Informed and Dangerous: Why is A. F. James MacArthur in jail?

Informed and Dangerous: Why is A. F. James MacArthur in jail?

A. F. James MacArthur before his March 2009 trial. Image source: MacArthur International Media.

Beth Emmerling and Bruce Emmerling contributed research to this article.

Journalist A. F. James MacArthur has been in jail since December 1, 2012. Known for reporting on crime and politics as The Baltimore Spectator, MacArthur is currently being held without bail or access to visitors. He was initially arrested at his home for allegedly violating an expired probation, but is now accused of new charges added after the arrest. Despite outrage expressed by his allies and a habeas corpus hearing initiated by State Delegate Jill P. Carter, MacArthur remains in jail with no obvious path to freedom.

His case made the nightly news on December 1 because of the unusual way that police conducted MacArthur’s arrest. When a 50-person police SWAT team (complete with snipers and a “BearCat” tank) surrounded MacArthur’s home in Waverly, a surrender was eventually brokered through telephone negotiations—which MacArthur live-streamed to 10,000 online listeners.

The police were serving a warrant stemming from MacArthur’s “failure to appear” at an April 2011 court date relating to probation from an earlier gun charge. They say they deployed the SWAT team in what would have otherwise been a routine arrest because of threatening messages posted on MacArthur’s Twitter account: @BaltoSpectator.

MacArthur and his supporters question the decisions of law enforcement and the criminal justice system. They argue that police and judges have treated MacArthur unfairly ever since his arrest on gun charges in December 2008. Many contend that he is being suppressed because of his critical reporting on Baltimore politicians, media, and police.

Background

Apollos Frank James MacArthur drives a cab and works in security. In February 2008, he and fellow taximan Larry Wallace started Taxi Talk radio on 1010AM WOLB. As “Jimi the Bodyguard” and “Larry the Celebrity Cab Driver”, they covered breaking news—including crime and policing. MacArthur soon began reporting through multiple different channels, most prominently his Baltimore Spectator website.

I spoke with Wallace over the phone after a Friday episode of Taxi Talk. (Stay tuned; he wants to start broadcasting Monday through Friday, but needs sponsors.) Wallace, who has been driving a cab for 15 years, describes MacArthur as an exceptional and multi-talented person. He was able to “shine a bright light” on the authorities through diligent reporting and with the benefit of insider contacts. While working steadily on his own radio reporting and websites, MacArthur also helped many others to get started in broadcasting and online media.

MacArthur interviews Police Commissioner Fred Bealefeld in January 2009. Photo Source: Baltimore Spectator.

MacArthur is known as a reliable and resourceful journalist, reporting live from crime scenes with trustworthy facts. Often, Wallace says, he and MacArthur could use their street smarts to dig up facts that other reporters never found. Even Sun reporter Justin Fenton, one of the Spectator’s most consistent targets, has respect for MacArthur’s work. Here’s an example of the type of video MacArthur shoots routinely when he arrives on the scene:

When Shawn Brown was stabbed to death in a domestic dispute, the Baltimore Spectator was the first news outlet to cover the story. The day after, MacArthur broadcast an exclusive interview with the woman who killed Brown in self defense. (Compare the Baltimore Suns coverage.)

Sometimes MacArthur can be dramatic, even apocalyptic, about crime and corruption in Baltimore City:

We need a lot more than little rays of hope. We need a supernova. The birth of a new sun, to beam in here with bright light so bright it purifies the filth and germs that’s everywhere and illuminates the darkness that envelops this town. This is an evil, sick town. No, not everyone here is evil and sick, but this place is filled with evil. You don’t have to believe me, but if you were with me at two different scenes last night where people lost their lives, maybe you would have a better understanding of just what it is I mean.

 

It’s all a matter of perspectives, but the funny thing about reality is whether or not you perceive it, it still is. You see, so whether or not you’re walking around with the Baltimore Spectator covering crime and grime in the city, it’s still happening. Whether or not you read the BaltimoreSpectator.com and read about things not reported in the Baltimore Sun, they’re still happening in your town, in a neighborhood near you. You see what I’m saying?

 

So, you may not like some of the things I talk about. You may wish I had a show that was a little bit lighter. You might wish I covered more sports and entertainment, perhaps. But it’s not going to happen. Because everyone else is doing that. And it is my duty to bring you truth to the masses—which is our motto at the Baltimore Spectator. It is my duty to tell you what the others won’t. Because if I don’t we will continue to hurtle off this cliff.

His tone can be off-putting for some, and some accuse him of being attention-seeking or paranoid. On air, he often addresses criticism coming in through Twitter and in message board comments—defending his bleak picture of the city and his outlook on conspiracies in American politics. (This extends to national and international politics when he finds the time to cover those stories. For example, he linked the Petraeus affair to a Benghazi cover-up just days after the general-cum-DCI announced his resignation.)

But he can also have moments of optimism. Following his “grime” speech above, he offered a hopeful message about snowballing social change:

I’m still fired up, I’m still pissed off, but I’m doing my best to channel that energy, to focus it to be a catalyst for change. So that’s what we’re going to do on this show. I want to use my talents, my God-given ability, to make a difference in this world, to make a difference in Baltimore. No, I can’t change the whole city—never think I would; never think I could—but maybe i can change my little corner, my little neighborhood, my little block. The little patch of concrete in front of my house.

 

Maybe that’s what i can do And maybe if you’re inspired to do that too and if your neighbor is inspired to do that too and Jackie across town is inspired and John the other way is inspired. Maybe, maybe we can change this city, one by one, block by block, bit by bit, street by street.

The Trial Begins

At his 43d St. home in Waverly on December 28, 2008, MacArthur witnessed two young people breaking into his car outside. He called 911 and went out into the street with his rifle. They fled without a shot fired.

When officer John Berry arrived on the scene, MacArthur tried to describe the crime that had occurred―but Berry was more concerned about MacArthur’s firearm. Ignoring the robbery, Berry arrested MacArthur and sent him to Central Booking under charges of possessing a 14” barrel gun and wielding a dangerous weapon with intent to injure.

MacArthur was released on his own recognizance. Upon returning to his 43d St. home, found that his car had been impounded. Already frustrated after being arrested on his own 911 call, MacArthur wanted answers about why his car was missing. He also said he wanted to document problems with the city bureaucracy. Armed now with a cell phone video camera, he headed for the city impound lot on Pulaski Highway. A video, released later, shows MacArthur entering the facility and then being arrested for disorderly conduct:

(The video is short and doesn’t show some of the events leading up to arrest. Larry Wallace told me that it was mostly the video recording which provoked city officials.)

MacArthur later wrote that the disorderly conduct charge was dismissed when the arresting officer failed to appear in court. This incident does not appear in the Maryland Judiciary Case Search.

In a blog post dated March 14, 2009 MacArthur said he was mistreated in Central Booking. Already, MacArthur believed he was being persecuted for speaking out about the Police Department. In particular, he said that the police were targeting him for exposing police brutality as well as white supremacy on the force:

He goes on to state his commitment to disseminating the truth about the corruption in the Baltimore police force and violations of citizens’ rights. “In putting these stories on the internet,” he writes, “...somewhere out there, the story will exist.”

MacArthur says (on his personal blog and in radio broadcasts through 2012) that at the end of March 2009, a police helicopter and a dozen officers were sent to his house on a raid.

By the end of March, MacArthur’s trial for the gun charge was underway. His case was transferred from District Court (Wabash Ave.) to Circuit Court (in the Clarence Mitchell building downtown). On March 30, he made a video criticizing State’s Attorney Butcher, explaining his 2002 concealed weapons charge, and asking viewers for support. He was expecting a jury trial the next day.

But something happened at the courthouse on the morning of March 31. As Larry Wallace tells the story, MacArthur was stopped at the courthouse metal detector and detained because of a handcuff key in his possession. He never made it to the courtroom. Instead of testifying, MacArthur was arrested and sent to Central Bookings. After a week in jail, he was transferred to the Walter P. Carter Center, a psychiatric hospital where he was held for a full month.

State Delegate Jill P. Carter had met MacArthur by chance at the Wabash courthouse and took an interest in his case. When she tried to check up on him, she discovered he was missing in the legal system. Others also tried and failed to locate MacArthur, receiving no information from prison officials or from the judiciary website. Eventually, MacArthur was located at the Carter Center, where he could receive visitors.

During the incarceration, police confiscated a large quantity of MacArthur’s property, including a laptop and recording equipment used by MacArthur and Wallace to broadcast. There is no evidence that this confiscation was supported by a legal order. The equipment has not been returned.

On April 17, MacArthur broadcast a show from a hallway pay phone in the Carter Center... He begins not with a description of his own arrest, but with a history of the Carter Center and a discussion of its impending closure. After a few minutes of that, he criticizes excessive judicial power―as evidenced by the apparent ability of Judge Marcus Shar to hold him involuntarily in a mental hospital for several weeks.

For 40 days in total, MacArthur was held against his will. He was eventually charged with disorderly conduct. (Psychiatrists said his mental health was fine.) With Jill Carter stepping in to defend him, he was found guilty but sentenced only to pay $57.50 in routine costs.

MacArthur still believes that he was intentionally targeted. On the air in 2012, he described the continued effects of the incident on his livelihood:

They have ruined my life. Let me be frank with you. When the arrests started flowing in, and the jail time, and the probation and everything like that, I lost my professional licenses. I lost an executive position I had. They started choking me out financially, step-by-step. I lost a major portion of my income―I mean I do have different little streams, but... It changed my life drastically and I became unhireable, because if you’re a Black man in Baltimore City with have any hint of a criminal record, the best job you’re getting is $6–8 an hour somewhere; you’re not getting a professional job, it’s not happening.

MacArthur returned to cyberspace in May of 2009 and immediately resumed his intense critical blogging. He criticized Mayor Sheila Dixon for seeking to destroy I-83’s access route to City Hall. In other pieces, with titles like “Baltimore Police And Baltimore Sun Team Up To Mislead”, he hammered premature celebration of supposedly dropping crime rates―a recurring theme for the Baltimore Spectator. He continued to push buttons, claiming firsthand witness to racism in police treatment of media and police brutality with a taser.

Although MacArthur publicly disputes both charges, saying that he never sought to injure and that Officer Berry had blatantly misidentified his gun, he agreed to a “Probation Before Judgment” plea deal in September. After this period of probation began, MacArthur’s online output diminished. The Baltimore Spectator tapered off. On From Where I Stand (a personal blog) MacArthur suggested that he was focusing on exercise. MacArthur continued to report for Taxi Talk, but didn’t pick any major fights. He did cover Occupy Baltimore in October–December of 2011.

When Commissioner Bealefeld agreed to another interview―this one live on Taxi Talk―Justin Fenton was surprised to find MacArthur seeking rapprochement:

I asked him why MacArthur afterwards why he didn't bring up some of his gripes. "While my adversarial relationship with the police department is no secret, the show was not the time to or place to grind my personal axe. Ultimately, my goal is to improve the long standing rift between Baltimore's majority black population and the BPD. Duking it out with the commissioner on air wold not have served this purpose."

In fall of 2012, the Spectator came back in full force, with dozens of new articles and the promise of constant on-scene livestreaming. This surge of new reporting coincided definitively with the end of MacArthur’s probation in September. One might speculate that MacArthur felt emboldened to report on tougher stories with the threat of re-incarceration no longer looming. (If correct, this connection would be evidence that police threats had a chilling effect on MacArthur’s journalism.)

Yet a bench warrant for MacArthur’s arrest had been issued in June 2012 by Judge Marcus Z. Shar. According to the Baltimore Sun, the warrant was based on MacArthur’s alleged failure to appear for a probation-related court date in April 2011. (MacArthur later said he had never been informed of the date.) Some friends of MacArthur speculate that the police were holding the warrant on reserve, waiting to enforce it when they saw fit. Ken Batson, a taxi driver who has known MacArthur for years, is sure that police would have found MacArthur’s warrant in the course of routine policing of taxis and would have had the opportunity to serve the warrant if they chose to do so.

The new wave of reporting for the Baltimore Spectator also saw MacArthur in constant contact with police, both at crime scenes and in cyberspace.

In a video dated October 4, 2012, we see MacArthur slowly backing away from BPD officer Kris Rodriguez. As MacArthur steps backwards down the sidewalk—traffic to his left, concrete to his right, and the increasingly agitated (and armed) officer in his face—he reiterates that citizens have a right to film police in public. Although the Department of Justice reminded Baltimore Police of this basic right in 2012, this video is a stark reminder of how these scenarios play out on the ground. It is also a testament to MacArthur’s courage as journalist.

On October 15, The Baltimore Spectator reported on interviews with multiple police commanders who wanted to express their unhappiness with the state of the Baltimore City Police Department. They criticized secrecy and racial inequality within the Department, as well as the systemic drain of talented officers from the force. This was a dangerous story for MacArthur and for his sources. He also took aim at The Baltimore Sun, particularly reporter Justin Fenton, for “masterful misdirection” in spinning reports of police abuses.

Fighting City Hall

On November 19, 2012, the Baltimore Spectator did a live radio broadcast in War Memorial Plaza outside City Hall.

The impetus for the City Hall broadcast was the November 18 removal of the Bench Is Not A Bedevent from War Memorial Plaza. “A Bench Is Not A Bed”, conducted as part of National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, is a way for people to learn about the many difficulties that come with life on the streets. Participants, mostly college and university students in metro Baltimore, sleep outside with the homeless for one night. To their surprise, attendees of A Bench Is Not A Bed” 2011 were confronted by a police SWAT team and asked to leave. Threatened with arrest, they left City Hall and slept instead at McKeldin Square, where Occupy Baltimore was in full swing. MacArthur was on the scene.

When the group was evicted again in 2012, MacArthur defiantly returned to City Hall the next day. Demonstrating his ability to produce a mobile broadcast from anywhere, he set up shop in the Plaza and began to live-stream. Immediately, he dug into the city for squandering $9 million intended for helping the homeless, and criticized them for sending away the students. He observed that many people were sleeping in the area already, citing the removal of the students on the previous night as an example of inconsistent, politicized, and expensive policing.

He was accompanied by his old co-host Larry The Celebrity Cab Driver, as well as Duane Davis, another activist and citizen reporter. Davis (a.k.a. Shorty) became famous in 2011 when, while protesting racism in the judicial system, he was falsely accused of deploying a dangerous weapon in public. In fact, Davis had brought a toilet covered with photos and newspaper clippings—to suggest, among other things, that the courts “treat us like shit.” After several months of incarceration, Davis was acquitted of all charges.

In a YouTube video made with Davis, MacArthur displays handcuffs and boasts of a (legal) concealed weapon:

Davis and MacArthur record video live from City Hall

Davis thinks that “The Takeover” at City Hall was the last straw for Baltimore’s beleaguered authorities. “They couldn’t afford to have him and me running around town together”, he said in a phone interview. MacArthur also announced that he was planning to add programs on the Baltimore Spectator Radio Network in which police and firefighters could talk candidly about their jobs. The prospect of a round-the-clock guerilla radio network seemed increasingly real.

"My life is in grave danger"

Soon after the City Hall broadcast, MacArthur informed his audience that he had learned of an outstanding warrant for missing a court date. He questioned the warrant itself, asking why, exactly, he was supposed to appear in court for his unsupervised Probation Before Judgment. He inferred that the warrant was an arbitrary tactic intended to keep him within the power of the legal system. He also said that police had not discussed the warrant with him in their conversations on social media. He concluded that the Police Department in fact wanted a confrontation, and that they might attempt to loot his house (again), to hurt him, or to kill him.

In the days leading up to the standoff and arrest, MacArthur produced a dramatic series of radio shows in anticipation. He discussed “direct credible intelligence” which suggested that the police were looking for him and, he says, that his life was in “grave danger.” He broadcasted several shows as though they might be his last. Larry Wallace told me that MacArthur was afraid to go anywhere without a witness present.

MacArthur reported that his bank accounts and PayPal account had all been shut down, that he was in hiding and running out of money. (We haven’t been able to confirm closure of the bank accounts; donations are still blocked on PayPal.)

MacArthur says his PayPal site and bank accounts were shut down when police decided to hunt him down. We can’t verify that claim completely, but it’s true that his PayPal is frozen.

MacArthur also used the shows, his blog, and his Twitter account to send messages to the police. He did boast about his combat skills, and he threatened anyone who might try to kill him. Alternating between bluster and calls for help, MacArthur emphasized the dramatic elements of his persona and moved away from the factual clarity typical of his everyday crime scene reporting.

In the process, he sent out some messages which police said were threatening enough to justify deploying a SWAT team.

People close to MacArthur have different ideas about why he took this uncharacteristic tone. Hannah Goldstein has known MacArthur for a long time—he’s been friends with her family since she was three years old. She “thinks of him as family” and describes him as kind, passionate, and non-violent. (She says that he “makes the best of every situation”: even confined involuntarily in a psychiatric hospital, where she visited him, he was able to stay positive and productive.) Goldstein believes, based on telephone conversations with MacArthur during this intense period, that he was “filled with adrenaline” due to fear of capture or death. She also thinks some of the Tweets, such as this one, were intended to be funny:

“Whenever he says ‘zen’, he’s usually joking”, observes Goldstein.

Larry Wallace thinks that MacArthur’s supervillainy was part of a more calculated strategy to draw attention to his situation. His tone is mysterious as much as threatening, dramatizing the situation with details about espionage and a fictionalized drama about “The Dark Avenger”.

MacArthur did send clear messages that he would go peacefully if arrested.

Siege of 641 McKewin

Prelude

MacArthur’s December 1 programming began with a rebroadcast of the Alex Jones Show (featuring Cynthia McKinney), discussing difficult topics such as domestic CIA propaganda operations (e.g. Operation Mockingbird), the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and sex trafficking by government contractors. Considering the state of CIA black operations around the time of the Church Committee, McKinney argued (with Jones’s agreement) that we can only guess at the scope of covert intelligence operations today. “They were just practicing on us”, said McKinney, in reference to government targeting of African Americans.

Although MacArthur offered disclaimers for Alex Jones, who some people dismiss as conspiracy theorist or as a provocateur, he clearly agrees with Jones that some within the government will go out of their way to silence dissenting voices. This idea that Americans can be persecuted for dissent hit directly home for MacArthur midway through the show (98 minutes into the recording; at about 2:44 PM), when a BPD SWAT team arrived at MacArthur’s house. Listeners, who had been preparing for days to witness the Spectator’s capture and possible death, heard the Alex Jones Show abruptly cut off, followed by the ambient sounds of a basement recording studio.

Earlier that day, MacArthur had uploaded a final post to his blog: “FREEDOM UNDER FIRE -- I WILL DIE FREE!!!”. In this post, the Baltimore Spectator writes his own epitaph: “What happened to James MacArthur was not only detestable, but should be seen as a serious threat to the peace, safety and liberty of any and all Americans. For if it happened to one, it can certainly happen to all. You could be next.”

“Put me down as an early casualty on the new world order”, MacArthur later wrote on Twitter.

Surrounded

When he realized that police had arrived, MacArthur left the mic open without speaking for almost an hour. After several hours broadcasting from his basement, discussing the police massing outside his house, MacArthur noted that the police had not contacted him online—as they had done previously—to negotiate. He concluded that they were trying to find a way to burst in and murder him. “God, I never thought I’d get killed live on air.”

News of the situation spread rapidly on Twitter and elsewhere online. MacArthur welcomed the attention as insurance against police misconduct: “If this had happened and there was no internet, I would already be dead. And they would tell you whatever they wanted to tell you. And you would believe it.”

Reacting to a suggestion on Twitter that he “go out guns a-blazing”, MacArthur responded: “At this point, that wouldn’t accomplish much. I realize that the war I’m fighting is not a physical war. I have no problem using physical force to defend myself against a thug in the street or someone like that who’s trying to do harm to me. But these guys are here because they’re following orders. They’re cops. That’s what they’re supposed to do.”

Others suggested that MacArthur give himself up. He responded to ex-BPD author Michael A. Wood, Jr.:

Michael, I can’t just walk out. Because these guys have killed people before. Recently. … I have no assurance that the minute I open that door I won’t be gunned down by automatic gunfire. No assurances. None. None. No one has contacted me, no one has spoken to me, not even a bullhorn. They’re just out there, standing in wait, plotting how they’re going to take me out. Can’t do it. Not with this police department. Not with their background. Not with their track record. Of killing their own ‘accidentally’. (Allegedly.) And mine will be called that too.

MacArthur continued to invoke the example of Anthony Anderson to demonstrate that the arrest process could be very dangerous for a Black man in Baltimore. He brought up the case of William Torbit, an undercover Black officer who was shot by fellow police while on duty. And he asked listeners to look up Anthony Fata. He also explained why he thought he was personally in danger:

They’ve been trying to silence me for a while. I’ve stood in court, in this country, in Baltimore City and heard a state prosecutor tell a judge that I should be kept in jail, with no bail, because in my Tweets I insulted State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy. That’s what this is really all about. Whatever ruse or ploy was used to generate a warrant or find ways to charge me, it has nothing to do with that. It has something to do with pressure coming from the State Attorney’s Office or possibly the Mayor’s Office—just because they don’t like me. Because I don’t like them. Because I think they’re corrupt. And it’s my right to think that. And they’re using the weight of the law, the pressure of law enforcement, to try to crack me. And it hasn’t worked. They haven’t cracked me, mentally. So now they will try to physically detain me to silence this voice. They will try to seize my broadcast equipment, so that even if I am taken and released I will not be able to do this.

After more than an hour of mounting tension, MacArthur had an opportunity to discuss his concerns directly with the police, via BPD negotiator Lt. Jason Yerg. In a telephone call that was included in the livestream, MacArthur reviews a litany of police abuses against him and others, specifically mentioning the Anthony Anderson case as evidence that Baltimore police are capable of killing a Black man in their custody.

For more information on these crucial hours, readers are encouraged to listen for themselves. MacArthur starts speaking at around 148:00 in part 1; negotiations with Yerg start near the beginning of part 2.

A few people responded to MacArthur’s call for citizens to witness and record the situation on the scene. One YouTube user uploaded a video of MacArthur’s arrest:

Incarceration

Just days after allowing MacArthur to lock his deadbolt before he was taken away, assuring him that his home would be safe, BPD broke into his house through the back door. In the process they apparently overturned furniture and broke his front window―from the inside.

These photos taken by Ken Batson on the afternoon of December 3 show MacArthur’s back door broken in and his front window broken out—as indicated by the broken glass shattered on MacArthur’s front porch. Through the window can be seen upended furniture

As Lt. Yerg acknowledges over the phone with MacArthur, the police did not have a warrant to search the house on December 1. Reportedly they obtained one in short order after the standoff; however, as of January 2013, no record of a new warrant appears on the Case Search website.

On December 5, MacArthur was “released” and immediately re-arrested. That is, he was officially released from custody due to the original probation violation, though he never left Central Booking. He was then re-arrested based on new charges relating to a weapon that police say they found in his house.

The public was only able to learn about these charges through the Maryland Judiciary Case Search system.

The first charge, “REG FIREARM:ILLEGAL POSSESSION” (CJIS: 1-1106), implies “Possession of regulated firearm by restricted person (convicted of a disqualifying crime, fugitive, habitual drunkard, etc.)” The second, RIFLE/SHOTGUN:UNREGISTERED (CJIS 2-5212), means “Unlawful possession of short-barreled rifle or shotgun.” Both of these charges are classified misdemeanors.

MacArthur was allowed to speak with reporters between charges. During this brief window―his last opportunity to communicate with the public―MacArthur suggested that the gun had been planted. Several others have echoed this concern. Yet the charges relating to this shotgun which now keep MacArthur incarcerated with no bail.

As was the case during MacArthur’s previous arrest, information is hard to come by. MacArthur’s name is serially misspelled in the Maryland Judiciary Case Search (you can find him listed as MacArthur, McArther, and McArthur). The recent arrest and incarceration are filed under “McArthur”, a curious error given that the case against him required searching through websites which all spell his name correctly. Alan Z. Forman, investigating for the Voice of Baltimore, was given wrong information about MacArthur’s location, then prevented from visiting him in Central Bookings. (Duane “Shorty” Davis also found himself blocked from visiting MacArthur —on January 5, 2013.)

On December 18, his sister Jean Arthur (a lawyer in Montgomery county) and colleague Alan Z. Forman (a political scientist, Navy veteran, and journalist) spoke to Marc Steiner on WEAA about the arrest. Both Forman and Arthur criticized police for blowing the case out of proportion, perhaps in response to MacArthur’s aggressive (though law-abiding) journalism. Said Arthur: “Police officers generally don’t like to be watched. And when you have somebody who’s constantly watching them... and writing about what took place, what happened—police officers don’t like that.”

Delegate Jill P. Carter says she is not acting as MacArthur’s lawyer, but she did file a habeas corpus request on his behalf. On December 28, she presented a defense of MacArthur to Judge Lynn K. Stewart. In a rushed hearing that had already begun at 8:30 as MacArthur’s supporters filed into Room 215 at the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse downtown, Carter argued that MacArthur was well-respected in the community and had never committed a violent crime.

MacArthur’s neighbors, according to the Baltimore Sun, knew him as a peaceful man: a vegetarian, a gardener, and an animal lover. When Judge Stewart asked MacArthur’s supporters to show themselves, about a dozen people stood up, showing a sizable presence in the small courtroom. No one was called to speak that morning. Yet those who know MacArthur personally have described him as non-violent, reasonable, and sane. The major concern about MacArthur, expressed by people such as his sister Jean Arthur and his fellow taximan Ken Batson: his willingness to ‘stick his neck out’ in a way that might provoke retaliation from those in power.

Stewart ruled MacArthur “a threat to society” because of the shotgun allegedly found in his house. MacArthur asked if he could speak; Stewart saidno. MacArthur was quickly hustled out of the room by guards as he denounced the court then turned to thank those who had attended. The whole event lasted less than half an hour.

Once again, MacArthur’s case has been moved from District Court (on Wabash Ave.) to Circuit Court (downtown). This move gives MacArthur a new opportunity to request the ability to post bail—if he can find a lawyer to request a hearing. Arraignment is scheduled for March 11, 2013. One of the weapons charges (illegal possession due to a disqualifying conviction) appears to have been dropped; a charge of resisting arrest (1-0600) has been added.

In Maryland, the crime of “resisting arrest“ involves actively using force against arresting officers. It is therefore hard to imagine how MacArthur could be convicted of this charge unless the prosecution has evidence not recorded by the livestream and citizen videotapers, and not reported by police or by any media outlet. However, the new charge may assist the prosecution for now in refusing to allow MacArthur to post bail.

Probation violation charges are also still on the books. Curiously, although the Sun reported that the probation violation concerned a missed court date, the City Paper reported that the violation was an unreported change of address. On the Case Search site, the only charge clarified is “1-5200”: “wear or carry a dangerous weapon […] openly with intent to injure”.

It’s not clear when MacArthur would have committed this infraction prior to the end of his probation in September. A court date for this charge is scheduled for February 8 at 9:30AM in Room 203 of Clarence Mitchell Courthouse West.

Several observers familiar with the judicial process predict that MacArthur may be held for months before he receives a trial. Those present at the Wabash courtroom when the case was moved noted that MacArthur’s arraignment date was weeks later than those scheduled for other defendants. Delegate Jill Carter was not present, but said in a phone interview she expected the trial to come three months or longer after the arraignment. Unlike most of MacArthur’s supporters, Carter doesn’t think that MacArthur is being singled out; she says that his case is just one more example of a generally unfair system.

Both Carter and Larry Wallace stressed that MacArthur was urgently at risk of losing his house. He is also in need of committed legal defense, since Carter is busy full time with the current legislative session in Annapolis.

What does it all mean?

In the official view of Baltimore’s criminal justice system, MacArthur is a “threat to society” because of his “violent and assaultive” personality. Accompanying this view is the idea that his years of reporting over radio and internet attest to his narcissism and paranoia. One user on Reddit called MacArthur aviolent schizophrenic—and at least some others seemed to agree.

From the perspective of MacArthurs friends and many online followers, the man is an outstanding journalist, and a major asset to the community. The disrespect he has been shown by the city fuels theories that he is in jail because of his investigative reporting. Some who followed the story online are also disappointed with major media outlets because of how closely they seem to echo the position of authorities.

MacArthur’s case is unique because of his status as a citizen-journalist, the strange spectacle of his arrest, the sheer quantity of evidence connected to his online presence. But the case is also another instance of the well-documented systemic racial bias permeating the criminal justice system in Baltimore and throughout the United States.

When a White journalist like Amy Goodman or John Knefel gets arrested in the course of reporting on police, the event gets national attention and they’re out the next day with a career boost. When a Black man is arrested and strung along by the criminal justice system in Baltimore: It takes an all-out crisis to win attention, and even then the story is gone after a few weeks. But MacArthur is still in jail.