The City Council's Sergeant-at-Arms Tom Phillips is usually an exceptionally gentle and deferential 6-foot-5 and (my guess) 260 pounds. On any normal night, he usually acts more as an usher than a bouncer.
Tonight is not a normal night. Tonight is the night anything can happen—except it can't. Not if City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young can help it.
So tonight Tom Phillips makes a B-line to the second-row seat that Aaron Fink just vacated—temporarily, he thought—and tells the young woman sitting next to it that she can’t save the seat. "Can you move your coat? Can you move your coat? Can you move your coat?" Phillips repeats, his voice growing harder and more insistent as he leans over the woman.
She relents, and Phillips gives the spot to Kim Trueheart, a council regular, activist, and now candidate for City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young's seat.
Fink, a student with the Algebra Project, comes back a few minutes later and takes a seat in the front row. He keeps his leather jacket on as other students and activists file in to await the council's vote to permanently hire Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. "They're doing everything they can to keep us out," Fink says, noting the prominent—and new—fire-marshal sign outside the council chambers, and the closed balcony above (oddly, the balcony was occupied by several police officers after it was reportedly closed by Young for safety reasons).
The whole building is primed, with police officers waiting in front of every elevator. Members of Baltimore Bloc and other groups had stayed overnight in the building last Wednesday after the committee hearing for Davis' nomination. They came back today and held a press conference outside.
Duane "Shorty" Davis (no relation) files in and sits in the front row, two seats from Fink. They are introduced, as is Trueheart, who says Young "doesn't know how to deal with me anymore" since she announced she was running against him.
"I told him, 'I'm running because you're an idiot,'" she says.
Second District City Councilman Brandon Scott sits in front of Shorty, and Shorty asks him if he plans to vote to confirm Davis.
"Yes," Scott says, "and no one's talking about the elephant in the room but me."
"The six-year-contract," Scott says, referring to a resolution he dropped tonight asking for a change in the 1978 state law that actually requires Baltimore police commissioners to receive a six-year contract. Of course, none ever serve that—or at least, they don't leave at the end of any term.
As Scott tries to explain his position, Shorty talks over him, complaining that Davis is "like Bull Connor."
Young then announces over them both that the City Council meeting must be "orderly" and that the room will be cleared at the end of the meeting. "Failure to comply could result in a charge of trespassing."
The meeting goes on, and a few minutes later the vote is taken. It is a plain voice vote, with Nick Mosby (7th District) loudly saying "No," and Carl Stokes (12th District) also saying something that Young announces was also a "no."
From the audience, Trueheart says, "No!"
And that's that—12-2, Davis is confirmed.
Normally on controversial votes, councilmembers make speeches. Explaining one's vote has been raised to high art, particularly by Jim Kraft (1st District), who seldom misses a chance to do so. Often one explainer begets another, turning the council into a forum in which the councilmembers' plain thoughts and feelings sometimes commingle with their political calculus.
The vote happens with such abruptness that, it seems, the protesters do not fully realize it happened. No one disrupts the proceedings until a full three items after the vote.
As the council hears the second reading of a bill to rezone "Certain Properties in the Remington Business Area," someone in the crowd yells "Mic check!"
"Our voices were not heard," the crowd chants. The protesters repeat their catechism as they stand and march out, a line of police with flex cuffs marching behind, with camera operators bringing up the rear.
"No justice, no peace!"
"If we don't get it, shut it down!"
Young tells the last cop that he doesn't want anyone arrested.
"This is what democracy looks like," Trueheart yells at the council as the protesters chant from behind the now-closed doors. "These children have every right to speak. Every right! And the fact that you've taken it away from them—sucks!"