated or something. But there’s some missing pieces. But that’s sort of how the investigation came to. They kept the wiretaps up throughout the summer and the winter. It seemed like they maybe had the GTTF got a sense that trouble is coming. Jenkins went on a paternity leave for several months and things quieted down, when he came up they tricked him all into going [00:53:41]Nidhi. [0.0s] And they had a big sting there that day with SWAT and stuff there. But the commissioner didn’t find out about this investigation till right before it. Almost no one within BPD knew. Even they couldn’t get records from the casino they wanted because they thought it would get back to BPD. And there’s, of course, Sean Suiter, Baltimore police detective was going to testify. The day before his testimony to the grand jury, he was found dead. And we still don’t know what happened with that. So there were still a lot of reasons to for them to keep this from BPD knowing about it.
Brandon Soderberg [00:54:14] And then in terms of, you know, why there wasn’t a response to this. Well, I think as Baynard kind of stressed, you know, so the Internal Affairs Department wasn’t involved in it. The local police department didn’t know about until I had to know about it for fear of leaks, as Baynard said. And so I think that kind of protection of it extended then to how they want to handle it publicly because they just want to sort of contain it. And that’s sort of that concerned about, you know, if you have initially seven officers, since then you have eight more, you have a dozen or so have been named since then as well as possibly being involved. It’s really hard to keep containing that. I mean, what’s the definition of a few bad apples? Is it 30 to 60 in an apartment? Like how big does that have to be? And so that’s what moved, I think, state level folks to like Senate State Senator Bill Ferguson to push for this commission. So I spoke to Senator Ferguson before the commission was enacted and the commission was basically, I think the vision for it was maybe something like you might see in an old movie like The Godfather two. You bring in all the coconspirators. They sit there and they talk and, you know, this is all public. That didn’t play out for a number of reasons. I think a lot has to do with transparency as we already talked about. There’s a lot of police officers or former police on the commission. Transparency has been limited. And so it’s kind of been the only response. But it’s also been fairly unaccountable, nontransparent. It’s brings people in. They speak a lot of them. You know, for example, just recently, a former commander of BPD of Baltimore police department, was interviewed. And the first half was him basically being like, how did you not know about this? You were in charge of these guys. How did you you know, were you what were the oversights, blah, blah, blah. But then the second half is like, oh, well, what would you have done different or how could we fix the apartments are asking the same people that we think are involved to fix it and when, when they, take advice. And you also heard is classic police investigating police, right, of like, oh, you know, we understand that you are, you know, in the department for 30 years. Thank you for your service. Anyway, why is your department such a disaster. This kind of tension between never wanting to sort of push it hard enough, but also make sure not to upset anyone too much. And I think that has to do with, again, the homicide rate, again, the violence in the city and this idea that if you critique the police too much, if you push them too far, you’re going to have, as they threatened after the uprising in 2015, to take a knee that anything may alienate the police is bad politically and allegedly bad for the city. And so there’s also that thing of just not wanting to even in this moment of national uprising against police violence, this real concern about how far do we push the police? How mean are we, how mean are we to them?
Brandon Soderberg [00:56:52] I mean, we see that with, like, these incremental reforms that are sort of trickling out now in the department. Baltimore kind of saw that over the past five years already.
DeRay [00:57:00] Now, one of the things in the book that I literally didn’t know like so what is cool about the book for listeners is that it takes you through like a play by play. There are these stories that even the police are as wild or wilder than people even imagine. But, you know, I know Ivan Bates because he ran for state’s attorney. I didn’t know Ivan’s involvement with this. Like, I just didn’t know. Can you talk about why he appears like a sort of a character in this story? And like, what is his role and why does that matter?
Baynard Woods [00:57:28] Yeah, so he was he’s sort of the protagonist of the story. We wanted to write it kind of like a thriller, but an anti-racist, antifascist sort of thriller instead of all of the right wing stuff that’s often brought in there. And as reporters, our way into criminal justice, is it always been through defense attorneys. They would talk to us and police and stuff wouldn’t talk to us.
Baynard Woods [00:57:49] So we knew about the cases from defense attorneys. Ivan had this. We wanted to start with the case of Oreese Stevenson, because it goes all the way to the end when he testifies against them. And he was a person that they robbed more than almost two hundred thousand dollars from. They stole two kilos of cocaine from, they tried to break up his marriage. It was just this long. And Ivan was there was his lawyer. But then when we started talking to him, we realized that Ivan had been trying to figure out and get people to listen to what Jenkins’ M.O was since 2010. And then in the period of our book, he had a slew of cases, five different cases piling up in the summer of 2016. That helped us narrow down. I mean, we could only write about they got a guy’s car, they got his keys, they went to his house, they robbed him so many times. They did it so often. So it helped us narrow down some of the cases. And it gave us a person for the reader to identify with a little bit, you know, and he was complicated because he had also defended Alicia White and the Freddie Gray case, one of the police officers, and he was really reviled for that. And he he really felt that. And so he was sort of struggling with himself at the moment. We started talking to him and he had been struggling with this case. And he had just when we started talking to me, had also just lost his race for state’s attorney, which is great when you’re writing about someone, because, you know, the loser’s locker room is where people are questioning themselves. The winners locker room you get nothing about except how great they are, you know, with the losers are really willing to question themselves. So he was he wanted to look back through all this and was willing to give us the time and the sort of constant calls of, what were you doing on this day, and getting him to check his phone and what pictures do you have, and what sort of, so he you know, he may be a really good lawyer. And Jenkins may have been a really bad cop, but the book isn’t about exceptions. The book is really about he stands in for the roles that, defense attorneys sort of play in trying to hold dirty cop to account, and the GTTF. is really a an extension, a logical extension of policing and the secrecy and the power and stuff we give. But these these human individuals give people a way to want to follow it sort of more passionately than an issues paper or something like that.
Baynard Woods [01:00:06] And then once he ran, we were able to then follow the public defenders and have this news sort of part of who were doing the frontline work of going over all those cases that Brandon was talking about, 10000 cases that were compromised. That wasn’t his job anymore. And so it gave us a nice transition into the next stage of the book.
Brandon Soderberg [01:00:24] And I’d just add that, you know, we really liked the idea of kind of inverting all your expectations for a crime story. So here the cop and the robbers, that’s where everyone starts right. It during the trial for two of the officers, the often people that were alleged to be drug dealers were presented as people victimized. We like the idea of having them putting the defense attorney in a sort of investigator role. And then we also like dealing with the title ‘I Got a Monster,’ which refers to cops saying what what Jenkins would say when he had a drug dealer he wanted to rob. We like the idea of sort of using the monster language and flipping it around to be about the police and kind of countering a lot of the language that we especially saw with something like, the killing of Michael Brown, where he was sort of this superhuman, also subhuman, the sort of racist monster language, sort of throw all of that at the police and then push the defense attorneys who are often kind of framed as like opportunistic or slimy. A lot of the time, although they shouldn’t be seen that way, as the kind of protagonists are pushing the conversation forward.
DeRay [01:01:23] Now, you know, it’s interesting. I remember when this happened, it was sort of big enough news in the city for a couple of days and then it seemed to just blow over, which was shocking to me, actually. I was like, what is going o?. But now we’re in this moment where, like, people are talking about the police again. And this, I think, is not even shocking. And like, people are like, wow, this is just an uncovering of something that we knew to be true, which is like you already knew going in. Right? So there’s this question about like, what do we do about it? And I’m, I am still interested. And, you know, you’re close to, you know, the city police department really well, is like I haven’t seen any of the city legislators come out with, like, a bold plan to change BPD or like, I don’t know. You know, I think there’s some aggressive people in the council who’ve asked a lot of questions like I’m interested in what your re..? Do you think people are just, even with the new council members, do you think that they are just afraid of the police? Like, is that like a you know, I don’t know. Like what? What do you think that is? And then what do we do in Baltimore? Right. Like, what is that? I can’t imagine that you think that this is these are all the people like I. I believe that you probably think this goes deeper. Yeah. And like, the consent decree is a good start. But like as you said, the Civil Rights Division was next door to this team and like didn’t catch them. So, like, what else hasn’t been caught? And I think nobody has faith in internal affairs. So like so one part of like why the silence from the city leadership which maintained itself today and then like, what do we do?
Baynard Woods [01:02:46] I keep going back to this. But I think that the police have done a really good job in the city, especially the Fraternal Order of Police, the police union, in framing any criticism or any question of police as too far and as a reason why violence is happening. If you tell us how to do our job, they have obviously done the consent decree, too, right. You know, if we we if we have to constitutionally police, we just can’t police will take our ball and go home. So there’s that. And then with that, you have a real concern of alienating them from a younger political class that’s coming in with the exception of a few, and that the older folks are so ingrained in this idea that, like these are exceptions, these officers, I said. But how many bad apples are do you have to have before it doesn’t seem like it’s bad apples anymore. And yeah, it’s ongoing. I definitely think includes more people. They don’t want to offend the police department. They don’t want to be seen as soft on crime. And somehow in this weird, upside down, really messed up city because of a lot of dysfunction and a really under audited under, you know, looked at police department.
Brandon Soderberg [01:03:49] Any criticism of police, including these, like egregious examples, becomes too much because, you know, even in the most recent mayoral election, everyone was arguing for going out and getting guns off the street. And that’s exactly what enabled these officers in the first place. So we can’t extract the sort of plainclothes strategy, which is to crawl into communities, black communities, throw anyone and everyone against the wall, search them, pull drugs out, do all these things if they have drugs, the nine with the task force, steal the drugs, arrest them for the gun. We can’t separate that from any kind of reform. And so we just sort of Eddie over and over again and everyone just keeps saying we need to go after guns. We never go after guns. This is exactly what happens when you have this sort of gun obsessed, gun focused kind of seizure. And so that strategy is sort of just keeps persisting in the city, mixed with maybe some things Baynard can unpack more about, like how police are protected, how it’s a state agency, the law enforcement officers bill of Rights and those kinds of things.
Baynard Woods [01:04:42] Yeah, I mean, one of the crazy things that other places are seeing right now, I think the reason why we’re glad the book is out now is because Baltimore had this uprising five years ago and there’s been this summer of uprisings this year. And we’re seeing exactly the same thing happening in all of these other cities where the police leverage violence against communities.
Baynard Woods [01:05:03] So they say, look, you you had a protest against us and now crime is rising.
Baynard Woods [01:05:07] Oh, you’re telling us to follow the Fourth Amendment. Now crime is rising. You see people like Alec MacGillis writing stories that are saying, oh, well, it’s crimes are rising because police are slowing down and it gives them all of the credit for rising and falling crime. And so it’s why we don’t hear city officials say more is the same reason we don’t hear anyone who’s subject to a protection racket complain about the people who run the protection racket because you’re afraid they’re gonna break your knees in some way or another. You know, the Thanksgiving after Baltimore’s uprising, after the death of Freddie Gray, there, there when there had been thousands of people in the street, there was a protest that the day before Thanksgiving and you were there, DeRay and I was there. And we’re standing there. And there were maybe 15 people who said, what happened? Why? Where did all the people go? And what we found in reporting this book is that the country’s task force and other BPD plainclothes squads functioned as a counterinsurgency. That July when they brought a new commissioner in, they said the riots are over. Do what it takes to get the violence down. And they leverage that violence against the city. And what we saw is that every time, you know, Jenkins’, when there was a supposedly slow down the country task force or it’s special enforcement section squad would make as many as 50 unconstitutional stops. And they called him door pops. Anytime they’d see a group of black men standing together, they’d speed up in their car, slam on the brakes, pop open the door. And whoever ran, they’d chase him, tackled him. And if they had drugs, they steal the drugs. If they had a gun, they’d arrest them. But all of them stolen drugs had consequences on the streets. One guy named Devon Robinson, they stole ten thousand dollars from him, and they arrested him. And he was murdered over debt, when he was coming from his court date and someone knew he had court. He’d been hiding out, followed him and killed him over a debt he couldn’t pay when they had stolen ten thousand dollars. So they were actually escalating the violence while then using the violence to increase their power. You can’t question us. You need us to stop this violence.
Baynard Woods [01:07:07] And so that makes it really hard to do anything with policing. I mean, I think part of what these guys show is the limits of all of the Obama era reforms. And they really articulate why people want to defund police and move those resources out of police departments as a whole, rather than thinking body cams or something are going to end up being helpful. One of the things we saw is that they used cameras of all sorts to manipulate evidence and to frame people and to justify their theft. We just came across a body cam video where someone that we knew, they broke his jaw. They’re forcing him to say that he fell and that he didn’t do anything and they had told him they were going to let him go. It points out a lot of the limits of reform and shows why, I don’t see how BPD could be reformed or many police departments that we’re seeing on stuff in Mount Vernon, New York.
DeRay [01:08:01] The stuff with the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. How do you how do you reform that?
[01:08:05] Yeah. So my my push would be that, you know, as somebody who, like, grew up in Baltimore, I still live in Baltimore. My family’s in Baltimore, is that you know, like I know that, and we we look at national data, the defanged conversation is really popular on the Internet. It is not popular in the country. Right. And even when we look at national favorability of the police, the police are no less popular today than they were before. Right. The protesters are more popular, but like people still rock with the police. It’s not the police do not lose popularity. Police unions are really unpopular, interestingly, but like the police are not. I say that to say like, how do you respond to people who say, like, crime is increasing in the city. Right. Or like crime is not increasing, actually, but like murders are increasing in shootings. Increasing violent crime isn’t as a group is not actually increasing across the country. But like in Baltimore, people do feel, you know, you know, those summers where I was like 30 people killed in 30 days. Like, we’ve all survived that in the city. So when people hear the end of policing are defined in Baltimore, there are a lot of people, black people forget the white people are a lot of black people who are like, I don’t know. Right. Because, like, this is already bad. And the police, at their worst, at least keep us like an equilibrium. What do you say to that, or like, How do you help people like bridge that gap?
Brandon Soderberg [01:09:18] I mean, that’s a really good point. And I mean, I remember after the uprising, I went to the the there’s weekly sort of public safety meetings all across the city is really intrigued to see what those played out like. And they made something that I had seen and understood from people in my family. I’m a white kid from Baltimore, from Highlandtown sort of notoriously white and racist neighborhood. But I was hearing the same thing, which is there’s this idea that, like, we just want to be able to walk down the street, like my grandmother would say, to get groceries or not getting hit in the head with a pipe or something. You don’t get robbed. And so how do you sort of square that with the concerns with police is really hard. You know, I’m not certainly not going to tell the black Baltimoreans how to feel. But what I can kind of push against is that what we’ve seen is that increasing police budgets and giving them more sort of a longer leash and more access to more sort of gear and equipment and all hasn’t worked. I mean this citiy has been paying for the police work for almost half a billion dollars for a long, long time. Homicide rate is not rising or shrinking, depending how much for spending. So we have to sort of look at that. And then specifically what I push against was plain clothes, because I do think that while police and police departments think of plainclothes as the sort of solution, you know, the guys in vests and cargo pants that are running through black neighborhoods looking for drugs, looking for guns, proactive policing, they’re finding crime. Those things, I think generally are not what people like, including in a black community, that it’s just a show off the jump out boys shop and they cause chaos. So I think that that in Baltimore, people need to understand because everything’s so opaque, you know, it’s so hard to get into the center of what the strategy is. The police department, when they’re giving more people, more and more money, more energy into policing, that’s who they’re giving it to, they’re giving it to the guys like the task force. They’re not putting it in uniform cops, beat cops and things like that, or homicide detectives, we have a wretched clearance rate in the city. So that would be my start. Maybe you would be like to think that when what you say you want in your community or what we all say want a community, if you believe that police have any effect on public safety, I personally don’t. But again, I’m not going to tell black folks that are dealing this in a way I’m not, what to do. But if you do believe in that, there’s still this disconnect in what you say and what police put in your community. They mainly put guys like Wayne Jenkins in your community, to jump out on people and arrest them for a lot of bogus stuff. And so I think if we start there, you understand this idea that plainclothes police are sort of causing chaos and creating crime just by causing chaos to create crime. And then if you have the country’s Telstra’s kind of officers, which you kind of agree is not just these seven guys at these 15 that have been charged, then there’s a lot of guys and a lot of freedom to rob you. And we already saw what happened when this was done because that’s what the task force is about. So that’s kind of my pushback on that a little bit, is we really may make compromises like let’s look at plainclothes and think what police strategy means verse in the same way that you say. I know a white you know, lefty guy like me yells about ‘defund’ and then it means something very different. But when the police are talking about crime fighting, I don’t think it’s what most people in the community actually think of the crime. But I don’t think they think of plainclothes guys driving around looking for trouble.
Baynard Woods [01:12:21] The only other part I’d add to that, I think that’s exactly right. The plainclothes, their footing is to wage war on the citizens of a city, and they bring violence rather than solving violence. They’re not the ones who call when you have a problem. They’re not the ones who try to investigate a homicide.
Baynard Woods [01:12:37] So, you know, the problem, like Baltimore Police Department has 500 million dollar a year budget and that’s not working. And every year when it doesn’t work, when we have over 300, I mean, this last week has been just horrendously violent. And clearly that the money that we’re giving isn’t working where it is. Where else could we give that money? We just wrote a thing for The Intercept, looking at safe streets here and the violence interrupters and that that model of trying to deal with violence and the way that BPD and specifically the Gun Trace Task Force was targeting them and which was another way of increasing violence, increasing their power, discrediting their rivals for that kind of power. When Sean Suitter, the homicide detective who had worked with Wayne Jenkins, who’d been involved in a situation where they caused the death, when he was shot in the head right before he’s going to testify, we offered the two hundred and fifty thousand dollar reward for his death as a city. If we offer that for every one of the murders that we have in the city, we’d still only come up with if my math is right, seventy five million dollars. That’s a fragment of BPD budget. And I’m pretty sure people would be flipping on people in a heartbeat here if they could get two hundred, and it would raise our, would spread that money all around the city, raise quality of living. So it seems to me that it’s a failure of our imaginations and a failure of looking, as Brandon was saying, what the police are actually doing and asking them, how are you, in fact, decreasing crime or keeping me safe? And they’re gonna present us with the worst case scenarios.
Baynard Woods [01:14:14] But places like Safe Streets might show us better kinds of and various cure violence and other sorts of approaches with better scenarios of how we might be able to help ourselves in that way.
DeRay [01:14:24] Brandon, you talked about a low clearance rate. Can you help people understand what that means and what does it mean to actually clear crime?
Brandon Soderberg [01:14:30] Sure, yeah.
Brandon Soderberg [01:14:31] I mean, what I mean by a low clearance rate is sort of a homicide in the city that they’ve closed and they can close it for a lot of reasons. It doesn’t have to be that someone was charged with it and then went through the system and was found guilty. Oftentimes in Baltimore, we see this, that they’re putting homicides on dead people. So someone gets killed and then they say that guy got killed recently. He did this other homicide and they clear it that way. And so that besides it being, it’s hovered between like 30 and 40 percent, which, you know, if you think about it that way, it means you have more than one in two chance of committing a murder in the city and getting away with it. So there’s that. And then how that that clearance rate just is able to be. There’s a lot of ways it can fudge that mathematical. There’s there are specifically murders that I’ve done some reporting about that were then put on someone I know. No one I know was saying that person to who was charged with homicide did it. And often times these are people that were later killed. So they’re sort of these ways that the math is fudged. And then there’s sort of this argument that when you don’t solve homicides, you create more violence because people feel the need to retaliate. And there’s a book called ‘Gators Side’ that kind of people on both sides that is often referenced. So maybe it’s a good place to start. But the argument there is basically that people are going to take violence in their own hands when there’s no retribution through proper conventional legal means. And so that’s the big thing is you have a city that every time there’s a murder, it’s argued that the police need more money to solve that. I mean, the Fraternal Order of Police in Baltimore sort of politicizes these bursts in crime. And they say, hey, look, x amount of murders in the past week. What are we doing about it? This police department’s a mess and then it’s like to be. But like, see, you want more money, but as Baynard already said, so you’re already spending five hundred, five hundred fifty million a year. So is that tension too. So they politicize the homicides. I mean the other thing I should have thrown in there too, is that clearance rate that concern about homicides is politicized by everybody. Those homicides generally don’t affect the bourgeoisie of the city or even sort of basically like white white guys like me that don’t you know, I rent a small apartment or whatever. I don’t have any money, but like, I’m not affected by that. So it’s really politicized in that way, too. That’s the people they get the most upset about. Are often people the least affected by it.
DeRay [01:16:38] We consider your friends of the pod. Can’t wait to have you back.
Baynard Woods [01:16:40] I would love to come back. Thanks so much for having us. It’s always great to talk with you. And it’s crazy to be on the other end getting interviewed by you is kind of great.
Brandon Soderberg [01:16:48] Yeah. Thank you.
DeRay [01:16:51] Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning into Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure to rate it wherever you get your podcasts whether it’s Apple podcasts or somewhere else. We’ll see you next week. Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by Brock Wilbur and mixed by Bill Lancz, our executive producer Jessica Cordova Kramer and myself. Special thanks to our weekly contributors Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Ballenger, and Sam Sinyangwe. And our special contributor Johnetta Elzie.