"Damn, where'd you come from," a man who just walked out of the Baltimore City Detention Center asks as he fills a plate with pit beef, watermelon, and vegetables and then—"Thank y'all, bless y'all."
"We're doing like Jesus did," activist and chef Duane "Shorty" Davis, who has set up a table and grill across the street from the jail, tells the man.
Not long after, another guy doesn't need any food, just a phone to call someone to pick him up from jail. Someone else just wants some smokes. It is getting dark.
Two hours before, Shorty, along with Brian Dolge, a frequent face at activist events, began setting up tonight's jail support action, mini-block party, and, come nightfall, movie screening.
Dolge says he invited a number of people out for the event including some "liberals from the county" even, as he lays out a table full of bags of chips, oatmeal cream pies, and other snacks.
The jail support element of the evening—posting up near Central Booking and offering aid to those fresh out of jail—happens weekly, usually every Sunday and Shorty and Dolge are often part of that, but tonight they are also going to screen Ava DuVernay's 2016 mass incarceration documentary, "13th."
Dolge refers to the projection of a documentary damning the prison system on the side of a jail as "an art project."
Shorty is no stranger to art-as-activism. He frequently leaves decorated toilets around town in protest and between prepping some beef, shows off one of them: a portable medical toilet covered in photos including an image of a howling Donald Trump on the bowl and a rather puffy-looking image of Baltimore City Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis on the side.
Over the next two hours, the crowd grows and a number of people just out of jail get food, a phone call, or some cigarettes.
Once it's dark, the screening begins, first with a series of music videos, including Chicago rapper Vic Mensa's '16 Shots' music video about the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police, and a video by local rapper Son Of Nun, for his song 'It's Like That.' And then "13th" begins, its opening sequence projecting the words "EMANCIPATION" and "FREEDOM" on the side of the jail; it is incredibly moving. The movie continues and a few more people just out of jail stop by, grab a plate and sit on the curb and watch. Shorty and company are soon all out of cigarettes but there's plenty of food.
Halfway through the movie, the police show up and tell Shorty and Dolge they can't project the movie. Shorty offers the cops food, they decline and a few in attendance including myself, begin recording the interaction. The police tell people they can't record, which is not true.
"Oh, you're recording me too sir?" one officer asks me.
She turns her back to my phone. Another officer puts his hands over his face. Eventually, the cops go inside and then another officer comes out and insists they can't project. Dolge pulls up a document on his phone and argues that there are no laws against projections. The officer, frustrated, then tells them they can't sit on the wall near the jail and watch.
"Get off the wall y'all," Shorty yells and the small group obliges. He also asks the group to make sure they "don't drop no garbage" and tells them to make sure they clean up. The cops goes back inside and Shorty is a little frustrated but mostly victorious—he pulled it off.
"They got mad about a movie, we offered them food, Kumbaya shit and you see where that gets you—nowhere," he says."They hate when they can't bully you, they don't know how to take it out here when you record them either, it's their Achilles heel."
He smiles and thanks the crowd and looks in the direction of a few freshfaced white college kids and says, "Thank y'all for your whiteness!" He notes that this would play out different if there weren't white people here.
The screening continues without incident. Shorty hopes to do this shit all summer all around town but probably not at the jail again. The "symbolism" of projecting it on the prison is nice and all, but he "doesn't like asking black people to come to jail" for an event—this one time here will do.