Other Offices, Other Conversations
Here’s a shot of Baltimore taken from a police helicopter on a beautiful day:
As it happens, Officer H. Graham Smith took this picture above 25th Street , where Baltimore City’s ACORN office used to be–two or three blocks out of the lower right frame. The major thoroughfare on the left heading downtown is Greenmount Ave. And way in the upper right corner you can see the outfield bleachers of the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards.
The Inner Harbor beckons in the distance, just beyond the cluster of high rises. The picture poses a question: how far is it from the row houses that dominate the foreground to the prosperous waterfront? How far from the bombed-out center to the elegant dining?
Just west of the cemetery, local art students have used one of the abandoned homes on Barclay Street as gallery space of sorts:
The sealed plastic bags are filled with discarded clothes.
What is this meant to signify? Is it meant to make the passerby see anew what is all-around–namely, boarded over, condemned homes? An attempt to transform the facade into a patterned tableau, the street into a corridor through building-sized works of art? Are the clothes meant to be recall crime scenes, with the evidence bagged and tagged?
Officer Smith isn’t having any of it: “Done by art students. Sorry, a waste of time.”
Over in West Baltimore, Officer Smith snaps this sequenced use of the ubiquitous plywood:
Out here on the street, with no guidebook and no local authority, it’s anybody’s guess what this signifies. White against black, attacked from behind. Officer Smith is equally uncertain: “Art work or instruction manual?”
One final image to consider before moving on:
Mouse over the door to view the worn graffiti.
This is a memorial to a fallen gang member–apparently a very well regarded one. Why all the Steel Reserve quarts? The mourners may just prefer it, but the “211” that is part of its label has additional significance in some gang sectors: 2-11 alphabetized becomes BK, which is code for Blood Killer. The worn graffiti in the background for “Man-Man” may be from a previous memorial.
Of course, if you’re on a mission, the blighted, burned out remains of Baltimore aren’t likely to catch your eye. And the mission?
Chaos for Glory.
I’m not making that up. Really.
In the minds of our celebrity journalists, they’re doing Special Ops. Get in, get out. Take no prisoners.
It might also be called: Smash-n-Grab Journalism.
Here’s a possible itinerary.
Head out from Mom and Dad’s in Westwood, NJ. Turnpike to Philly, maybe two hours and a half hours.
Pick up your partner. She could’ve flown up to Philly or Newark from Miami, on summer break from Florida International University, where she’s majoring–well, thinking of majoring–in journalism. Or maybe she’s taken the train up from DC and you get her in Philly.
Whatever the route, you plan it so that the two of you are all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the morning target:
Former ACORN office in Philadelphia, second building in from the left.
Easy on, easy off.
Just like Butch and Sundance, Bonnie and Clyde.
Only in those mythic recastings of the 1970s, the bankers were the bad guys who deserved what they got. Now, the imagination-grabbing myth is of the community organization as the archetype of the deserving target, registering voters, shining a light on predatory lending practices, employing the poor to work on behalf of the poor.
Here’s Giles, after reporting that she and O’Keefe spent six weeks researching the project, and before she dropped out of college to pursue a career as a journalist and a public speaker, explaining why ACORN was the target of choice:
“Because I love America, I love God, and corrupt institutions don’t help that.”
Out of the mouths of Babes.
Gangstas, Then and Now
It’s hard, actually, to get a handle on what exactly went into the planning.
Not, apparently, research into the foreclosure crisis, say, or urban development.
It seems to have been a more impressionistic kind of study. As Giles explained to Glenn Beck on September 10th, 2009, the day the first video was released, she set out:
“[t]o expose ACORN. I saw them as a thug organization that was getting my tax dollars . . . I want to be a journalist. I had a summer internship with the National Journalism Center . . . and they set me up with a job. But one day I was jogging after work and I saw an ACORN [office in D.C.], I was like, you know, I’ve never seen them before, I don’t like them . . . and I came up with the idea. I was, like, what if a prostitute walked into ACORN, had no legal paperwork at all, and wanted a house to set up her business? And I called up O’Keefe because I knew he would be down for something like that . . . we planned for six weeks and we went to Baltimore.”
And, as it happens, when Giles’ call came through, O’Keefe had just finished watching a YouTube video of ACORN workers breaking into a padlocked home to return the evicted former owner to her living quarters.
“I was upset.”
About? The predatory lending practices of the financial industry? The school system for failing to prepare the nation’s citizens to understand the basics of financial planning? Or perhaps simply because of having been exposed to raw human desperation on a small scale?
O’Keefe seems to have been most upset about ACORN’s open disregard for the law–stealing the bank’s padlocked house and giving it back to a woman who had already shown herself to be unequal to her financial obligations.
So, yes. O’Keefe was definitely down with Giles’ critical program.
Let the studying n’ stuff begin.
So, July 24th rolls around and they hit their first target: ACORN Philadelphia.
But things don’t go exactly as planned. O’Keefe makes a call first thing in the morning, saying he’s going to be running for Congress in the future and would like an appointment. He gets transferred to Ian Phillips, ACORN’s Legislative Director, who explains that ACORN doesn’t provide campaign assistance. O’Keefe says, well, he also needs help buying a house. Can ACORN help with that?
Is that suspicious?
Turns out that, in fact, Phillips was puzzled by this and by the fact that the phone O’Keefe was calling from had a New Jersey number. Phillips tells O’Keefe to call back after 3pm. Phillips does some Googling and learns more about O’Keefe’s penchant for video stings.
Meanwhile, O’Keefe and Giles, impatient to get the ball rolling, enter the Philadelphia ACORN office before 10AM, claiming they’d been directed there by the Legislative Director. After listening to O’Keefe and Giles go on about needing help purchasing a brothel, the assistant sends a text message to the Director seeking an explanation for why he had directed these people to meet with her. Phillips and Keith Crosby rush downstairs to investigate but O’Keefe and Giles, having perhaps sensed that things weren’t going according to plan, were already out the door and getting in their BMW.
No transcript of this visit is available.
And in the parade of videos released throughout the fall, no single video is devoted to Philadelphia.
The police arrive at the ACORN office in Philadelphia at 10:44 or so (the report is not completely legible) and record a complaint by Keith Crosby against O’Keefe for creating a “verbal disturbance” in the office.
O’Keefe’s not there, of course. He and his business associate are racing down 95 to their next meeting in Baltimore. In the car with them are O’Keefe’s stage props: his grandfather’s wide-brimmed hat; his grandmother’s chinchilla throw rug/shoulder garment, and the pièce de résistance, the long-handled walking cane he bought at a dollar store. Oh, and the scantily clad babe riding shotgun.
The cops don’t hop in their patrol car and race off in hot pursuit. So far as anyone knows at this point, the most O’Keefe’s done is commit a misdemeanor (M/D).
It’s not like he and his gun moll shot up the joint.
Since I’m insisting that we should consider what this ruse has to tell us about the national education system, it seems best to pause and take a quiz at this point.
Click here for the answer:
Next up: The Road Not Taken.
This is the seventh in an evolving series on Citizen Journalism. It may be read on its own or as part of the series, which begins with “My Brush with Celebrity: The Other Side of Cyber-Spying.” A summary of each section of the series may be found here: Citizen Journalism and the Case of James O’Keefe (Table of Contents).
These extraordinary images are drawn from H. Graham Smith’s series, “All Things Baltimore,” which may be found here. Obviously, the interpretations of the significance of these images, as stated here, are text2cloud’s alone.
Different interpretations of the 211 code may be found here and here. I was convinced by the second link and my student’s explanation of the included graffiti, where 2 is for B, the second letter of the alphabet, and 11 is for K, thus BK = Blood Killer. Tip ‘o the hat, as well, to AK, who pointed out that the “211” is part of the Steel Reserve label.
Giles’ quote may be found here.
Longer Giles’ quote may be found here. (I’ve repunctuated.)
The police report from Philadelphia was retrieved from this site.
The summary of the events on 7/24/09 at the Philly ACORN office were garnered from this thoughtful article, “Cracking Acorn,” and the Harshbarger report on ACORN’s governance structure, which may be found here, pages 45-46.
The description of O’Keefe’s gear is drawn from this WaPo article.