Category Archives: DC

Martin O’Malley: Rebuilding the American Dream, Like He Rebuilt Baltimore

I feel like I’ve been seeing way too much of Martin O’Malley lately. From being a guest on The Daily Show to playing the guitar on The View, O’Malley seems to not be deterred by his approval ratings. To the average person who only watches the debates and listens to the current soundbites, O’Malley sounds like a good candidate for Clinton’s cabinet (or whatever he’s aiming for at this point). I’ve seen many liberal leaning friends and news sources (especially those who consider police reform a primary issue) express their interest in O’Malley. His criminal justice reform plan even lists “build[ing] trust in law enforcement” as a top priority.

But the thing is, in Maryland we all know the truth about O’Malley.

How can the mayor that ordered mass arrests of innocent people and manipulated crime statistics possibly be the President we trust to understand and implement community policing?

How can the mayor who ruined community and police relations possibly be the President (or whatever position he’s going for) we trust to rebuild faith in the police force?

Back in April, I watched Martin O’Malley stop by West Baltimore for a photo op. Starting at the burned down CVS, he slowly made his way down Penn, shaking hands and smiling with the crowd that had gathered to protest the death of Freddie Gray. I’m sure he thought it was a great idea for him to do before announcing that he was running for President — until an angry protestor on a motorcycle started following him. “YOU DID THIS! YOU KILLED FREDDIE GRAY!” the man yelled. O’Malley quickly picked up his pace and escaped into the black SUV waiting for him at the end of the block.

He wasn’t wrong.

Nothing O’Malley has ever done shows he is capable of facilitating a community oriented policing program, or that he even knows what community policing is.

O’Malley now claims that he wants to make community policing a priority — though Baltimore didn’t get its Community Partnership Division until after O’Malley was long gone from Baltimore. O’Malley’s Baltimore focused on manufactured statistics and graphs, not human compassion or an understanding of how to treat the root causes of crime. Numbers get you noticed by White House, after all.

During the first Democratic debate, O’Malley assured us that in his Baltimore, arrests and crime fell.  He was half right — crime did fall in Baltimore, just like it did nationwide. But I don’t really know why he claimed arrests fell; in 2005 there were over 100,00 arrests in a city of roughly 600,000 people. How could crime possibly be falling if the police saw fit to arrest almost 1/6 of the city’s population? Under O’Malley the blanket policy of the BPD appeared to be “arrest everyone — or else.” People were not arrested for committing crimes, they were arrested and held for up to 54 hours with no charges ever filed. When people were assigned bail, they usually couldn’t pay it and would spend a month or two in jail until their cases would be dismissed. In 2006 the ACLU and NAACP filed a lawsuit against O’Malley for this practice. Spoiler alert: the city settled.

While O’Malley’s BPD were making mass arrests, they certainly didn’t prioritize arresting rapists. In 2010 the Baltimore Sun reported that police would aggressive question rape victims, causing 30% of victims to change their accusation to “unfounded” — which was five times the national average. On paper, the amount of rapes in Baltimore declined 80% versus the national average of 8%; the city didn’t even go for a believable, gradual decrease. 

Not to mention, O’Malley did his best to expedite the school to prison pipeline until political opposition was just too much to handle.

When you see Martin O’Malley talking on TV, please don’t let him blind you with charming jokes about the NRA or the honest good he did here with immigration and gay marriage.

Instead, please remember his first legacy — the city of Baltimore.

Remember Freddie Gray. Tyrone West. George V. King. Officer William Torbit Jr.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 6.17.20 PM

DC Metro: Nah, I’d Rather Walk. Or Stay Home.

Despite the fact that Metro is the worst, people are constantly telling me that I’m too harsh. Of course, these people are usually tourists or non-commuters, who then tell me that the train worked just fine when they went to that one Nats game that one time, or how when they visited DC it was so easy to get the museums. These people are wrong. Metro is a poorly maintained, poorly run, and overpriced debacle. The small annoyances are so typical I barely think to complain about them: unheated or unbearably overheated cars, constant delays, trains that don’t show up, 19 minute waits for the train you need. The larger annoyances sometimes grab attention, but it takes a death to make a big splash. On Monday of this week, a yellow line train on the DC Metro stopped 800 feet from the station it had just departed and filled with smoke. Passengers sat in the increasingly hot train for about an hour, breathing in the smoke and being told to not open the doors. When paramedics finally showed up, one woman was dead and over 80 needed hospitalization. Monday was not an isolated incident; it was just an example of how inefficient and incompetent Metro is.

It is ridiculously expensive to take Metro for the quality of the service you get. Speaking as someone who frequently pays the extra money to take Amtrak to Alexandria instead of Metro, I’m fine paying more for efficiency.  Metro runs on a system that requires you swipe your card when boarding and then again when exiting, running prices on a sliding scale based on distance. To get from the heart of the city to Franconia-Springfield is $5.75; if it was my daily commute, that would total $16.35 for round trip and $4.85 parking (interestingly, the stations in Prince George’s County are $5.10 — despite being far less crowded). Doesn’t WMATA have a responsibility to make using Metro worth $16.35, or at least make Metro convenient enough that you’re fine leaving the comfort of your car? You’d think.

Dupont South, from http://unsuckdcmetro.blogspot.com/
Dupont South, from http://unsuckdcmetro.blogspot.com/

Paying $16.35 a day, would you expect to have to hike up 188 foot long escalator? If you’re a Washingtonian, the answer is “yes.” The DuPont South escalator is the worst. The escalators at all stations are constantly out, and sometimes the elevators are too. Are you disabled? Metro doesn’t appear to give a shit about you.

Maybe if you were one of the passengers stranded just steps from L’Enfant Plaza, you’d think that you were entitled to just get the hell out of the station once you were being evacuated.  Nope! I know it isn’t typically the most reliable source, but people reported on Twitter that they were still forced to scan their card and wait for the exit to open for each evacuee (the same person said she told the news and they didn’t report on it).

On Monday, the smoke in the train was caused by arcing.  While it produced a massive amount of smoke, it didn’t cause a fire. Of course, people on the train don’t know this. As usual, Metro didn’t tell the passengers the information they needed (and deserved) to know. The one thing they did communicate was to stay in the train — despite being only 800 feet from the station/freedom. Even though all of the emergency signs say to exit on the side of the tunnel where the lights are (away from the electric third rail), passengers weren’t allowed to exit, and the firefighters couldn’t figure out if the third rail was on or off to get to the victims. But this makes a lot more sense when you look at Metro’s Standard Operating Procedures and realize that….they don’t actually have a plan.

6.5.3.4.  If the Train Operator was not able to reverse from the heavy smoke, the ROCC Supervisor shall:  6.5.2.4.1. FUCKING PANIC
6.5.3.4. If the Train Operator was not able to reverse from the heavy smoke, the ROCC Supervisor shall:
6.5.3.4.1. ???????????????????????????

You’d think that Metro would put into their rules what they would do when there is a lot of smoke, since this isn’t a new problem.  According to WMATA, arcing insulators occur about twice a month, though IMO that number seems like it’s low. The day after the L’Enfant Plaza incident, sparks and smoke were reported at the Gallery Place stop. All locals remember in 2013, when a  Green Line train had a problem with arcing — and everyone was told to spend hours stuck in the trains, without power. Riders started to “rebel” by self evacuating. Not only did Metro not approve, they wondered if they could arrest people for freeing themselves. What. The. Fuck.

To be fair, “sit still and do as we say” is the only way Metro has to handle any situation. In July 2012 a train lost power and passengers were told to hang tight…on a 90 degree, muggy DC summer day. Not in a tunnel. While the passengers say they exited after being told to do so by the conductor, Metro claimed that passengers were responsible for being forced to sit so long. Even though the “rescue” train also lost power before the pax self evacuating, apparently the passengers were to blame.

Elevator repair: blocking off the elevator for 6 months and taking breaks.
Escalator repair: blocking off the escalator for 6 months and taking breaks.

Now the union representing the transit people is on Twitter, holding a Q&A…and getting an earful. They linked to a useful PDF about why we shouldn’t privatize the system because people will lose jobs.  In reality,  illiteracy, drug use, and prior convictions run rampant in the staff currently employed by the system…as does extreme overpayment. Anytime you’re interested in a good laugh (or cry), just search Twitter for #wmata so you can see the day’s misery. And remember: it’s DC, so if you’re an American…this is your tax dollars at work!

To read about other things that piss me off, you can find me on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to my blog. 

Last Words: I Can’t Breathe / Why Did You Shoot Me / It’s Not Real / Mom, I’m Going to College

For as long as I can remember, I’ve campaigned to end the war on drugs. It’s caused increased violence, a loss of rights, and increased addiction. I’ve kept up on the “isolated incidents” resulting in the death of people and/or their pets, of the ruined lives. But yesterday both my heart and my faith in the American justice system shattered. It isn’t often I feel completely helpless. I’m so sorry for the family of Eric Garner; for all the families of those who have been killed by police. It’s obviously sad when anyone has their life come to an end, but to be killed by those we have chosen to protect is a tragic betrayal. If we’re supposed to trust the police to not harm us, why isn’t there the same level of accountability for them as there is for us?

At this point, whether or not Michael Brown’s hands were up has become irrelevant. The death of Brown has sparked a movement that is larger than one single action. So many people who are content with the status quo of militarized police operations are quick to point out that he was a thug, a criminal — and strong armed robbery means you deserve to be killed. If you believe that, nothing I can say or do can change your mind. That is part of who you fundamentally are. What I can teach you is that the issue is much larger than one incident. It is an American problem, and given racial and social prejudices, it is a problem that manifests itself in the black community.

If you’re uncomfortable talking about how this is a race problem, let’s start by talking about how this is a militarized police problem. This is nothing new.  Michelle Alexander wrote in The New Jim Crow:

According to the Cato Institute, in 1997 alone, the Pentagon handed over more than 1.2 million pieces of military equipment to local police departments. Similarly, the National Journal reported that between January 1997 and October 1999, the agency handled 3.4 million orders of Pentagon equipment from over eleven thousand domestic police agencies in all fifty states. Included in the bounty were “253 aircraft (including six- and seven-passenger airplanes, UH-60 Blackhawk and UH-1 Huey helicopters, 7,856 M-16 rifles, 181 grenade launchers, 8,131 bulletproof helmets, and 1,161 pairs of night-vision goggles.” A retired police chief in New Haven, Connecticut, told the New York Times, “I was offered tanks, bazookas, anything I wanted.”

Now let’s pretend for a moment that every non-indicted officer that killed a black civilian actually was within his or her rights. If officers are using their discretion and aiming to injure whites when they are also within their right to shoot to kill, then they are doing something wrong.

On the right is Dan Bilzerian. On the left is NOT Mike Brown. But that picture was used to convince people Brown was a thug. Hmm...
On the left is Dan Bilzerian. On the right is NOT Mike Brown. But that picture was used to convince people Brown was a thug. Hmm…

Michael Brown was not shot over stealing cigarillos,and it’s misrepresentative to say that the robbery led to the shooting (and this includes people on my side, saying life is worth more than cigarillos). Depressingly, I’ve heard many people say that if you don’t engage in strong armed robbery (or whatever crime it is when speaking of other individuals), you won’t have anything to worry about. I’ve read countless tweets, comments, etc from people: “I don’t commit robbery, so I don’t care about this issue.“ These people are most definitely saying that if the people who commit these crimes end up being shot, then whatever. Everyone that posted that stupid picture of Joda Cain holding a glock, with money in his mouth and liquor to his side, saying it was Brown and that he wasn’t really innocent, is guilty of this. People act like prior criminal acts make it a-ok when someone is shot. Hell, I’ve got a nolle prossed assault charge that could easily be found if the cops gunned me down. But one assault charge does not mean I deserve to die. 

I have read every single page of the grand jury documents. I cycled on this: first I was fully on Brown’s side, as evidence came out I was middle of the road, then when the docs were released I thought I might end up on Wilson’s side. Nope. After it was all said and done, thousands of pages later, I have questions. Maybe it was self defense, maybe it wasn’t. We will never know, and that is the problem. Sure, murder is a legal term and cannot be correctly applied without a trial — but in the vernacular, we use the term more loosely than in the court room. And I’m not buying an “accident.” Not for Eric Garner, not for Aiyana Jones, not for Oscar Grant. Careless, reckless endangerment of human life is a better way to say it than accident. You know what is fucking bull shit? Look at Cory Maye, who was home during a no knock raid on the duplex next door to his. Trying to protect his 2 year old daughter, he killed one of the cops that intruded into his home without announcing himself. HE was convicted of murder and sentenced to death row until, years later, the media got ahold of his story and drew attention to it. If the legal standard for murder is shooting an unannounced intruder in your home, then I think we’re safe to apply it pretty liberally when someone is laying face down on the ground without a weapon and gets shot through the lungs (Grant).

Even if it’s just that accidents are happening, it’s important to hold the police to the same letter of the law that we hold civilians. What message does it send to the community when a cop gets 11 months for shooting someone he knows isn’t armed on the BART platform, but a father exercising his 2nd amendment right and protecting his home gets sent to death row? What message is sent when a cop, 6 seconds after announcing his arrival for a raid, fires his gun into the lower level of the duplex he’s supposed to be raiding, and one of his shots lands in a child’s brain — and he’s simply charged with a misdemeanor? When the fucking MAYOR of Berwyn Heights has his dogs shot in front of him during a botched drug raid, and the PG County PD official response is “We’ve apologized for the incident, but we will never apologize for taking drugs off our streets. Quite frankly, we’d do it again. Tonight.” What message does it send when a cop throws a flash grenade into a baby’s playpen and isn’t charged with anything, while the child is forever disfigured?

CheyeCalvo
Berwyn Heights mayor Cheye Calvo

At the end of the day, human life is precious. There are certainly instances where force is justified, where it’s necessary. But it’s alarming to me that so many people seem to be okay with the notion that fatally shooting a civilian isn’t a last resort. We work to demonize the dead: you are not defined by your rap sheet, or by the ounce of pot found in your house during a drug raid that results in your own death, or by a photo of you holding stacks of hundreds. Even if you were, cops don’t get to play judge, jury, and executioner.

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook. Share your protest stories in the comments. Title inspired by this video. 

The Most Offensive Thing About the Term Redskins? Everyone Pretending to be Offended

Newsflash: No one actually gives a shit about racism against Native Americans. People are jumping on the anti-Redskins bandwagon and crying about how offensive the term is, and then ignoring all of the other incredibly offensive things Americans do to Native Americans. If you’re actually offended by the term, you need to demonstrate that by doing more than hating an already largely hated sports team. It’s easy to dislike a football franchise from another city, but it’s more difficult to actually want to change things you like or policies that are inherently racist.

Remember when Etsy decided to ban everything Redskins? From their blog:

You may have been following the struggle of one ethnic group that has made a lot of headlines lately: Native Americans and their fight against the Washington, D.C. professional football team name and mascot, which they have long considered offensive, disparaging, and racist….We understand that fans wish to support their favorite football team, and we do not believe that fans who are attached to the mascot have any racist feeling or intent. We also understand that some fans view the name and mascot as an homage to Native Americans, and we do not doubt their noble intent, but the fact remains that Native Americans themselves find the term unacceptable.

Okay, cool.  If Native Americans find it offensive then it is offensive and should be removed. So…why can you still buy elaborate handmade headdresses on Etsy? Didn’t we decide that headdresses are offensive over and over and over again?

I find it incredibly hypocritical that the same people crying over the Redskins take the time to celebrate Thanksgiving every year.  Do you know how you feel about going around the table and saying what you’re thankful for? That nice fuzzy feeling of tradition and happiness? That’s what all of those Redskins fans feel 16 days a year. Do you protest Columbus Day as an official holiday on the calendar? If not, get your shit together before you start protesting FedEx and every other brand affiliated with the Skins.

I guess I can go to Redskins games when I’m home in DC, and then assuage my white guilt by gambling at WinStar when I’m home in Dallas.

Totally not offensive
Totally not offensive
Not offensive
Moderately offensive
Mega fucking offensive
Mega fucking offensive

Do You Bleed Burgundy and Gold?

I really don’t want to hear about the Redskins anymore, mostly because I hate football. But I am considering opening up a side business if they lose their patent appeal. I’m going to sell a higher quality version of this shirt, and I’m going to be mega rich…who wouldn’t buy it?

20140703-145208-53528685.jpgSeriously, this is amazing.

Finding Love on Dallas Area Rapid Transit: I Don’t Want Your Dirty Tennis Ball, But I Do Miss the DC Metro

My best friend and I were in Dallas for the first time ever (a weeklong vacation that would ultimately result in my permanent residence in the city), and being under 25, we decided to rely on public transit (this was before the days of Uber). When we asked the hotels we stayed at if they knew anything about DART, they acted like we were out of our minds. We didn’t listen to them…how bad could it be? Well. Our 3:00 pm stroll through West End Station was peppered with calls of “hey white ladies!” and “Hey you white girls, what are you doing here?” from men who came and stood too close to us. It was bizarrely aggressive behavior for the middle of the day, and something that could certainly have been stopped by ANYONE IN UNIFORM coming up and just saying hi to us. Neither of us were afraid, but we were definitely uncomfortable — largely because we both realized if anything were to escalate, there were no people readily identifiable as employees of the transit system or the city to come to our aid.

Flash forward to this past weekend, when I’m minding my own business on my  phone. I can’t even try to tell this as a story, so here it is in script form.

Guy: Are you taking my picture?
Me: Are you…talking to me? What? No.
Guy: Do you have a boyfriend?
Me: Yes.
Guy: really? What’s his name?
Me: Andrew.
Guy [reaches underneath the seat and grabs something from his friend sitting in front of him]: You play tennis, right? I got you this. [procures a dirty, used tennis ball.] You can have two boyfriends, you know.
Me: What? No, no thanks. I don’t play tennis, and I don’t think Andrew would like that.
Guy: You could. [gets off train]

While that story is just funny and bizarre and not scary, it goes to my point that every time I go on DART I’m asked on a date. Sometimes it’s weird and WTF like that, other times it’s creepy and while I’m being recorded and then while I’m being followed off the train. Those times are less humorous. They also take place earlier than 9 pm.

Despite the knee-jerk accusations of DART defenders, I’m not racist, classist, or sheltered from what public transit is like. Obviously I took Metro quite a bit when I lived in DC, and I still take Metro, MARC, and Baltimore’s Light Rail when I go back. I have even fully relied on the Detroit public bus system to get around town. I lived/gypsied all over the DC area, frequently in areas where I couldn’t even get a pizza delivered to my home, but I’d say living in Oxon Hill and using the PG side of the green line was really the highlight of my slumming it. Every place I’ve lived in Dallas has been cheaper, safer, and I can get any food brought right to my front door.

So why is it that when I take the light rail in Dallas, I long for the days of sitting on the green line, wondering if my car will still be at Branch Ave (spoiler alert: not always)? Even though DART has lower crime numbers than Metro (and we’ll get to that in a minute), the aggressive and harassing behavior of my fellow passengers is way more worrisome on DART.

424481_4166891941955_1727532191_n

Perplexing, and yet I found it more welcoming under this sign than on DART

I have been wondering if there is just so little intermingling between classes and races that my being a single white female simply makes people more likely to same something to me. Indeed, most of the harassing behavior I deal with on DART comes from people who feel the need to point out the color of my skin. Even when I lived in areas of PG that were 1% white, less attention was drawn to my race.  I’m still trying to understand Texas racial and social norms, and I don’t know how to interpret this.

I’ve also felt, especially in the cases of going home in poorer areas of the District (specifically living in Landover once the train was passed Eastern Market, and living in Oxon Hill once the train passed the baseball stadium) and in being on the bus in Detroit, that there’s a little bit of a feeling like, “hey we all live here and we’re all on this train so let’s get along and keep to ourselves and roll our eyes at each other if someone acts a fool.” Not to say I always felt super safe on Metro or the Detroit bus, but when it was 8:00 at night and I was clearly coming from work, taking the Detroit bus down Jefferson or riding Metro through Addison Road, no one really ever said much to me other than, “Oh, do you live/work around here?” And these are locations that make the DART system’s criminal activities look like preschool.

At the end of the day, DART is super safe. Allegedly. As I am beginning to understand it, DART is responsible for hiring their own officers and, presumably, doing their own crime statistics.  WMATA does the courtesy of publishing per station crimes. I can’t find that for DART. It makes me feel like something sketchy is going on here…that little chart contains very little information.

I don’t like to call for more police presence, but I do wish that there were (some? any?) Dallas PD at the stations, or that DART employees other than the train drivers were visible (existent?). There also aren’t any huge, easily visible maps at most of the stations. Want to guarantee you look like you don’t belong and become an easy target? Look like you don’t know where you’re going. Easy to do on DART! They want to spend all of this money expanding their services when they can’t even get it right where it’s already set up, and that’s a shame — because traffic sucks out here.

 

Screw You, DC Cabs — And Long Live Uber!

Looks like I dodged a bullet by leaving DC last week – the cab drivers in the city apparently had a terribly obnoxious protest against Uber and Lyft that resulted in completely stopped traffic. Good. Being obnoxious will definitely make people more sympathetic toward you, cabbies. The people who are good cab drivers will likely switch to Lyft or Uber, and the bad ones will be phased out. I’ve taken plenty of Uber rides, and I can assure you I find it much safer. In DC cabs, I have been touched (yup), forever lost my phone, been hit on, texted later on by my driver (and NOT about driving me around), been told credit was taken and then forced to go to an ATM, and I’ve been told to get out because the driver didn’t feel like going where I lived. Calling DC area cabs has consistently been a nightmare, with rude operators and cabs that sometimes never show up. Since the new services allow you to rate your driver, it’s a lot less likely the driver will be a complete ass, and since you use the app to call for a car, the operator is eliminated from the equation.

Here’s a little trip down memory lane for anyone who might be on the cab drivers’ side.

June, 2011: Desperately seeking a cab ride home after my birthday in downtown DC, I faced multiple rejections since I lived in Landover. Finally had to pay $100 cash for the ride from Josephines to near FedEx Field.  Fuck you, cab drivers.  Eventually I learned to take cabs to my mom’s house in Alexandria.

September 25, 2011:  After seeing Bassnectar at RFK, my friends and I wandered around aimlessly while we hoped and prayed a cab would respond to our calls. A couple of hours later, we finally got one.

October 2, 2011: After seeing Steve Angello at Fur, my at the time boyfriend, me, and his roommates had to pay a random guy with a crack pipe in his car like $100 to take us to their house. Why? No cabs would come to us. Oh, okay. TOTALLY safer than Lyft. I’m sure his insurance was top notch.

All of the Friday and Saturday nights in 2010-2012 that I lived in Alexandria: “Hi, we’re going to Alexandria.” “No. Get out of my cab. Too far.”

All of the Friday and Saturday nights in 2010-2012 that I lived in Oxon Hill or Landover: “Hi, I’m going to Oxon Hill/Landover.” “Too dangerous. Get out of my car.” Sounds like they are so upset over missing out on all the money…oh wait. Uber and Lyft drivers are willing to go to regions that these lazy ass cab drivers can’t be bothered to drive to.

Bonus story: When I was a small child, my family and I took a cab that had fleas in it and brought them into our home in Alexandria City.

For what it’s worth, I’ve only used Uber in DC, not lift — but I did take UberX to Franconia-Springfield metro recently, and the guy who drove me was awesome. I’ve had guys use Uber to pay for my ride home (to the exotic, far away suburbs of PG and Alexandria) when I’ve taken the train to them for dates (take note, men: it’s an awesome thing for you to do).

Anyone else have miserable DC cab stories?

Despite my best efforts, no one pays me to write so use my promo codes to sign up for Uber or Lyft and I’ll love you always.

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