How could Sheila Dixon not know of DeRay Mckesson?

DeRay Mckesson looks over a crowd of students at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City who walked out of class Tuesday morning to raise awareness about racism in Howard County schools.
DeRay Mckesson looks over a crowd of students at Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City who walked out of class Tuesday morning to raise awareness about racism in Howard County schools. (Lisa Philip / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Sheila Dixon, who wants to be mayor of Baltimore again, says she'd never heard of DeRay Mckesson before he filed as a candidate for the same office. In telling a Baltimore Sun reporter that, Dixon sounded out of touch. Or maybe she was being disingenuous. Either way, she does not look good.

Mckesson has 299,795 followers on Twitter; he's been one of the most prominent activists for justice and reform since a police officer shot Michael Brown to death in Ferguson, Mo., a year and a half ago.


Mckesson is from Baltimore. He is one of the best-known faces and voices of the Black Lives Matter movement. He's made appearances on national television; he's been the subject of national magazine articles. He's tough, at times testy; he's smart and provocative. Obviously, a lot of people pay attention to his comments and questions.

It's hard to believe Dixon missed him. I think she's savvier than that. Maybe she was just trying to dismiss a new opponent by saying she'd never heard of him. Fine. That's politics.


But giving the former mayor, who had to leave office because of a theft conviction, the benefit of the doubt, it is certainly possible for someone to have missed the #DeRay thing this past year.

If you're not on Twitter — Dixon is, with about 2,500 followers — and if you're not tracking #BlackLivesMatter or intensely following news about police behavior here and across the country, then you could easily miss Mckesson.

Anyone can be on social media; it's another thing to be fully engaged with it.

But Sheila Dixon is not "anyone." She wants to be our mayor again; the city has a Police Department under intense scrutiny because of the death of Freddie Gray and a history of excessive force complaints and costly lawsuits. Given all that has happened here since Gray's death, it's remarkable to hear Dixon say she had never heard of Mckesson and, presumably, anything he has had to say.

New political realities

Dixon knows her city; she knows what it takes to get elected. She might hold to the convention that older people vote while younger people vote not so much. She might assume that Mckesson's followers are young — and many of them don't even live here — so she probably dismisses him as a threat.

But in 2016, I'm not accepting any convention nor dismissing any organic political possibility. (See Sanders, Bernie; see Trump, Donald.)

Mckesson's followers might not live here, but they could certainly come to Baltimore and volunteer for his campaign. It remains to be seen if they will, of course — it's one thing to follow him on Twitter, quite another to knock on doors. Mckesson at some point will have to press flesh himself in neighborhoods he's probably never visited. His cause is important, but he risks sounding like a one-note candidate. He's only 30. Still, I would not dismiss him as a force in a large field of Democratic candidates in the most important mayoral election in 17 years.

Radical action against drugs

Attention must be paid to the legislation filed by Del. Dan Morhaim in the Maryland General Assembly: a full public health counterattack against the long war on drugs.

Morhaim is a doctor and an emergency medicine specialist. The myriad problems associated with heroin — addiction and overdoses, social dysfunction, crime and infection — constitute a public health emergency, and the Baltimore County Democrat has proposed remedies that sound radical but make sense. More than that, they have been tried elsewhere and proved effective.

He wants Maryland hospitals to have addictions counselors on staff 24/7. He wants the legislature to go further in decriminalizing small amounts of drugs for personal use.


That might not sound so radical. But this might:

Morhaim proposes "safe consumption centers." That is, places where addicts can shoot up and not die of an overdose. They could bring with them the drugs they intend to use without fear of arrest. They would be supervised, given clean needles and offered treatment.

I heard about one such place, in Vancouver, from Chris Beyrer, epidemiologist, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Public Health and Human Rights and president of the International AIDS Society. I have not spoken to Beyrer in several months — and could not reach him for this column — but he and the IAS were convinced, based on the evidence they gathered in British Columbia last year, that injection facilities are effective in reducing infections and overdoses.

Morhaim's legislation would allow local health departments to establish safe-injection sites.

I don't know why, at this point, the General Assembly would not at least authorize a trial of some kind.

Morhaim has also proposed a special treatment program for opioid addicts who repeatedly fail to break their habits.

It's clear, based on my reading of opinion polls and conversations with people across the ideological spectrum, that attitudes about how we deal with heroin have changed. The war has been futile. This is a matter of basic public health, and we should be listening to the doctors.

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