I’ve written extensively as a senior reporter for the AFRO (and in this column) and for years as host of First Edition, I’ve talked about how the so-called “zero tolerance” policing policy of former mayor Martin O’Malley helped ravage Baltimore’s Black community. Zero tolerance was a local manifestation of the national policy of mass incarceration (inherent in the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, known as, “The Crime Bill”) implemented during the presidency of Bill Clinton, which disproportionately helped annihilate Black and Brown communities across the country.
Now, a new documentary by two young Baltimore filmmakers further chronicles the onslaught of mass incarceration. “Free Young Blood: Combating the Mass Incarceration of Black Males,” premiers at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum April 17. I’m honored to participate in the documentary’s production as narrator and to moderate a panel discussion at the film’s conclusion. The force behind “Free Young Blood,” which is part two of a trilogy are Justin Gladden and Bobby Marvin Holmes.
“The first one was, “Live Young Blood,” where we looked at different ways to address community violence, we released that in 2013,” said Holmes, who is senior producer for First Edition.
“We wanted to take a look at this criminal justice system and how racism, institutional racism has contributed to the devastation of the Black community,” Holmes said. According to Holmes, a graduate of Morgan State University (so is his filmmaking partner Gladden), racism is at the root of mass incarceration, while politicians wield the destructive hammer of law enforcement.
“Police aren’t the starting point, our lawmakers, policymakers are the starting point when you look at who enacts this legislation,” Holmes said.
“Who decides the Crime Bill? Who decides mandatory minimums and truth in sentencing? Who decides these policies, who’s at the table to task these policies that harm us?” Holmes added.
Free Young Blood, makes the inextricable nexus between mass incarceration and the so-called, “war on drugs,” the origins of which are erroneously attributed to President Ronald Reagan. It was actually President Richard Nixon who in June of 1971 declared a, “war on drugs.” And in doing so, Nixon dramatically increased the size and scope of federal drug control agencies, and implemented policies such as mandatory sentencing and no-knock warrants. In the 1980’s, it was the avuncular Reagan who elevated the propaganda war (among other tactics) of the war on drugs, most famously dispatching his wife, First Lady Nancy Reagan to be the spokesperson for the then ubiquitous, “Just Say No,” campaign.
“We (government) need a new way to keep the Black community, keep the Black poor in check. So, here we are, we launch the war on drugs,” Holmes said. Then, in the 1990’s Clinton’s Crime Bill, launched a myriad of policy prescriptions, which Holmes characterizes as, “that shot in the arm, that steroids shot that beefed up policing across the country.” Of course the pinnacle of mass incarceration in Baltimore occurred in 2005 when more than 100,000 people — mostly Black men — about one-sixth of the city’s population was arrested. While focused mostly on local stories and impact, “Free Young Blood” has an overarching national narrative.
“We touch on how returning citizens are marginalized in our society, we touch on mass incarceration, we touch on aggressive policing, we touch on race and class inequity,” Holmes said.
“We really want to use this as a tool… as a resource to educate folks,” he added. “I want the single White woman in Connecticut to see this, just like I want the 15-year old living in Sandtown-Winchester to see this. It’s important for White folks to see it, because if they are the majority sitting at the table making decisions on laws and policies, they need to be adequately informed about how these policies impact a certain community.”
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of AFRO First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday on WEAA 88.9