By J. K. Schmid, Special to the AFRO
Two thousand-plus days; 301 weeks. Nearly 70 months. Almost six years.
No matter how it’s quanitified– rain or shine– West Wednesday continues.
Part vigil, part protest, Tawanda Jones shows no signs of slowing or bowing down during a performance of unparalleled endurance.
“For 300 weeks, non-stop, peacefulness in the streets, everything,” Jones told supporters Wednesday. “They can’t handle this. They wanted it to go down the wrong way, so they can say: ‘oh, they anti-police, they this, they that.’ They can never say that about us, because it’s not true.”
Jones isn’t the first Baltimorean to lose family to police brutality in the city (Anthony Anderson, for example, died in police custody in 2012), but her particularly uncompromising campaign to seek justice for Tyrone West, her brother, has earned her the title of Baltimore’s nagging conscience, in addition to her formal name, Cassandra.
Multiple post-mortem medical exams conclude that West died of positional asphyxia in police custody.
The Baltimore Police Department (BPD) has made conspicuous changes in policy to avoid death’s like West’s in the future, but continues to deny culpability. Jones has forsworn any settlement offer from the city, at least until it is free of any gag order language forbidding Jones from telling her and West’s story.
In the past, the AFRO has told this story from different locations and perspectives, as well as historic milestones.
Since the AFRO’s initial reporting, the palpable power of West Wednesdays has ebbed and flowed, but here, at 301, things look and feel renewed. It’s been years since all the familiar faces of West Wednesday have been in this one place.
Outside Central Booking, May 8, West Wednesday is once again marking the calendar for another week without justice for West.
Many names have been added to the litany of police violence against Black men in Baltimore. The aforementioned Anderson, Freddie Gray, Keith Davis, Jr.
The list of antagonists continues to grow. Officers Chapman, Ruiz, and Lewis, have been named from the start, but the list has expanded now to include President of Johns Hopkins University Ronald Daniels.
“This is West Wednesday and we’ve also joined forces with the sit-in students, and we’re saying, even though they tried to bum rush and ambush them this morning, we still stand in solidarity with our soldiers and queens and kings,” Jones said.
Last Wednesday morning, BPD, at the behest of Daniels, arrested seven demonstrators staging a sit-in at Hopkins Garland Hall.
Students Against Private Police (SAPP), and other activists, held down Garland, Hopkins’s chief administrative building.
Concern on campus from public policy and public health experts, faculty, academicians and students centered on guarantees that JHU’s newly authorized private police force, a force similar to Morgan State University’s and Baltimore City Community College’s police forces, would not bring more police violence on campus.
“They’ve proved y’all point,” Jones told the JHU students of Daniels’ heavy handedness. “We don’t need private police.”
Jones continues to hold a Morgan State Police officer accountable in West’s death: David Lewis.
The sit-in ultimately held out for 37 days. But JHU did not resort to force until Jones joined her efforts with the Garland sit-in starting May 10.
Here, outside Central Booking, everything feels different.
What’s usually a handful of people, now numbers over a hundred. PFK Boom is back on the mic. Shorty is in the background cooking ribs. Baltimore Jail Support, usually out feeding and clothing released prisoners every Sunday, is out early with a spread of food before Jones takes the mic at 7 p.m. and they stay through the entire evening.
The smell of smoky meat changed what’s usually a somber atmosphere.
West Wednesday seems bigger, more vital, than ever.
But the fear of escalation and backlash is also more palpable than ever. No matter the crowd, the same tension washes over five protestors or a hundred protestors whenever a patrol car or police van slow rolls by.
“Y’all know I’m [on] high-alert, y’all,” Jones said. “They talking about the race supremacists trying to come get me, so I’m definitely looking around. When I hear my name, I’m looking, y’all.”
In response to the recent attack on Jones and two other women, Opal and Serafina, on the way to her car May 3, West Wednesday now has posted sentries with binoculars at the major intersections.
“Here’s this White man with his teenage son yelling: ‘which side are you on? Which side?’ Jones said. “He punched [Opal], in her face, knocking her to the ground. Be clear, she got knocked down to the ground bleeding, and then my other friend, Serafina, jumped in to stop him from attacking her friend, and he started punching her in the face, punching her in the face.”
Opal, and other witnesses shared their pain in similar accounts, moreover, everyone shared feelings of solidarity.
The seven JHU students were released without charges the afternoon prior to the protest.
But no effort is wasted, several other prisoners were released and fed during the two hours of testimony from Jones and her supporters. West Wednesday still agitates for the release of Keith Davis, Jr. and a march past the exterior cell windows was held in his honor.
There’s more energy swarming around West Wednesday, but when Jones isn’t at the front, rapt attention from new and old participants still place her at the center. JHU’s sit-in held out just over a month, and SAPP tells the AFRO in the immediate term they’ll continue to support West Wednesday while the focus moves to City Council and input into a memorandum of understanding.
The question remains, how does West Wednesday endure?
“I don’t work for nobody, can’t nobody pay me off, write me off, or none of that,” Jones said. “So I’m calling names out clear: Ron Daniels sent a threat, I don’t trust the FOP, let’s be crystal clear, none of these are jokes. I’m going after the Medical Examiner’s Office, Bruce Goldfarb, as well as David Fowler. I call these– [Stacey] Koon (of Ronald King infamy)– names out all the time. Because they’re all working in connection.