Over a year ago, in a series of tweets, former Baltimore cop, Michael A. Wood Jr., took to Twitter to whistle blow police corruption in the city of Baltimore. In August 2016, the Department of Justice released a 163 page report detailing the Baltimore Police Department’s violation of the First & Fourth Amendments, the federal anti-discrimination laws, Title VI, the Safe Streets Act and the Disabilities Act. Misconduct includes, but not limited to: unlawful, disproportionate targeting of African-American people, making stops, searches and arrests without required justification, excessive force, retaliation, interacting with individuals of mental health disabilities in a manner that violates their rights, inadequate response to sexual assault and transporting practices that put detainees in harm’s way.
Michael A. Wood Jr. joins Jesenia’s Goodie Bag in an exclusive interview, discussing The Supreme Court, the Second Amendment and activism.
JGB: You’ve garnered a strong following with your willingness to be open about bearing witness to police brutality. Since testifying, how has your life changed?
MAWJ: Interesting that you would use the word testify, because if there was one thing I am surprised that I have not done more of, it is testifying. Sure, I have done a year of testifying in the colloquial sense, but have only spent five minutes testifying to Maryland Congress and that was just on over criminalization. If that is not an indictment on the whole system, I do not know what is. I am also not entirely sure that my being open and bearing witness is what is different. Many others have done so. I think it has to do with my appearance, education, and commitment to empathy. These problems have long been known, I am just good at articulating them and presenting solutions.
JGB: Growing up were you always interested in public service? If so, can you walk us through the details? If not, then what was your initial interest before and how did it evolve?
MAWJ: I was a kid that watched Knight Rider, Transformers, Batman, COPS, and really most of entertainment that glorifies being good and protection through force. So, I can say that yes I was interested in public service, but the root of the motivation is debatable. Is it the service and protection, or the violence and thrill? I’m pretty sure it was both, but that is just what I would say is, I just wanted the violence and thrill, right? It feels weird now that such a decision was made, but I was upper lower class, at best, and some point I saw the military as a way out, a source of discipline, and something to do until I was 21 to be a police officer. I was just what I was always going to do, far back as I can remember.
JGB: The Supreme Court recently ruled that courts can use evidence of a crime even if the arresting police officer used unlawful tactics to obtain it. Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor also pointed out that states and federal government maintain databases with over 7.8 million outstanding warrants (the vast majority for minor offenses). Given this new ruling, do you feel our legal system is facilitating a police state?
MAWJ: This ruling is completely shocking to me. I remember a particular officer who was excessive in aggression. He was well intended, but not very intelligent. He went way too far in an interaction with a “repeat customer,” so to say, and roughed the guy up bad. I thought the officer was toast, I did not see how he was going to get out of it, but guess what? That guy happened to have a warrant and I presume they just turned the entire narrative into an execution of that arrest warrant. The Supreme Court just legalized that.
JGB: Following the Orlando Shooting and a 15 hour filibuster, we are still no closer to agreement on an expansion for background checks at gun shows or internet sales. It is estimated that the NRA has spent over $2.7 million on federal-level lobbying. While politicians have a financial interest to gain from the NRA, do you feel that perhaps Americans have become too complicit with their 2nd Amendment rights?
MAWJ: Well, this has become an issue that I am speaking out about more and more, but I do not buy the premise of even being complicit with 2nd amendment, because we have no idea what second amendment means. There are multiple logical interpretations, which alone means we need to revisit the discussion. America is certainly way too complacent with guns. We have politicians that fight to put death devices into the hands of people, it is baffling. While, police violence is nothing new, the killings may be a different dynamic now and the dynamic is that cops are fearing that everyone has a gun, because that is increasingly accurate and now they respond in a fashion that erodes our moral fabric.
JGB: Jessie Williams received a humanitarian award from BET and gave an impactful acceptance speech on police brutality, culture appropriation and systematic oppression, which was mostly well received, while others petitioned for the actor to be fired from Grey’s Anatomy. In your own words, what were your first impression of his speech and subsequent backlash?
MAWJ: Alright, this will be tough for people. Jessie Williams gave a great speech, he’s an actor after-all. People responded positively or negatively based upon their preconceived notions and biases (truth being with Jessie), but so what? I do not see Jessie Williams being much different than any other talking head, all rhetoric, no revolution. Ali is the example to live up to, Jessie is nowhere near there. Those with celebrity and power must do a whole lot more than talk to make a difference.
JGB: You’ve been featured on some of the biggest independent news broadcasts, like The Young Turks. Are you currently working on any upcoming projects or public appearances you’d like to share with fans?
MAWJ: The biggest project, right now, is tentatively named Radio Revolver, and is linked on my Twitter. The name is likely to change, but the concept is something I would do on a much bigger level as a police chief. You see, we are building two stages, one is a platform for the voice of the community and the other is for honest cops to be supported. Radio Revolver is the base for community voices. We have a studio and are setting up equipment now for a podcast, video, music, and so forth that will be a source of identity projects for Baltimore youth to learn and participate in the creation of podcasting, YouTube channels, art, et cetera. All of these programs fall under the umbrella of Radio Revolver, which we will use the celebrity of more “famous” activists to fund and promote the up and comers. As a police chief, I would do this for art, writing, sports, radio, barbering, and more because the trick to crime reduction is to provide purpose, not prisons.
Our kick off is a joint project with Undisclosed podcast and will be a series called Misconduct. The first Misconduct will be hosted by me and is titled Misconduct: The Killing of Freddie Gray, in which we explore more than what happened, we look at how we got here, how Freddie is a symbol for all of us, and what that means going forward. The biggest issue remains to be true to Freddie and his family because they never asked to be in this place, but, like me, are almost required to be. I am excited to get going because I know that once we start, it is going to take off. I cannot begin to explain how many brilliant minds are on the streets of Baltimore and just need a platform to be heard.
As for my personal public appearances, I am still working on my PhD in management education, while being continually schooled by the people in listening, so my time management is a mess. I get it accomplished, but I have no idea of when, where or how. I get phone calls and I go do whatever I can. We still seem to be in some form of denial over systemic racism and institutionalized brutality in this country, so every new ear I can get is some level of progress. Ultimately, I have no idea what I am doing. Nearly everything about me is based upon transparency and honesty, so why stop now? I was dedicated to being a management scientist who would put civilian led policing on the academic map. I know what I am doing there, I know exactly how to fix policing and improve an entire city, what I have no clue how to do is get others to break out of their mental prisons and change. The path I have decided on is to continue to write as clearly as possible while earning trust through complete vulnerability.
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