In the early-morning hours of Monday, July 1, around 1:45 a.m., according to several people on the scene, three Baltimore City police cars with red and blue lights flashing and a paddy wagon swooped down the hill outside the Broom Factory, a burgeoning DIY music venue in Remington, effectively dispersing attendees at that night's event: #New Baltimore, a mini-rap festival featuring OG Dutchmaster, Al Rogers, Dee Dave, and several other performers from Baltimore's young hip-hop scene. While there were no arrests, witnesses say police questioned some present for up to 45 minutes after approaching the venue. Police department press officer Jeremy Silbert told City Paper he had no record of any police activity at that time and location, suggesting that no report was filed in the incident.
But the apparent shutdown, along with police actions at DIY venues America and the Annex, has ruffled feathers in the local arts community.
Located at the corner of 28th Street and Sisson Street, BFF, as the Broom Factory is known, is barely visible from the street. People who promote and attend shows at the venue point out that sound hardly leaks out of the large warehouse and that there are no residents or even nearby buildings that could be disturbed by a show or the crowd it brings.
Patrons add that the Broom Factory is the rare local venue that crosses identity barriers, as it tends to be open to the queer kids, street kids, and suburban kids all at once. DIY spaces in Baltimore tend to skew very, very white, they say, and BFF bucking that trend was important.
"I love the fact that [BFF] is run by a bunch of musicians and young people of color," says poet/rapper Abdu Ali. He has performed at BFF multiple times and holds his monthly, genre-hopping Guttahball party there, which brings in acts like Memphis noise-rapper Cities Aviv, post-everything producer DJ Baglady, and avant clubber Jungle Pussy. "It's a dope-ass warehouse with a lot of love."
Rjyan Kidwell, aka Cex, a scene veteran (and former City Paper contributor), sees the space as a crucial bridging of the gap between supposedly different Baltimore art subcultures. "Partying at the Broom Factory feels like the future," he says. "We've gotten really quite good at throwing great DIY underground music parties around here, and if those skills are actually useful for something as big as evolving racial relations between young people in the city, then everybody is in luck."
People who frequent BFF and the other venues targeted by police have been finger-pointing and speculating on message boards as to why it's happening. Some suggest that the police department is focusing on quasi-legal spaces right now. Earlier this year, Boston police posed as punks on message boards in order to shut down house shows and there is speculation that the BPD is doing online reconnaissance to learn about venues and shows.
There is also talk that this event, which attracted a younger audience than other BFF shows and brought in a strictly hip-hop crowd, was just less discrete than other shows. Thanks to dedicated fans and savvy marketing, #NewBaltimore was a big deal, and the venue was packed, pushing more attendees outside and around the venue than usual. "We repeatedly went to the top of the hill and informed everybody to not hang out," explains Akhi, one of #NewBaltimore's organizers.
Witnesses say police parked near the venue sometime between 8:45 and 9 p.m., just as the show was scheduled to begin, and left their lights on, a move that, some observers say, backs up the claim the police had learned about the event from social media or message boards
After about an hour, they left. Police presence reappeared throughout the night. Kidwell recalls seeing a few cops around midnight at the BP gas station, and police hovered around the venue again at 12:30 a.m.
Around 1:30 a.m., the police drove down the hill to the front of the venue. Fifteen minutes later, three police cars and a paddy wagon arrived. Akhi went in to warn attendees that the police were there and the attendees streamed out.
"If you ask me," says rapper Al Rogers, who performed at #NewBaltimore, "the police came and shook things up because it was majority kids of color having fun and enjoying themselves." He admits that the venue was pushing capacity but adds that the police did nothing to assist: "They were probably there to try to regulate shit, but they went the wrong way about doing it, as usual."
Many attendees bring up race as an issue in the BFF raid. Although other venues were shut down that same week, they say those were handled more discreetly, with police approaching organizers and telling them to shut things down.
"I've never heard of a full-on 'raid' happening to a mostly white-kid venue in my whole life of going to shows [in Baltimore] since 1995," Kidwell observes. "I guess saying this publicly would probably spurn cops to want to shut down more honky-punk shows than it would get them to re-evaluate their reasons for flexing on [BFF], but it's brutally hard to ignore."
Organizers stress that, save for the police presence and, apparently, a table and TV getting busted up, there were no incidents at #NewBaltimore. Before the show, it was made clear via Twitter that alcohol was forbidden and even the presence of flasks or flagrant violation of that rule was close to nonexistent. Akhi boasts, "We successfully threw an event with mostly urban kids from all over the city, during a crime wave in 90-degree weather."