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After a lull in violence, homicides in Baltimore have soared this summer, with 16 killed over a 10-day period in June alone. As weary Baltimore residents absorb the near-daily coverage of killings in their city, one photographer is going beyond the usual crime tape images to illustrate what happens to communities after the police go home. Kojo explores the stories behind a sobering new photo series in Baltimore’s City Paper.
- J.M. Giordano Contributing Writer and Photographer, Baltimore City Paper; Contributing Photographer, Baltimore Sun
- Justin Fenton Crime Reporter, Baltimore Sun
Summer Of The Gun, In Photos
Summer Of The Gun, By The Numbers
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the outcome of the trial of Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, but first "The Wire" has come and gone, but in Baltimore, the violence and killings continue.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIDuring a ten-day stretch in June about 40 people were shot, 16 of them fatally. Last week, there were five shootings on Monday alone. Baltimore's homicide rate is ahead of where it was this time last year and residents have taken to the streets twice this summer to voice their frustration with the violence.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's a terrible toll that many say is forgotten quickly after police and news crews clear out. But one Baltimore photographer is going beyond the usual crime tape coverage to give the city's residents a raw look at what comes afterwards.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJ.M. Giordano's "Summer of the Gun" photo series on the Baltimore City Paper's website captures the sights and sounds of what's left behind after the violence. The photos are a gritty look into the dark side of Charm City and it leaves you asking the questions that so many Baltimoreans ask. Why?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJ.M. Giordano joins us in studio. He is a freelance photographer who contributes to the Baltimore Sun and he's a writer and photographer who also contributes to the Baltimore City Paper. J.M. Giordano, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. J.M. GIORDANOThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou too can join the conversation. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Should the public see graphic images from a crime scene? Or do you consider that an invasion of privacy? What photos are particularly powerful to you? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIJoe, this series in the Baltimore City Paper seems like quite a change from the photography you usually do, documenting the urban arts scene. Why did you want to take pictures at crime scenes?
GIORDANOUm, I felt that. I wanted to get back to my photojournalism roots, kind of digging the black and white photos and I also wanted to bring to the national attention the rising violence in Baltimore, the rising gun violence.
GIORDANOI've always thought that photojournalism begins at home in your own backyard and I think that most photographers have the power to communicate that without leaving their own cities. So that's why I thought it was particularly important for people to see what was going on in the city.
NNAMDIWe used to be able to follow police around because we all had police scanners in our newsrooms. They don't do that anymore.
NNAMDIHow do you find out when and where these crimes take place and how do you negotiate your way around the scene to get the shots you want?
GIORDANOI have unique web of carrier pigeons. No, I'm joking. Twitter is really the best way to follow any of the municipal divisions. Usually when there's a shooting, within the first 10 to 15 minutes of the call, it goes right up on Twitter and I get that sent to my phone as a text message. Got to thank Justin Fenton for reminding me they come as text messages, so.
NNAMDIJustin Fenton will be joining us later in this broadcast. He's a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun.
GIORDANOYes, a fantastic crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun.
NNAMDIHow do you negotiate your way around the scene to get the shots that you want after you get there?
GIORDANOThere's a few ways. I tried to think differently. In one case one of the neighbors let me into their house so I shot out through a bedroom window. I just. I don't want to get standard crime tape photos. I try to get as close as possible to the scene and I also talk to people a little more extensively around the scene which is where all the audio comes from that's on the City Paper's website. So I mean that's the best.
NNAMDIBasically what you do. If you go to our website at kojoshow.org you can also see some of Joe's work, some of his photos. You can hear some of the audio. You can also see the entire series that Joe mentions at citypaper.comsummerofthegun.
NNAMDIYou've captured some audio of the tension between the Baltimore police. Situations can be pretty raw and volatile when you get there. Is it difficult to approach people in that situation?
GIORDANOWell, the situation you're referring to was the shooting of Ramon Rodriguez in Greektown. I believe it was on June 23rd. The neighborhood came out in force to voice their displeasure with the way the police were handling the shooting. As you can hear in the audio clip things got a little volatile. I was threatened by a few people in the neighborhood. I won't go into the expletives but asked to leave.
GIORDANOThey didn't want media coverage. They felt that they would deal with the problem themselves, that it would look bad on the neighborhood. And they were quite frankly, you know, yelling at the police, refusing to leave. That's the only crime scene I've seen that happen in the city.
NNAMDIWell, let's take a listen to what it sounded like.
NNAMDIThe scene after a shooting in Greektown in Baltimore, we're talking with J.M. Giordano. He is a freelance photographer who contributes to the Baltimore Sun. He's also a writer and photographer with the Baltimore City Paper.
NNAMDIYou can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you feel there's a sense of complacency about gun violence unless it hits close to home? 800-433-8850, Joe, a lot of these crimes take place at night which can be a challenging time to take pictures. Tell us a little bit about some of the practical and some of the artistic hurdles that you face doing this work.
GIORDANOWell, I shoot with a Nikon D7000. In nighttime, I shoot at 3200 which was the film speed I used to shoot at when I had my manual camera. I think that really captures the shadows and light which I like to play on artistically in the photos.
GIORDANOI mean, they have to be compelling and interesting photos, not just snapshots of the crime scene. With the City Paper, you know, I wanted to go beyond the, you know the Instagram photos of the crime scene and leave it at that. I wanted to make it more of an atmospheric piece.
NNAMDIIs that why you're shooting in black and white?
GIORDANOYes, yeah, I think black and white is the language of photojournalism. It's just my personal opinion. There's nothing to distract you from the photo, no colors, nothing in the background except black and white. I think you respond better to the contrast of black and white.
NNAMDISome of your pictures include sound bites from neighbors and family members of victims. What are some of the recurring messages, some of the recurring themes that you are hearing from the residents you interview on the streets?
GIORDANOThe two biggest things are they would like to see more police on foot just wondering around the neighborhoods, talking to neighbors. They really feel that the police department has lost touch with the neighborhoods. I mean this is a recurring. This is almost in every single sound bite from East Side to West Side.
GIORDANOThe second thing that keeps recurring is the absence of the mayor. A lot of the residents that I've talked to, and again they're in the sound bites, feel that she spends more time going to bike parties and ribbon cuttings than she does actually being out for double homicides on the street.
GIORDANOIf you look, if you look at a mayor like in New Jersey, I mean the interaction between the mayor and the neighborhoods is much different than it is in Baltimore.
NNAMDIAnd the mayor is Shirley?
GIORDANOOh, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
NNAMDIStephanie Rawlings-Blake is the mayor of Baltimore City. You talked to a neighbor who witnessed the shootings of four men in early July. Let's hear his take on the police presence in Baltimore's neighborhoods.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1My thing is, to solve a lot of these murders and all the stuff that's going on with the drugs and all that, first of all, the police gots to do what they used to do back in the day. And that was you come to the neighborhood, you got to know your people in the neighborhood. You got to become friends.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1You know, I remember this when I was coming up as a young man and the police was like our best friend. And I would love to see the police come around and talk to us, read us. You know what I mean? And show us now because we'll feel more secure as people that live out here. You know what I mean?
NNAMDIYou were raised, Joe, and you were born and raised in Baltimore. Your dad was a Baltimore city police officer for some 25 years. When you talked to him and asked what do you remember about policing in the city and how it has changed? What does he tell you?
GIORDANOWell, it's funny you should mention that because I was thinking of this just before the show. He told me a story when he was in the Eastern district which was, it's still a pretty rough area over there. And he would have a pocket full of Tootsie Rolls and lollipops and he would come out to the kids in the neighborhood and you know give out a lollipop, give out a Tootsie Roll and say, hey, if you see anything, you know, let me know.
GIORDANOAnd back then the little kids would run out to the cops and say, so-and-so's got a gun in the house. We saw him blah, blah, blah. You don't get that anymore. It's a different culture. But I think that's what that gentleman was trying to say was that a lot of the day-to-day beat cops knew their neighborhoods intimately and knew the neighbors and the neighbors could trust the local beat cops that they would see every morning, noon and night and I think that is what's really changed.
NNAMDISo even though there may be a lot more police policing the city if you will, than there were then they don't seem to have the same kind of close relationship with the neighborhood that cops during your father's time had.
GIORDANOYeah, I don't. I mean I don't want to personally give my opinion about that because I haven't had any interaction. I live in the inner city. I haven't had any interaction with the police but I'm just going on the sound bites, that I've talked to people and that's what the neighbors in these, in the worst areas say.
GIORDANOThey would just like to see the guy, you know, walk by, talk to somebody on the stoop. You know, why is that car illegally parked? Find out who, you know. Just more of an interaction I think with these further-out neighborhoods.
NNAMDIWe had D.C. Police Commissioner Cathy Lanier on the show earlier this month. She said these high spikes in violence often have a lot to do with retaliation. What do you hear when you're talking to people on the streets about why you're seeing such a high rate of violence in Baltimore?
GIORDANOWell, most people say it's because of the heat. You know, people get crazy. They get out on the street and start shooting at each other. Yeah, a lot of what I've seen in the neighborhoods and talking to the neighbors has been drug-related crimes. I can't really speak for the gang thing, not. A lot of people are afraid to even speak to the press about that.
GIORDANOSo I think a lot of it is retaliatory. Like for instance Capone Chase who allegedly shot Ramon Rodriguez in Greektown. Rodriguez was put on his knees and pretty much assassinated in a playground, in a very quiet area. Greektown has a very low shooting rate. Justin can probably go into that more.
GIORDANOBut they have a very low shooting rate so the neighbors there knew right away that that was retaliation for something.
NNAMDIWhy does Greektown have a very low shooting rate? What's the situation there that maybe different from other parts of the city?
GIORDANOThat's a mystery. It's not as impoverished as a lot of the West Side neighborhoods are and extreme East Side neighborhoods. I noticed that it was predominately Latino and they, the residents that came out really stuck together when kind of yelling at the cops. Nobody backed down.
GIORDANOI don't see that in a lot of the African-American neighborhoods. Its people just seem to be, ah, you know. They just seem to be indifferent toward the shootings except for the larger rallies but actually at the crime scenes they seem to be kind of indifferent.
NNAMDIYou interviewed a pastor at a crime scene last week whose nephew had been gunned down in Towson. He had his own take on reasons behind the violence. Let's take a listen to the Reverend Milton Williams.
REV. MILTON WILLIAMSWhat's driving the shootings, the gang wars, the killings? Is the illicit drug market and until we get treatment available for everybody that wants treatment when they want it, this will not stop. It's going to go on and on and on. The key to stopping this nonsense is drug treatment on demand for our people. The senseless killing of African Americans in the streets of Baltimore.
REV. MILTON WILLIAMSAnd I know so well because my 28-year-old daughter Lisa was killed in the same fashion on the streets of Baltimore City. And we stand back and watch the blood of our children run on the streets of Baltimore. And we go on as if it's nothing. This has to be stopped.
NNAMDIReverend Milton Williams. What happened with his daughter Lisa, Joe?
GIORDANOI believe actually she was found in the car of former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman in 2004. I had to actually look that case up. I wasn't shooting...
NNAMDIYou weren't covering that.
GIORDANOI wasn't covering that back then. But he told me -- I wasn't in the soundbite that you played but he lost his son in a Towson incident, which was two weeks ago, his nephew about two weeks ago. And he's in a very impoverished part of town so he sees it every day. I mean, he was getting looks from neighbors as he was talking to me. It's a very close society. Anyone who comes in to talk to the neighbors has to be very careful of who's keeping an eye on who and who's watching.
NNAMDIAnd he seems to indicate that there's still a lingering drug problem there that he feels that there needs to be more drug treatment offered. Otherwise the violence will not stop. We're going to have to take a short break but before we do, we do have news for you, this just in. Bradley Manning has been found not guilty of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy. That judgment coming from Colonel Denise Lind who read the verdict this afternoon, however, Bradley Manning has been found guilty on five counts of violating the Espionage Act.
NNAMDIWe'll be talking more about that verdict in the second half of the show. But if you're just joining us, Bradley Manning has been found not guilty of the most serious charge of aiding the enemy and guilty on five counts of violating the Espionage Act. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation with J. M. Giordano about photographing Baltimore's violence. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with J. M. Giordano. He is a contributing writer and photographer for the Baltimore's City Paper. He's also a freelance photographer who contributes to the Baltimore Sun. And joining us now by phone from Baltimore is Justin Fenton. He is a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. Justin, Fenton, thank you for joining us.
MR. JUSTIN FENTONThanks for having me on.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for us you can also call and join the conversation at 800-433-8850. What, in your view, should the police do to stop urban violence? Is a greater police presence in troubled neighborhoods the answer, 800-433-8850? Justin, this is being called the summer of the gun in Baltimore. Is the homicide rate exceptionally high this summer?
FENTONIt's tough to say. I mean, it's all relative, right? I mean, you know, in the '90s every year the city had well over 300 murders. They reached a new level two years ago where it was under 200. It has been climbing since then. The spike that happened in late June certainly got everyone's attention galvanized around this issue where among the highest in the country in gun violence rates. And it seems to be largely taken for granted for the most part. And that explosion of violence -- and it was an explosion of violence -- woke people up.
FENTONIt's been on the decline since then. I would say that compared to what we're used to, things have been quiet but it's still -- that quietness is still higher than other cities see.
NNAMDIThere's been a lot of community outrage that has been expressed over this recent spate of violence in Baltimore. What tends to be the pattern with this kind of community outrage, Justin? Will it be sustained or will Baltimore go back to the status quo?
FENTONYeah, I think that's one of the more interesting aspects of what's happened. And I've been giving it a lot of thought and for me it seems to be that for the past couple years, even though things were high, they were moving in the right direction. And I think that is in some ways all you can ask of a police department in the city, that things continue to move downward. Well, what we're seeing in the past two years is that that has stopped. The homicide rate went up 10 percent last year. It's up 14 percent right now.
FENTONAnd I think even if things had continued in a stead manner, I'm not sure people would've paid attention quite the way the end of June got them activated. You see a lot of church walks, you see police trying to get community members involved. What happened in the past few weeks was a very interesting sort of grassroots effort by people that we don't necessarily see involved in this kind of thing. And they are trying to keep it sustained as well.
FENTONThere was a 300-man march that ended up getting 600 men out in the streets. And the organizers are trying to keep that going. Whether they can remains to be seen, but it's definitely refreshing to see the activism and the interest.
NNAMDIWhat has been the explanation given for the recent spike in homicides in Baltimore?
FENTONYeah, it's interesting in terms of the new police commissioners from the west coast. And here it's long been known that we've had issues with gangs and gang violence. But it was rarely talked about. Our new commissioner Anthony Batts -- again, he comes from Oakland and Long Beach -- from day one he was talking gangs. His slogan was gangsters and guns. And he attributes a lot of this to gangs.
FENTONNow how much of that is actually true is difficult to gauge. In terms of the cases they've been able to close, you see them arresting folks they say are gang members but the motives aren't necessarily gang related. There's been domestics, there's been petty arguments, there's robberies. And it's tough to put your finger on one thing that may be the undercurrent.
NNAMDIHere is Ken in Gaithersburg, Md. Ken, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KENHi. Thanks for taking my call, Kojo. I used to work a lot with the police. I was in another branch of law enforcement in New York City in old neighborhoods similar to Baltimore. And when I came to Baltimore I saw a lot of things that reminded me of Brooklyn. That was almost 35 years ago. What I have seen in the past few years, or the past decade or so, is a change not just in Baltimore but in the nature of the communities, as well as the nature of policing.
KENNobody wants to be a beat cop anymore. Everybody would rather be in the vehicle and get home safely at night. And, you know, the attitude towards being a policeman, in that respect, has changed a lot. And the ethnicities have changed in Baltimore, as has the composition of crime itself. And I agree, there's a lot of gang activity and it is not just Hispanic or black. There's also Russian gangs and other Caucasian gangs. And basically you now have very, very insular groups that have their own little fiefdoms, very much like Brooklyn about 50 years ago.
NNAMDIHave you observed that change in Baltimore, J. M. Giordano?
GIORDANOI can't speak for 40 years ago. Yeah, I question the caller. As far as the Russian and Ukrainian gangs, I haven't seen any evidence of that. I mean, I haven't seen any evidence of MS13. I don't know, Justin would probably have a better feel for that than I would. With the exception of the one double shooting -- you heard the gentleman where the two shooters came dressed as construction workers. I mean, that's old school. It's definitely old school. Yeah, if Justin wants to take that, that'd be great.
FENTONWell, I mean, all we can really -- I mean, if we're talking about gun violence, you know, I think the stats are 95 percent of the homicide victims are African American. So there certainly are white organized gangs. I'm sure there are some MS13 members. But, I mean, for the most part just looking at the demographics it's pretty clear what -- you know, who's being disproportionately affected.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Ken. Joe, your series has captured some of the practical problems that families confront after these killings. Here's a soundbite from a funeral director who talks about the unexpected cost of these killings.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2Most of the young people that -- the thing about them being young people, their families are not anticipating burying them so they don't have the proper funds or insurances. And then when something happens to them they have to go out and try to raise the money. And even though the funeral home tries to help them as much as possible, they still have to come up, you know, with substantial money. We can't just bury everybody for free. And there's victims assistance, but victim's assistance does not pay until they determine whether or not they were actually involved in their death in some way.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2So I don't know what the city can do about it because it just seems that there's no respect for life anymore.
NNAMDIShe seems to convey a kind of hopelessness in the situation. We got an email from Lauren in Silver Spring who talks about your photos. She said, "These pictures convey a sense of hopelessness to me." Fear also comes through in these pictures and the responses you've been getting in this series. Lauren also asks, "Has doing the series changed Mr. Giordano's outlook on his own city?"
GIORDANONo, because Baltimore has a lot to offer. I mean, it's a fantastic city. I live there and this is back to my original point about photo journalism beginning at home. That doesn't mean that a lot of bad stuff isn't going on and that people need to see that. I think it has affected me -- what's affected me most I think is seeing these children at the crime scenes completely indifferent to a body in front of them. I worry about that generation. I worry about the five to twelve, thirteen-year-olds that day after day see this.
GIORDANOI don't really talk much to the kids. I did talk to a young girl who wanted to be a police officer ironically. That series will be up on the website, I'm pretty sure, this week. But the kids are completely indifferent. And that's what kills me the most is seeing these kids out there that just have no emotion over a covered body in front of them or a curb full of blood.
NNAMDIHere's Joe in Ocean City, Md. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOEHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I'm a native Baltimorean and I actually live in the county now. But my son actually lives in Little Italy and I was concerned about the event that occurred, I guess it was a week or so ago, where a restaurant worker was beaten up outside of the Little Italy area. That's my first question and secondly I wanted to know what the new consultant -- I guess it's Bratton I guess his last name is...
JOE...that's now been hired by the city that is going to be a consultant to see what the police department's actually doing wrong. It just amazes me that there's people within the police department that don't know what they're doing wrong, that they need to bring somebody in from the outside to tell them, you know, what they need to be doing.
NNAMDIJustin Fenton, talk about that, please.
FENTONI think there's two aspects of that. One is that Bill Bratton's track record, he was the -- he's referred to as a super cop. You know, he's on the cover of Time Magazine, he was the commissioner in L.A., New York, I believe Boston as well. I think he's been brought here A. for his expertise and B. for political cover, which is to say that if the commissioner has something he wants to implement, it's not just the commissioner saying this is not just sort of counting votes on the city council or getting the mayor's support. He can rely on this report from the consultant.
FENTONWhat we're not sure yet is what exactly his report is going to cover. There are things that we've known for years need to take place. I think Joe referred to earlier about people saying there aren't enough cops, that they don't see cops. Baltimore City has one of the highest ratios of officers per capita in the entire country. I think it's second only to Washington, D.C. There's a ton of cops here. And our new commissioner came in and said, where are they? I don't know how exactly we have these resources deployed.
FENTONAlso they haven't redrawn the post. The city has lost 300,000 people and we still have the same post, including areas where there aren't people living anymore. So we know that that needs to be changed, so we're not sure to what extent Mr. Bratton's report is going to actually just tell us what we already know or show us a way to get there.
GIORDANOYeah, but Justin, I think -- I agree that we do have a lot of police but where I live there's a police car at the end of my street and there's usually a paddy wagon at the end of my street. And I've seen the police, they sit in there and they sit on the phone and text or they sleep. And, I mean, I hate to say that but it's true. And I think this is what people mean about getting out of the car
GIORDANOIt's not so much they're not in the neighborhoods. You know, they're there. They're parked, you know, opposite each other yakking through the window, where what Kojo was saying about the earlier generations was that they wouldn't be in the cars. They would be out talking to the neighbors.
FENTONI think nostalgia sometimes takes over here and replaces reality. I think that the officers -- you may see them at a 7-Eleven or something but in a lot of cases they're running from call to call. And then they make an arrest they're taken off the street for hours at a time. People are on suspension, people are hurt, you know. And they -- you know, those resources dwindle down.
FENTONBut I think what the commissioner's trying to get at is sort of he recognizes that he has far more officers here than he did in Oakland. And yet it doesn't -- people don't feel like they're being used in the right way. And whether that's, you know, sort of getting them on foot or getting them off suspension or getting rid of people and bringing in new blood, they're trying to get their arms around that problem.
NNAMDIBombay in Sterling, Va.. You're on the air, Bombay. Go ahead, please.
BOMBAYTwo years ago I was reading an article and it was about, in Baltimore, the rate of homicides had dropped but it was due to being improvement of medical techniques rather than a dip in the violent crime rates.
FENTONThis is a topic that I enjoy.
NNAMDIGo ahead, Justin.
FENTONSo there was a big story in the Wall Street Journal that shootings were on the rise, but that it was trauma care that was saving lives. And certainly there have been advances in trauma care. But Shock Trauma's own statistics show that shootings were down. This story wasn't supported by Shock Trauma's own data. One of the things that you see in the city that I've written about extensively, the number of shootings has plummeted. It is down a lot. The homicide rate has not changed very much at all.
FENTONAnd one of the things that we saw when digging in deeper into the numbers is that there had been a rise in the whole number and percentage of head shots, that is to say, people that are essentially executed. There is a core number of shootings in this city that they have not been able to -- and may not be able to get their arms around. There are less drive-bys, there are less shootings that injure three, four, five people and innocent bystanders. But there's a core number where people are shot at close range in the head, likely by somebody that they knew, and that number's been stubborn.
NNAMDIAs of July 26 there have been 136 homicides in Baltimore this year. Joe, how long do you intend to do this series? Do you plan on following up with your subjects?
GIORDANOWell, I hope I don't make it the year of the gun. You know, I think -- and I'm curious to know what Justin thinks of this but it seems that when the temperatures go down, the shootings go down. And then when it goes back up again, it spikes. So I'm curious to see in the fall and winter how this goes. I'll be working with a lot of the victims' families. I'm doing a portrait series that's going to follow this up in the fall after the black and white series is finished.
NNAMDIYou get the final word, Justin Fenton. Joe says it seems to be a summer phenomenon that may not continue into the fall and winter.
FENTONI think that there's some truth to that. I also think that the numbers don't offer much comfort there. Last September was the most violent month of the year. And I think that the police have expressed that they're wary about this August. They've had sort of a lull and wondering if we're going to see some of that retaliatory violence cycle back in the coming months. They're trying to get ahead of that right now.
NNAMDIJustin Fenton's a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. He joined us by phone. Justin, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIJ. M. Giordano is a contributing writer and photographer to the Baltimore City Paper. He's a freelance photographer who also contributes to the Baltimore Sun. J. M. Giordano, thank you for joining us.
GIORDANOThanks for having me.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, the verdict in the Bradley Manning trial and what the analysis is and what you think about it. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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