Live negotiations and fear of harm by citizen journalist showcases lack of trust within a city fearful of those who are suppose to protect and serve
As if the Baltimore City Police Department didn’t already have enough PR nightmares with a perceived ‘gang problem’ throughout the city, and escalating violence that has seen a spike in homicides; they now had to deal with a complicated showdown with a local journalist – during a weekend that witnessed multiple people shot and stabbed.
Early Saturday evening, Baltimore ‘citizen journalist’ Frank James MacArthur – known to most as ‘Jimi the cab driver’ – presented the police department with a whole new set of headaches when he took to the airwaves during a stand-off with the tactical unit known as SWAT. The 47-year old journalistic activist, known for his consistent criticisms of the BCPD and local governmental officials on his site the Baltimore Spectator; was arrested without incident after a lengthy, and very complicated, warrant execution by those MacArhur remained critical of.
MacArthur, a well known activist throughout Baltimore, was in his Northeast home when officers arrived to serve an outstanding warrant for an apparent Failure to Appear violation of his 2009 probation that stemmed from a 2009 weapons charge in which he apparently received probation before judgment – which once completed successfully is wiped clean off your record. However, MacArthur apparently didn’t understand why they had violated him, after learning of such days earlier; and called on multiple advocates to try and get this issue clarified. Yet, his chances of peacefully turning himself in to the authorities disappeared Saturday evening as the police unit known as the Warrant Apprehension Task Force showed up at his door to arrest him on the open warrant.
Fearing for his safety, MacArthur immediately began calling friends and fellow activists while ignoring the calls at his door by police, fearing for his safety and asking that witnesses – with cameras – be present to ensure his safe capture at the hands of those MacArthur has consistently claimed assaulted him in the past. His pleas for help prompted the officers to dispatch the SWAT team to the usually quite Waverly neighborhood street known as McKewin Avenue, which then sparked MacArthur to take to the only outlet he knew could possibly save his life and ensure his safety – the internet. The fairly simple task of serving an open warrant just escalated into a police officers’ nightmare, and the routine negotiation efforts that are usually between an officer and the suspect gained thousands of spectators.
MacArthur took to the airwaves with a new and innovative online radio broadcast – Spreaker – which he uses frequently to get his message and reporting out to the world, and began a dialogue with followers on Twitter as his phone went dead. The on-line broadcast drew hundreds of listeners immediately, as people were amazed at the current, real time stand-off situation, which later drew thousands more as people began blasting the sites URL out through various social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
In fact, the nearly two-hour broadcast drew national attention and even had MacArthur exchanging tweets with people such as CNN contributor Roland Martin – who seemed to take the situation lightheartedly at times. However, as MacArthur initiated these tactical procedures by calling the central police station and asking them to patch him into the officer-in-charge on the scene, Lt. Jason Yerg; some local activists believe that Yerg’s continued conversations only seemed to escalate the situation by drawing a larger crowd of listeners and enticing MacArthur to refuse his surrender.
“Jimi was sincerely trying to protect his livelihood and safety in the beginning, but once he saw the number of on-line active listeners begin growing exponentially, he then seemed to be more concerned with ratings rather than his own safety and well-being,” says Shaun Louis, a local political analyst who was listening in from the beginning. “There were times when he promised surrender, and then stalled for ridiculous reasons like looking for his keys, searching for his attorney’s information or even having to piss at some point. However, as his delay tactics became evident, and his eventual surrender inevitable, Lt. Yerg seem to play right into himself, by allowing the negotiations to linger, as if he himself was aroused by the publicity?”
Which begs the question as to exactly why this officer continued his negotiations once he realized it was being made public and became more about the fame than security; and why exactly did the police deploy SWAT and shut down an entire area of Baltimore for one man? BCPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says that the department’s first responsibility is to ensure the safety of the public and the police officers, and says that despite MacArthur’s consistent rants, the normal procedures were followed correctly by Lt. Yerg.
The department also said that it was MacArthur’s tweets of possible violence that initiated the call for SWAT, but many question the logic of officers checking offender’s Facebook or Twitter pages before serving warrants. “My question is, how in the world did they know of these alleged threats of resistance, unless of course they perceive MacArthur as a threat and constantly patrolled his social media pages,” questioned Louis, who says that the department’s justifications don’t add up.
However, others say that the officers were justified in their tactical deployment, based on MacArthur’s past record of possessing illegal firearms dating back to 2002, and his past stints in mental institutions like the Walter P. Carter center. In fact, the attorney on record for MacArthur – who he consistently repeated as his legal counsel during the on-air stand-off; Delegate Jill P. Carter, has emphatically denied representing MacArthur – though she does state that she offered him free legal assistance in the past. Yet, as the world watches on as to what happens next with Mr. MacArthur – who was charged with the FTA for probation violation and a separate charge of possession of an illegal firearm for another unregistered sawed-off shotgun found in his home after his surrender Saturday night and is being held with ‘no bail’ at Baltimore’s Central Booking and Intake Center – many residents still don’t feel safe with an increased presence of the ‘boys in blue’.
“These folks don’t have our best interest at heart,” says one 22-year old bystander, present at the scene of MacArthur’s arrest Saturday evening. “They look at us as if we are all terrorists, observing from the safety of their little patrol cars up and down Greenmount Avenue (that has a stationed vehicle on every corner for about a 13-block radius); while they beat up and kill our brothers and sisters? You want my opinion, I tell ya like NWA said back in the day…’F*ck the police’!”
And that is the situation we face in the City of Baltimore, a reality known all to well by Mr. MacArthur and the young black men and women of ‘Harm City’. While Jimi and the department both seem to be at fault – at least to some degree – in this unfortunate incident that gave Baltimore yet another national ‘black eye’; the question I’m sure Jimi would ask once he’s released, that still needs to be answered is: When will enough be enough, and the citizens of Baltimore rise up against the clearly oppressive system that has left mother’s grieving for their children, some of whom were killed at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve? For with 12-officer related homicides this year alone, when will any of these killers be held responsible? And when will those elected to represent our interests actually call on such accountability – on the behalf of their constituents?
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