The New Technology Revitalizing Safety

The Sound Grenade in blue

Forget the unease of walking to your car after a late night of classes or festivities. RoboCopp is a tech start up from Sam Mansen and Jill turner, who share a vision of preventing crime before it happens.

“In the future technology will be so advanced that the probability of you getting caught in a crime is a 100 percent,” says Turner. “That’s how advanced technology is. Our vision is kind of this utopian future where crime is non-existent, and that is kind of where the name comes from.”

According to Mansen the name has no relation to popular film of the same title, RoboCop. RoboCopp seeks to combine “a robot and police officer,” says Mansen. “Our futuristic technology can contribute so much to crime prevention that eventually you’re going to have a crime rate of zero percent. We really think that will be the case. Sensors will be so advanced, cameras will be so advanced, guns will be so advanced that your chances of getting caught anytime you commit a crime are 100 percent. In other words, getting away with a crime — a violent crime that is — is zero percent.” Mansen predicts this future happening within twenty years. When asked how this might be possible, Mansen explains the two factors of committing a crime: something to gain and “getting away with it”. RoboCopp’s focus on eliminating the chancing of getting away with a crime is what they believe to be the best way of eradicating it altogether. Mansen calls attention to Singapore with the deterrence method via increased surveillance.

“When you look at police officers who carry body cams, complaints have gone down by over 80 percent. That is no surprise. No surprise whatsoever. Technology is nudging us into behaving morally.”

“I think [technology] is getting cheaper and cheaper every day. It’s getting more affordable for most countries to have these basic technological crime prevention measures. I think most countries will be able to afford basic surveillance. Every year it gets cheaper for us to make body cams and personal alarms. Economically speaking it will be very affordable.”

The personal alarm from RoboCopp is a discreet device. If you saw it, you might mistake it for a USB drive with a square face. However, the top of the “USB” is a pin that you would pull to release a 120 db alarm, “which can be heard up to 300 feet away,” says Turner. Although the device is open to the public, many students have taken to the device, carrying the Sound Grenade on their keychains. Once the pin is removed, the alarm will sound for 30 minutes until it eventually dies out. The device is reusable within the 30 minutes, meaning after the pin is removed, you can reinsert the pin and save it for later use. Once the battery is depleted, the device would need to be replaced. According to Mansen, if used in an emergency, RoboCopp will replace the device, and if you never use the Sound Grenade the device should last up to five years.

“Recently a UC Berkley student was walking to her car from a train station and two men approached asking for her money and claiming they had a gun. And she just had the device on her keys and pulled it. They just take off running immediately. We’ve had a lot of these kinds of stories where students are directly confronted with someone or they’re being followed and they feel nervous. They pull the alarm and they see people running away.”

The device runs for $15.99, which is a part of the company goal to provide affordable personal safety for students. RoboCopp is currently working on their next device, the Robo Ranger which is an upgraded Sound Grenade that alerts the police from wherever you are.

“When you make someone aware that they’ll get caught in what they are doing, that’s the best deterrence,” says Turner.

The sound grenade is available for purchase via the RoboCopp website or Amazon.

Halloween for the broke at heart

For most Halloween is a beloved holiday of fun and fright, however those plans can be jaded when your wallet has tumbleweeds. The plight of the college student falls upon all of us but that shouldn’t stop the scare and camaraderie of Halloween.

Of course, the easiest and most obvious is your very own home fright fest, certain remakes excluded. With the innovation of Netflix, Hulu and even videos on Youtube, you could have an entire evening of . On the list is the all-time favorite- Thriller (Michael Jackson). Watching the full length video is like adding another movie to your list of films to watch. If you haven’t ever watched the film in length, it’s a 1980s masterpiece including special effects from the same artist who did Freddy Krueger’s make-up in 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (which is a must watch!). Here is a list of suggested films, let’s start with the classics:

Prom Night

In this film, the most anticipated night of high school takes a turn when childhood friends start dropping like flies after they receive mysterious phone calls. Prom Night falls in the slasher film category; but its twists and turns make it unpredictable (here is where the remakes excluded applies).

Rosemary’s Baby

Adapted from Ira Levin’s novel, the story follows a couple expecting their first child. Rosemary’s husband, a struggling actor, makes a debt that he cannot pay off.


One of the films that started the slasher genre, directed by master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Before Michael, Freddy, or Leather-face, there was Norman Bates (loosely based on real-life serial killer Ed Gein). Norman Bates is the mild-mannered mama’s boy who manages the Bates Motel. and his composure unravel when Marion Crane checks into the motel but doesn’t exactly check out.

House of Wax

After a fire in a museum, the only survivor is a disgruntled employee looking for more than back pay.

Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Beetle Juice, Sleepy Hollow

 You can never go wrong with Tim Burton films ranging from animated classics to more suspenseful thrillers that take a twist on classic literature.

These films are just suggestions to get your list started;  there are tons of films ranging from campy to “must sleep with the light on scary.” If movies get boring after a while, the simplest thing to do with a group of people is Halloween Trivia ranging from history to pop-culture. You could make your own trivia cards from index cards and colorful pens or highlighters. Use the high lighters for different categories and Google as your trivia guide! To get moving you could either turn your house and/or neighborhood into a

 scavenger hunt. Create a list or map with places and/or things to found by each participant. Take a selfie for proof and keep moving. Baltimore is full of places believed to be haunted, gather a round of people to see how many haunted places you can find in one night.
If party games and movies aren’t your thing then of course, you’re never too old for trick or treating!

Call to Action

How Art and Guns Coincide

Over the course of the year, the nation has seen a fair share of tragedies from police brutality to domestic terrorism and mass shootings. Mass shootings have become some sort of phenomena plaguing American culture since 1966. Nearly a third of the world’s mass shootings took place in the United States of America; in other words the U.S holds 5% of the world’s population yet it has had 31% of mass shootings. The definition of the mass shooting varies, however the Gun Violence Archive describes mass shooting as any incident occurring where four or more people are wounded or killed. This year, the nation experienced one of the deadliest shootings in history, the Orlando night club shooting. Four years ago, the Sandy Hook shooting happened, during which 27 were killed. Five years before the Virginia Tech Massacre killed 32 people.

The issue become increasingly prevalent as of late, not stopping at mass shootings but extending to violence that occurs within the side streets of Baltimore City neighborhoods. Gun Violence and mass shootings even lead to the loss of young children’s lives. In 2014, three-year-old McKenzie Elliot was shot in a drive by shooting on her porch. Although, it may seem like a constant tug of war, a Baltimore artist has seen enough and expresses her stance on gun violence via oil paints.

Kimberly Sheridan, a widow of a veteran is artist to use their medium to take a stance and send a message. Sheridan is a self-taught who began painting at age 30. On April 14, 2013, she began painting victims of gun violence. Sheridan says, “That is when Congress just wouldn’t even bother to bring back background checks to committee. They didn’t even bring it to the table. It wasn’t important. But 90% of Americans wanted it… after Sandy Hook.” Sheridan does not receive anything for these but has a particular mission in mind.

Her mission is to paint the one million victims of gun violence. Her work has been displayed in Liam Flynn’s ale house with the exhibit, “Million Gun Victims March.” Sheridan says she, “becomes someone else. I forget myself, it’s not about me. As each subject arrives on canvas, [I] kind of shut down certain parts of the mind and try to imagine as close as I can what this person was really like, what this person really wanted to do when they were still alive.” Sheridan describes herself as being exasperated at seeing victims of violence. The only option was for her to paint.

I see if these pictures can act as a bridge over an emotional gap that all their deaths leave behind. The gap is still there, but at least you can be a different space, cross over to a different side but the gap will always be there but you’re not trapped by it. That’s what I’m trying to do. The families that she can are contacted and later given the canvas after display. Her work includes victims ranging from old to young and somewhat familiar faces. Sheridan painted Freddie Gray’s older brother.

Sheridan also paints “suicide row”– photos to the misunderstood victims of suicide. Her message is simple– oil paintings commemorating the tragedies of victims’ while raising questions hen and how many more? When will this be seen as an issue that needs to be resolved?  Whether the mission is a call to action for gun violence or a statement about brutalities plaguing society, art has a voice and a mission.

Tense day in Baltimore as Officer Nero avoids charges

The first verdict in the Freddie Gray case has been given. Following the mistrial of Officer William G. Porter, Officer Edward Nero was acquitted of all charges.  Officer Nero declined a jury, resulting in a bench trial that started May 12. He faced second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office. Nero, is one of six officers being tried for the death of Freddie Gary.

Judge Barry Williams heard testimony that finished last week. The reason behind the verdict- Nero should not be held responsible for securing 25 year old Gray in the back of the van. When Gray arrived he was severely injured and non-responsive. After the trial, protesters were gathered around the courthouse, chanting, “No Justice! No Peace! Jail to the police,” while Nero was patted on the back from fellow officers outside of uniform. Nero left the courthouse with tears in his eyes. Shortly, via twitter Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 issued a statement. Gene Ryan and Chuck Canterbury are pleased with the verdict with the belief Nero was falsely accused. Judge Williams was also applauded for not succumbing to public pressure and charging Nero with evidence brought against him.

Last April Freddie Carlos Gray, also known as Freddie “Pepper” Gray, died while in police custody suffering from a spinal cord injury. Gray was handcuffed without being secured with a seat belt in the police van after being arrested without probable cause. Gray’s death left the city in outrage because of the unanswered questions many people have. This time last year the city was restored after a week of protest and city wide curfew during the month of April. The case of Freddie Gray was the tip of the iceberg for many, demanding justice and better policies for police officers. Nero is the first officer to receive a verdict. The next officer, whose trial will begin June 6th, is Caesar Goodson Jr. Goodson was the driver of the van, transporting Gray. Many believe the prosecution will have difficulties moving forward with the case.

After the trial Mayor Stephanie Rowlings-Blake issued a statement. Rowlings-Blake says we must protect our neighborhoods and businesses. She is prepared if a second unrest should occur. While twitter and other social media outlets are flooding with alerts, it is important to remember that Gray, himself was more than a hashtag.

An evening with D. Watkins

“I want my stuff back,” says spoken word artist Lady Brion.
“Uh uh, Miley! You ain’t slick, bending over Robin don’t make you thick.”

This was the start of the evening for D. Watkins’ book release, The Cook Up. The evening consisted of poetry, history, comedy, and lessons from East Baltimore life. The reading was in the Learning Commons building on Maryland Avenue. Many guests who attended left with something insightful or something to ponder harder about. The room was brightly lit, with guest pouring in minute after minute.

Lady Brion was one of the three poets introducing the author with vivid descriptions of emotions Black women feel. The evening consisted of this theme: the lives and emotions of Black people. Lady Brion opened with “The Twerk Poem.” She reclaimed culture while defining misappropriation of Black culture and Black bodies. Her poem grew from the connection twerking has to ancestry, being labeled as a “hoe”, and finally the famous quote from rapper Nicki Minaj, “Miley What’s good?” She introduced two other poets, detailing the plight sexual abuse of young Black women while the other contrasted with female sexuality.

She spoke on being abused, saying:

“[This poem] was a way to reclaim my body against my sexual abuser. I shoot the man that made me victim. I shoot the man to make him victim. I shoot the man that told me my womanism is of the devil as if he knew the demons that troubled me.”

The contrast came with the following, “I wear this black ink over my body like henna or hickies.” The final poet used the distance of the metaphor, equating words to sex and the excitement she feels when writing a poem. These poems encompass pleasure and pain- themes discussed in “The Cook Up.”

Nia Johnson moderated the rest of the evening, introducing the person we had been waiting for: Mr. D. Watkins. Watkins has a particular charm found  in Baltimore natives, displayed in his use of humor to break the ice. He describes the walk onto the stage like, “I walked into class late.” It was his choice to start the evening with the female poets and female moderator because, “Males dominate panels. I am tired of the same male voices. Give respect to the women voices.” Watkins explains how the women is his life have been a driving force and a key factor in the Black community. He then begins to describe his newest creations as a book about humanity.

He wants to give a voice to the dead but more importantly, Watkins’ wants to encourage literacy and extracurricular reading for his students. Watkins acknowledges the importance of education and reading comprehension. He made a joke in which he says generations and generations of people do not read could be referred to as Trump supporters. He goes deeper into meanings and ideas in his book like the war on drugs/drug trade, life after being arrested, and the “crabs in the barrel” phrase.

For those unfamiliar with the phrase crabs in a barrel can best be described as: “If I can’t have, you can’t either.” A crab that crawls to the top is pulled down by other crabs. Most often used when describing social situations referring to those in less affluent areas and mostly areas filled with minorities. He hates the phrase, giving audience members this idea to think on- is a barrel a crab’s natural habitat? Are the crabs pulling each other down or trying to save the crab from what is on the other side?

“War on drugs was created to get rid of hippies and Black people. Nixon planted the seed,” Watkins says, “Nixon planted the seed. Reagan and Bushed fertilized and the Clintons harvested it.” He drives the point home about the drug trade that many people are caught in- “We don’t blame the victim. Blame the society that creates these issues.” He neither demonizes nor glorifies the way of life. He then spoke on his writing process.

“I rewrote the book four time, due to legal reasons. Some things you can and can’t talk about. [Initially] the book had 45 secondary characters. Growing up in a city like Baltimore, your life is full of secondary characters.”

This book is a quicker, easier read with short 2-3 page chapters. He reads excerpts from the book, detailing “bullets ripped through adolescent faces,” and the “rules of the game.” While the evening was bigger than the release of his newest book, both furthered the discussions of life in East Baltimore and the importance of understanding the lives that many Baltimore natives have to live.

Chronicling Black hair with author Bert Ashe

Conversations regarding issues of Blackness and Black people seem to cause tension, when most often tension isn’t necessary. The topics are most often deemed political or controversial when in fact they are more so topics of living life as a Black person. With that being said, the one topic that continues to cause a great amount of turmoil is the topic of Black hair.

Black hair, especially in its natural, unprocessed state has been deemed political by many, and in a sense, unfortunately it is. In the year 2016, many people are still asking to touch and stroke the hair on a person’s head. Some people take the liberty granted to them and wrap their fingers in the coils or locs or place a hand on top of the person’s head. For Black people it can be a continued annoyance or a commentary on the culture we live in. It is a practiced that hopefully, in 2017 or by the end of the year many people will stop.

For many people, their hair is a statement, a symbol or pride or a great representation of who they. For some Black people who have natural hair, it can serve as a political statement because afro-textured was, and is, a little bit of a taboo. The idea of Black hair and theories surrounding it have been explored and explained by many people. For most, when it comes to manners surrounding hair and beauty, they think of women, however University of Richmond Professor, Bert Ashe sees differently. Bert Ash visited the University of Baltimore, reading from his book, “Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles.” In this book he provides commentary on Black mens’ relationship with the “issue” of Black Hair.

In reference to your book, I know your locks inspired you but what else inspired you to create this work?

Well part of it was some love for the fellas. The fact that anybody who’s interested in black hair, talking about black hair, theorizing about black hair, understands and respects as they should, the black female situation. In term of the beauty ideals and the way beauty is much more of a factor for women than it is [for] men. But at the same time, Black men do think about their hair, even if it isn’t as conscious and not as fraught with all sorts of tension as Black women. I wanted to publish a book where the central focus is on a black man and his hair.

Do you have a preference of calling them “locs” or “dreds”?

I do. There is a chapter, about two-thirds of the way through the book called Against “Dred-Locs”. I talk a lot in that chapter about how this idea about there is nothing dreadful about my hair, you know? That dreadlocks with an A is somehow negative and wrong and I disagree with that. The term dreadlock came from the Rastafarians. They’re the ones that brought the hair style as a hair style to the United States. I like the punning double meaning. That dreads in terms of the way the Rastafarians used it did mean negative. It meant different. It meant outsider. It mean separate from but they didn’t mean dread as in dreadful. There is more than one way to use the word, so yeah I’m pretty solidly on “team dreadlock.”

Do you think Black hair should be labeled as “natural hair” or do you think when we talk about our hair it should just be, “my hair”?

I like natural! There does need to be a term used to make a distinction between the texture of one’s hair and the fact that if a woman has natural hair, you know displaying or wearing her natural hair, it allows us to know that it’s her hair. It’s not her treated with chemicals. It’s not her hair pressed and combed. For the most part, it’s the hair that she was born with and in that sense, I think it’s fair to call it natural. It’s only so natural, of course because it’s done in a way that is a conscious stylistic gesture. I think natural is a perfectly fine term.

When you wrote this, how do you think people received it? Were you afraid to write a book about black hair and more importantly, a Black man’s hair?

No, I wasn’t and the response over the fifteen years it took to bring this thing into publication was always positive, people always loved the idea. It was difficult to work it into a narrative form that worked. People were happy and excited about the possibility of the topic. There really wasn’t… I cannot recall somebody saying, ‘you’re a dude! Why are you writing this book?’ But what I do recall people saying, quite regularly, quite frankly is some version of ‘It’s just hair! You’re over thinking this. It’s not that big of a deal.’

How do you feel when people say that to you?

I have to disagree. I tell them that not only is it not just [hair] but that it has all sorts of meaning that are sometimes articulated clearly and other times that clash with all sorts of ideas in presentation of the body. I have two women- two seniors- in my seminar that I am teaching this semester, called ‘Black Style.’ Both of those women have straightened hair. Now, what I’ve seen of the course of the time I have known them at the University of Richmond, I have known them since their sophomore year, if not earlier than that, they have worn their hair naturally. One of them had this sort of modified dreadlocks and the other one had worn her hair in various sorts of braids. Their hair is natural, it’s pressed right now but if I was to walk up to them and see their hair today and didn’t know what their history was, I would assume they were the sorts of women who had to have their hair pressed because that’s the only way they can present themselves to the world and I would be wrong. So the fact is there are all sorts of things hair communicates to the world, even if, as I say in “Twisted”, ‘Black hair is an unreliable narrator.’ It’s telling you something but it isn’t necessarily telling you what you think you see.

And as a result, I don’t see how it can just be hair if it has so many complicated things to present to the culture about individuals, about groups, is so complicated. So the idea that you can say ‘eh… it’s just hair’- no it’s not! It’s not just hair. You’re wrong is what I would say. It’s deeper than that.

You wanted locs for a while before you actually had them. You contemplated a while. What was the “give all” that made you say I have to do this?

I think the bottom line has to do with a kind of, sort of maturity combined with acceptance of self. See, I’m not the only one-I think every healthy person, I’m not talking about people who are, you know narcissist or have some sort of mental illness or emotional issue, just ordinary healthy people, have a persona that they project to the world and they have a persona that they are inside. I think that what we try to do with our clothes and our hair and our affect and our presentation and our voice and a variety of ways that speak for us; we try to match how we are inside

by projecting a persona outside. And I, for a variety of reasons that have to do with the culture of my household and where I grew up in the suburbs and my own personality and my own sense of who I am, I struggled with the ability to present to the world a hair style that I felt reflected my edgy and sort of bohemian sensibility that I felt like I really was inside. But [I] could only managed to reflect to the world, this pretty conservative- not politically but in terms of clothing and hair style, way of being a version of Bert Ashe that communicated who was nonverbally to the world. And it took me almost until the end of my 30s to actually feel comfortable presenting to the world, truly what I was inside.

Do you think the uncomfortability came from society of people you knew?

Oh absolutely! Sure! Part it was people I knew but a lot of it was society, the culture. It’s kind of like when I, in the book about a third of the way through, I started talking about people reacting to my hair. Random strangers in grocery stores, random strangers on the street. Four or five days ago, I was coming out of the grocery store, I had done the grocery shopping for my wife and I and a woman- a white older, sixty something said something. I was listening to head phones at the time, so I paused my iPod and I said, ‘excuse me’. The expression on her face wasn’t aggressive, it wasn’t off-put- ting, and so I said, ‘excuse me’. And she said, ‘are you a musician?’ I said, ‘No… why do you ask?’ And she started tug at the air beneath her ears as if she was referencing my hair and she finally said, ‘Your hair.’
To me, when a random stranger says something like that, it’s not just her as an individual. It’s the culture talking. It’s the world saying, in one way or another, when you wear your hair like that, first and foremost I have to say something—I have to ask you who you are because your hair style is so provocative and so out of the ordinary that I moved to speak to a total stranger. I don’t mind it personally. I think it’s fascinating and curious. But in a sense, that’s the culture talking and if in fact you are uncomfortable with that sort of thing, if you feel like you’re not quite up to wearing clothing or ear gages or a hair style that is so outside of the norm that people will ask you about it or people will

look at you with a double take, then you need not to have that hair style. I wasn’t ready to be able to wear and present to the world a hairstyle that wasn’t conventional.

Would you say culture needs to change or understand black hair?

Culture changes. Change is slow and incremental. Sometimes the change seems like change but isn’t that much change. For example, for as long as dreadlocks have been in American culture, for as long as they have been around, you would think the sheer number of people wearing dreadlocks would disconnect the presumption that if you are wearing dreadlocks you must be Jamaican. But I am here to tell you, that with startling and amazing regularity people assume that I am Jamaican because I am wearing dreadlocks. Even though the culture has changed in the way we view the dreadlock hairstyle, to a certain extent the culture hasn’t change but so much because its inability to see dreadlocks any other way than attached to Jamaicans. The culture changes but it only changes so much and that change is going to be slow and incremental indeed. I’m not relying on culture to change. I’m not expecting culture to change to make me comfortable. That’s not the way cultures work. For me it’s probably better for a person to attain a certain level of comfort inside a culture that simply is not going to change but so much.

Bert Ashe reflects on writing this book for himself and for culture. The book began as journal entries in his process to loc his hair. It then grew from his personal thoughts and struggles. Ashe has an interest in Black hair as it relates to men and to himself, and will continue to explore this topic with a new project he is working on about the hair of Black men throughout history. Ashe is taking famous historical figures ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Malcolm X in hopes of talking about the figure and the media representation of the figure—looking specifically at their hair and how their hair was a part of them and the legacies they left behind.