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.

UB President Schmoke discusses upcoming police officer trials

As Baltimore prepares for the start of the trials of the six police officers charged in connection with the in-custody death of Freddie Gray in early October, University of Baltimore President Kurt Schmoke says unfortunately, this isn’t the first time he’s seen a dramatic increase in crime since the end of April.

“When I was Mayor, for 10 years we had over 300 homicides a year relating to the height of the crack epidemic, and the (gang) wars over turf,” said Schmoke, who was Mayor of Baltimore from 1987 to 1999.

“What’s happened more recently is kind of opportunistic crimes. I do know from talking with some police officers that gangs, which did not exist to a great extent in Baltimore in the last century are prevalent now, and there’s been a street bat- tle among gangs, and there’s been a sense that they have greater op- portunity because the police are not as aggressive in their enforcement activity, at least in May, and that continued a little bit in the summer.” He added that the homicide rate in the city also jumped in the early 1970s, but fell dramatically after the R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center opened at the Uni- versity of Maryland Medical Center because more shooting victims were being saved.

In May, a week and a half after the rioting on April 27, Schmoke spoke with Bryan Nehman of 1090 WBAL-AM, and explained that it’s extremely difficult to get con- victions of police officers who are accused of criminal wrongdoing. Schmoke told The Post that there’s a range of opinions in the public about police.

“Everybody knows that it’s important to have a good police depart- ment in order to maintain safety, but there’s a wide range of experiences. Some people believe very strongly, or are supportive of the police in all they do. Other people are very skeptical of the police, so it depends on your encounter and the history of your encounters with police.”

Schmoke explained what usually happens when a jury is selected for a criminal case against a police officer.

“You normally, in these criminal cases, get a jury that’s a mix of the communities of Baltimore, from the wealthiest to the poorest, and when you get that mix together, a lot of folks are willing to give police the benefit of the doubt in making quick judgments on the street, and they don’t want to second-guess the police, unless it’s a situation in which somebody that they know has been injured.” Schmoke says those jury makeups often lead to hung juries and acquittals, not convictions.

In the Gray case, Schmoke says good defense attorneys would “put the victim on trial” by bringing up his past criminal record, what he was doing on the street at the time of the now-infamous confrontation, and even past encounters the accused officers may have had with Gray. Jurors would then have to take all that information into account in determining whether or not the officers’ actions were reasonable at the time. Schmoke says during his time as State’s Attorney for Baltimore City from 1982 to 1987, he prosecuted a case where an officer was charged in the shooting death of a motorcyclist in Northeast Baltimore.

“The police officer and the motorcyclist got into a fight on Harford Road near Clifton Park, and it escalated, and the officer shot this man, and the question was, was it just self-defense, or was it a heated argument? Did the officer have time to step away?” The case went to a grand jury, and even heard testimony from the accused officer, which Schmoke says is unusual. The grand jury indicted the officer, but when the case went to trial, the jury was split evenly, with the six white jurors voting in favor of the officer, while the six black jurors voted against him. When the case was tried a second time, the jury acquitted the officer.

There’s been plenty of controversy surrounding the Gray case. One subject of controversy has been State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.

Attorneys for the accused officers have leveled serious accusations against her, ranging from conflicts of interest (her relationship with Gray family attorney Billy Murphy, and her husband, Councilman Nick Mosby, who represents West Baltimore) to withholding evidence from the defense. The defense filed a motion to have Mosby be rescued as the prosecutor in the trials, but that motion was denied by Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams. President Schmoke agrees with Judge Williams’ ruling.

I think Judge Williams has been correct in saying that if there was anything that was unprofessional, that is a matter that should go to the Ethics Commission. Her conduct hasn’t risen to the point of disqualifying her or her office from handling this case…but overall, I think she has made decisions based on the facts as she knows it, but I still believe it’s going to be difficult to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that these officers were engaged in criminal activity.”

Another defense motion that was denied by Judge Williams on September 10th was a motion for a change of venue to move the trial out of Baltimore City because of the publicity surrounding the case and concerns expressed by defense attorneys about whether or not their clients can get a fair trial in the city. President Schmoke feels that decision was only a tentative one.

“That is, that he was saying based on what’s in front of him right now, he can’t reach the conclusion that these officers can’t get a fair trial in Baltimore,” Schmoke said. “I think during the course of jury selection, when you start asking people questions, that’s the point where the judge will make another decision about whether there’s too much bias one way or another.” Schmoke explained that people who are summoned for jury duty in criminal cases are asked very probing questions to determine if they have any biases. He said that following jury selection, defense attorneys will likely refile the motion for a change of venue.

In September, former Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said during a forum at St. Mary’s College that officers “took a knee” and decided to stop proactively policing the city after the officers were indicted because they were worried about getting into trouble if they got into a physical confrontation. Schmoke agrees with that sentiment Batts expressed.

“I do believe that there has been a very brief but telling slowdown in some police enforcement action after the indictment of the six police officers, and I think that has hurt the situation and allowed some things to get out of control in the neighborhoods,” Schmoke said. He feels that the police are now actively back to doing their jobs. He feels that the city’s recent moves of creating a “War Room” and bringing in agents from five different federal agencies to partner with the police department’s Homicide Unit are staring to pay off.

“I think the new police strategy is beginning to turn the tide, and hopefully we’ll see reductions (in crime) going forward as we move into the fall and the winter,” Schmoke said. As an “Anchor In- stitution” in Baltimore, he says the university is reaching out to the Police Department to help improve relations between officers and Balti- more’s minority communities.

“Some of our professors (in the law school and the College of Public Affairs’ Criminal Justice program) have been working with the police department on improved training,” Schmoke said. “We’d like to get more senior police officers taking our leadership courses. We have some professors who are experts in those areas, and so we’ve been reaching out to the department to try to offer our services there.” He called the University’s new “Divided Baltimore” course a step in the right direction to get students, faculty and residents alike to talk about how the city got to where it is now, and where it’ll go in the future.

February 2015: Letter From the Editor

“Won’t it be wonderful when black history and native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” -Maya Angelou

Welcome back! I hope you had a fantastic winter break; I know I did. I just returned from the Caribbean and Central America and was so sad to see it end. Trust me, if it weren’t for school, I would not have come back. Stay tuned for our March issue, which will feature a photo essay of my trip.

But as all good things, winter break must come to an end and with it we usher in the Spring semester. For many of us, like myself, this means graduation is only 15 weeks from now. For everyone, it means that it’s time to buckle down and start studying. For those new to UB, and even those returning, the best advice I can give is never put off tomorrow what you can do today. This is particularly important when it comes to due dates—don’t wait until the last minute; start studying now and turn those papers in as soon as possible. You absolutely never know what life may bring your way to derail your study plans, so it’s better to get a jump on it while you have the time. Also, make sure that you have a system to keep yourself organized. If you work better electronically, make sure you put deadlines, reminders, and even reserve study time in your calendar; if you prefer the old school paper method, invest in a fun, trendy, and personalized planner—I recommend the Academic Agenda from May Designs (www.maydesigns.com), in fact I bought all of the Editorial Board members of the Post one last semester to help us manage our school and production deadlines.

I’d like to welcome our new Business Manager, Keiya West, onboard. Keiya will also be our Publications Intern this semester and will be writing a monthly column on awareness. She will be supplementing her monthly columns with weekly columns at www.ubpost.org about topics of her choosing.

This semester is all about “lasts” for me. As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be graduating at the end of this semester and this is my last first issue of the semester, so please join me for the ride this semester as I say “see you again sometime” to the Post and to all of you. But enough about me! I need to give my Post family the shoutout they deserve and recognize their hard work on this issue over the winter break. Without all of their sacrifices, while you’re enjoying your time away from those heavy books, they have been diligently working to bring you a fabulous February issue to welcome you back school!

We’d love to hear from you! What are we missing? What do you want to see more or less of? Let us know! Please email me at editor@ubpost.org. Also, don’t forget to Like Us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter (@theUBPost), and subscribe to our newsletter (www.ubpost.org).

Yours Truly, Jessica Greenstein

Follow me on Twitter @lawofcooking