The community that Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham leads in West Baltimore is on the other side of town from the neighborhood where a shocking July 2 mass shooting occurred.
But the burst of gunfire that resulted in 30 people shot, two fatally, at Brooklyn Homes has been gnawing at Cheatham because, he says, he has little faith in the Baltimore Police Department and others to properly investigate a tragedy that could just as easily have happened where he lives.
“When you look at all these people who are city agencies or have a city connection, how can they legitimately, interview and investigate themselves?” asked Cheatham, president of the Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association.
“We won’t get a straight answer from this because all these agencies are covering for themselves.”
A longtime civil rights activist who once headed the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, Cheatham has called on U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin and U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume to initiate a federal investigation into the incident.
He said he was even more determined to get action after seeing Monday’s Baltimore Brew story quoting a high-level federal official who said Baltimore Police have resisted letting federal law enforcement participate meaningfully in the investigation.
“It’s going to be three months on the 2nd and we’ve gotten nothing – no information, no updates,” Cheatham said.
“And now we hear the FBI and the ATF offered help and they turned the help down? It’s too much. I called the governor’s office when I read that!”
Noting that the incident took place at a federally subsidized public housing project, Cheatham said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s role is one more reason why Maryland’s congressional delegation needs to get involved.
“It’s a housing issue, a federal issue,” he said.
Similarities to Suiter?
City Council members expressed frustration at a lack of answers about the Brooklyn incident from police and other officials testifying at a July 13 hearing.
Since then, Mayor Brandon Scott has promised an “after action report” that would thoroughly examine a number of issues related to the shoot-out, including the BPD’s failure to intervene at a Brooklyn Homes block party even though it was aware for hours that the party had attracted hundreds of young people and was spiraling out of control.
But the report – which Acting Commissioner Richard Worley had said would be completed by mid August – is still not public, worrying people from communities like Cheatham’s, where parks and community gardens co-exist with open-air drug markets and abandoned buildings.
(The report may be released today at a mid-morning news conference, the Scott administration announced last night.)
Brooklyn’s population and his Sandtown-Easterwood neighborhood are similar, Cheatham said, complaining that he was recently unable to get Western District police officials to provide him with information related to the fatal stabbing of a woman on the 1600 block of North Monroe Street.
“God knows what we would do with two homicides and 28 shootings on one day,” said Cheatham, who promises multiple speakers from across the city will be joining him at a press conference he is organizing next week.
“In order for us to get justice here, we need the federal government to step in” – Marvin “Doc” Cheatham.
Cheatham pointed out that no one has been charged so far in connection with the two young people killed at Brooklyn Homes: 18-year-old Aaliyah Gonzales and 20-year-old Kylis Fagbemi.
“In order for us to get justice here, we need the federal government to step in,” Cheatham said, likening the BPD’s handling of the matter to its investigation into the 2017 death of detective Sean Suiter.
The state medical examiner’s office had ruled Suiter’s November 2017 death a homicide, but an independent panel later concluded that he likely took his own life.
Suiter had been scheduled to testify the next day before a federal grand jury weighing charges against a member of the BPD’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force.
“There since day one”
At an event in East Baltimore yesterday to give out anti-theft wheel lock devices in the wake of Kia and Hyundai car thefts, Scott was asked to respond to The Brew story.
“The ATF and FBI have been there since day one,” Scott said. “I’m not going to go into detail about what our federal law enforcement agencies are doing in partnership with us.”
Scott noted that arrests have been made and that other people may soon be “brought to justice.”
At his next event last night, the final community meeting ahead of Worley’s confirmation hearing, Scott was confronted about not arrests but preventing what happened in the first place. Coming to the microphone was Krystal Gonzalez, the mother of Aaliyah Gonzalez, one of the two shooting victims.
“I heard people from that community almost begging police to come there (as the crowds began to gather before the shooting),” said Gonzalez, struggling to speak through sobs.
“No one responded. Dispatch started begging police to send someone out there. Nobody responded,” she continued. “I heard (Worley) say by the time (police) got there the incident had already occurred. It didn’t have to occur.”
“At no point has anyone been shunned or pushed to the side on this investigation or any other” – ATF spokeswoman Amanda Hils.
Amanda Hils, spokesperson for ATF, said The Brew misrepresented her agency’s involvement in the Brooklyn Homes shooting investigation.
“At no point has anyone been shunned or pushed to the side on this investigation or any other,” Hils said, observing that any Justice Department employee providing off-the-record quotes to a reporter was “not following policy.”
Asked about Cheatham’s call for a federal investigation into the Brooklyn Homes shooting, a spokesman said he was unable to reach Rep. Mfume.
Senators Van Hollen and Cardin yesterday released a joint statement:
“Following the mass shooting that occurred, Brooklyn residents deserve answers so we can prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again,” the two Democrats said.
“That’s why we encourage Baltimore officials to maximize the use of federal resources wherever possible during their investigation.”
They noted that Maryland’s congressional delegation “has fought to increase public safety and other federal resources for Baltimore City, and that work continues.”
“We look forward to reviewing BPD’s final public report on the response to the Brooklyn mass shooting so we can determine what next steps are required to apprehend those that caused this senseless violence, and will offer any help possible to fulfill the urgent and long-term needs for the community.”
Ramos Suggested Outside Review
Cheatham is not the only person who has called for an investigation of the mass-shooting by an independent party. Councilwoman Odette Ramod made the argument at the July 13 City Council hearing.
“It seems to me we need an evaluation from an external party on this one,” Ramos said, addressing Worley.
“Verifying anything you all say in your report … or to uncover something that maybe you don’t see or frankly just to make sure that everything is being evaluated,” she continued. “Would you be willing to do that?”
Worley’s reply: “I don’t have any problems with doing that.”
Ramos remarked, “I guess that the mayor’s office would have to be the ones to make sure that that happens.”
No one else at the hearing picked up on the topic.