(Photo by Flickr user Stephen Melkisethian, used under a Creative Commons license)
Earlier this week, the city released 7,000 internal emails sent by officials during the protests and unrest that followed Freddie Gray’s funeral to the Baltimore Sun, CNN and local TV stations via a public records request. According to the Sun, they detailed chaos among the city’s leadership, police equipment still being ordered even as protesters turned violent and a Rhianna concert that was apparently rebuffed.
But! The media outlets didn’t release the emails along with the story.
With a little agitation for transparency and one of the fastest crowdfunding campaigns we’ve seen in a minute, they’re now available to the public.
— CityExplainer (@CityExplainer) July 29, 2015
Gus Sentementes, a former Sun reporter who is now working on an effort to live-stream public meetings called CityExplainer, went public with a campaign to get the emails released via public records request on Tuesday. He said he got interested because he is a tax-paying resident who cares about Baltimore, and believes more government transparency can help make things better.
“I think people now expect and demand to see primary source materials as they’re following major news stories on the Internet and in social media,” Sentementes said by email on Wednesday. “So, it helps to put out the ‘raw data’ in addition to doing meaningful story-telling.”
Upon speaking with a lawyer, Sentementes learned that it would cost $375 to secure the emails due to the legal review involved. (The emails the Sun received were heavily redacted.)
“Wondering if it’s worth it for some of us to band together to request the trove of 7,000 riot-related emails from Baltimore City government,” Sentementes began a post on the lively Baltimore Tech Facebook page.
Within a couple of hours of posting, the $375 was raised. And by Wednesday, the emails were available to the public.
With the energy around the city since the unrest, Sentementes said he wasn’t surprised by the fast response. “There are a lot of passionate people in Baltimore who want to roll up their sleeves and help rebuild Baltimore,” he said. “To do that, you need more transparency across our various government entities.”
Now the emails are accessible to people who are interested in figuring out what went wrong, Sentementes said, people who can help tell the story of this chapter in Baltimore history.
“There are people smarter than I who can do a lot of important, even historical work, in trying to understand how a local government responds in crisis,” he said. “I just wanted to put the data in the hands of different experts who can do more with it. And we did that today.”
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