Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr.: Hey, what's good y'all? Happy new year and Happy Black History Month. And can I just say it's really dope that y'all are spending the start of this Black History Month listening to stories of Resistance? I'm really grateful for that, so thank you. We're gonna start with a really special episode today that I think y'all will really enjoy. One of our producers, Mack, has been thinking a lot about Black love, and how something so simple can be its own act of resistance. All right, I'll just let Mack take it from here, and we'll get started right after this short break.
Mack: So let's talk about this concept of "Black Love." Everywhere I turn, I feel like somebody is marketing a new film, a new TV show, a new app, or a book or a podcast, like, something targeting this idea of "Black Love." And I'm not gonna lie, nine times out of ten it makes me roll my eyes so hard because somehow, commercial conversations about Black Love just always end up being so basic. More often than not, you know, it's portraying two good-looking, heterosexual Black people with good jobs, and they eat really clean and they wear nice clothes and travel the world together. You know, with the perfect teeth. And they're super focused on, like, building a family and building a house. And they love God, and they go to church. It's just all the things that Black people do when they're trying to do things the right way. Sometimes it can start to feel like a scene off the front of a Kwanzaa card or something.
Mack: But it's not always that picture perfect. The forces trying to keep Black people apart run deep. And sometimes, being Black and in love means having to fight. I'm Mack and this is Resistance—a show about refusing to accept things as they are.
Mack: So I recently got to talk to a woman from Baltimore who's found the love she's fighting for. Her name is Kelly Davis. Three and a half years ago, Kelly married the love of her life. His name is Keith. But before she met Keith, Kelly was in the final stages of a divorce. The divorce had put her through the ringer, and she told me she was not on the market for a man at all. She was focused on getting her life back on track, working full time, taking care of four kids and going back to school.
Mack: One day Kelly had an exam, so she headed to drop off the kids at her stepmom's house. Her stepmom's house is like every Big Mama house that you know. It's always hella people over there, the aunties in the living room chatting it up. The smell of Black & Milds in the air outside on the porch where people are laughing and gossiping. And Kelly knew everybody, of course. But this day, she saw a face she didn't recognize.
Kelly Davis: I noticed him, like, out of my peripheral. And he walks by and he goes, "How you doing, Kelly?" And I'm like, "Who is that?" Like, they're like, "Oh, that's Keith."
Mack: Kelly had a younger brother who was friends with Keith. And Keith was the kind of guy that everybody knows, but nobody really knows. A bit of a mystery, but he's cool people. Kelly had known him growing up, but he was six years younger than her, so she never paid him much mind back then—he was just a little kid. But the person in front of her wasn't a kid.
Kelly Davis: I had kind of just been like, "Oh, my God. Oh, wow! You know, he's kind of grown into his looks.
Mack: This was a man. And not just any man, but a man who's nice to look at and knows it.
Kelly Davis: I used to call him, like, a "Great Value Nelly" because he had, like, wavy hair, and he had, like—he has, like, really, really full eyebrows and, like, pouty lips and tattoos on his arm. He has such a strong presence that even in that room full of people, you immediately—your attention diverts to him in the corner alone, because he just has this presence about himself. I don't know if it's just this confident aura, or the way that he moves. He just kind of stands out from everybody else.
Mack: When Kelly grabs her keys to leave, Keith approaches her and asks for a ride to his sister's place. Everybody around kind of does that "Oh, okay. I see you," kind of thing. Keith laughs it off. Kelly hesitates, but then she gives in.
Kelly Davis: So we leave, and I take him to his sister. And that night we stayed in the car and we talked for hours, and that's when I got to learn about him. So it was initially supposed to be me just dropping him off, and I sat there and we talked. We got there at his sister's at about, like, 12:25, and we—I didn't leave until, like, five in the morning. Like, the sun had came back up.
Mack: Yeah. That's—that's a really, like, intense, like, parked car conversation.
Kelly Davis: Yeah. Because he was—he had so much stuff that I would have never guessed that went on with him and stuff.
Mack: That night in the car, Keith told Kelly the story of his life. He explained that, by the time he was 18, he'd been living on the streets on his own for a while. And the way he survived was through the guidance of men he met on the street. One of the people that Keith looked to for safety was this older guy. One day that guy was busted with drugs, and Keith, who was there during the bust, was arrested too. Cops gave him an out: he could testify that the drugs they found belonged to this man and he could walk free. But Keith didn't snitch. And because he didn't tell, he was charged with a bunch of drug-related offenses and placed on parole. Keith later violated the terms of that parole when he was caught outside with weed in his pocket. This landed him in jail for five years at the age of 19.
Kelly Davis: Here is a 19 year old, he's barely an adult. You know, he has just become an adult. As we know, that's an impressionable age. And so he goes into this big boy prison system.
Mack: That night in the car, he told Kelly about how his time in prison had made him a better person. Not because prisons work, but because of the men he met while he was there. Older men who, Keith says, taught him how to be a better man. They made him reflect on his life, and they encouraged him to read. They handed him books like "Blood in My Eye" by George Jackson, the renowned prison scholar. Those books opened his eyes to the conditions of not just his own life, but the conditions of the world around him. The friendships he had with those men became Keith's foundational experience with Black love. As Keith told Kelly about these experiences, he really started to come into 3D for her.
Kelly Davis: I admired him way before I fell in love with him. I was just in awe of him way before I fell in love with him. And it was because he took that and—you know, most people would become worse, and he didn't. He said that that's what taught him how to be a man. That's what taught him how to grow up.
Mack: Kelly remembers they sat there so long that they went through J. Cole's entire "Friday Night Lights Mixtape."
Kelly Davis: The radio was on, and it was J. Cole "In the Morning." And I remember because I made a joke, when he says, "You think about me all day, and then I go my own way. I go on my own way, and then you think about me all day." And then I was like, "That's my favorite part." He was like, "Just like me. You gonna think about me all day." And I was just like, "What the hell? No, I will not."
Mack: Kelly wasn't entirely sold on Keith yet, but he was sold on her. As the sun came up, he decided to shoot his shot.
Kelly Davis: In the end he was like, "So, can I have your number?" And I was like, "Hmm, I guess so." I was still in a very good place of, I ain't got time for this foolishness with these men. And I was like, "I guess I can, you know, give you my number." So even though I was—I admired all that he had been through, I still didn't take him seriously, like, one on one. Like, you know, him and I.
Mack: After that night, Keith and Kelly start texting each other heavy. She remembers Keith being persistent and intentional. Keith was putting in that work, trying to make this a thing. And he realized if he wanted to win Kelly, there's something else he had to do too. Kelly has four young kids: two boys and two girls. And Keith understands there's no way to court Kelly without courting them too. So one day Kelly drops the kids off at her stepmom's, and on the way out, he overhears her complaining about something.
Kelly Davis: I remember saying that, like, "Oh, I hate the barbershop." Which I do, I still do. And I have to take the boys to the barbershop. And then my brother had my sons, and he comes back from playing football and I'm like, "Hey, where are the boys?" And he's like, "Keith. Oh, I saw Keith. And he took them to the barbershop with him."
Mack: Kelly remembers being equal parts alarmed that Keith just took her sons without permission, and also drawn in by this small act of service. She says it's one of the moments that made her feel like it was okay to bring him into their lives.
Kelly Davis: And it's also amazing to see, because here's someone who has only had themself to go throughout life, and now he's kind of stepped in this role and, you know, takes it so seriously. And taught my oldest son about getting waves, "You got to brush your hair like this. You got to do this." And gave him a little toiletry kit. And before you know it, he's walking around with a durag. And I'm like, "What the hell is that on your head?" "I'm getting waves like Keith!" [laughs]. So taught them about cologne, and "You got to smell good." I'd walk out my room and choke on the Axe Body Spray because he had told them that they're supposed to smell good as men.
Mack: That love continued to grow and radiate out everywhere in Kelly's life. It was bouncing off the couches and swirling through the hallways, and it was wearing down on Kelly's tough exterior. Eventually, she realized she might not have been looking for any old man, but maybe she was looking for Keith. They carried on like this for a while. By June, they'd been together for about six months, and in that short time, any ideas Kelly had of doing it on her own were gone. Keith and Kelly and the kids were a family.
Mack: They had little routines. For example, Keith didn't work on Fridays so he started keeping her youngest daughter at home so she didn't have to go to daycare. Kelly told me he would make slushies with her on those days. It was one of her favorite things. She started to call Keith "Dad." And Keith and Kelly became inseparable. Even when they were apart, they were always on the phone.
Mack: And that's how they started the morning of June 7, 2015: on the phone, just like they always did. Keith had stayed over at his boy's house the night before, but he basically spent the whole night on the phone with Kelly. They fell asleep talking to each other. Around 8:00 am, Keith called Kelly again to say that he'd left the house to take a walk. It was early, and they were both still pretty tired from talking all night on the phone. And then at one point, Kelly says she noticed Keith started to seem distracted.
Kelly Davis: It looked like he was maybe paying attention to something else and not talking to me. And I was like, "What are you looking at? Like, why are you being nosy?" He was like, "It's an accident." And I was like, "It's an accident?" He was like, "Yeah. Looks like somebody hit a bus." And I was like, "Really?" And I was like, "Is anybody hurt?" He's like, "I don't know. I can't really see." And then I heard, like, noise, and then the call dropped. And I laid back down because I was still sleepy. And then maybe just a couple of minutes, maybe like between eight and ten minutes, the phone rung again, and it was him saying, "Babe, I'm gonna die."
Kelly Davis: In all this time of being with him, I never heard him panic, I never heard fear in his voice. You know, so it was—it, like, woke me up and made the hair on my neck stand up because, you know, this was a emotion that I had never seen, that I had never heard. And the call—I heard this one big pop, and then the call dropped. And then this nightmare began.
Mack: When the call drops, Kelly tries calling back. Nothing. She tries again. Nothing. She's blowing up his phone and he's not answering. She starts calling around to friends asking them what to do, and a friend tells her to call Sinai—one of the biggest hospitals in Maryland.
Mack: The operator at the hospital told her that there are so many shootings and homicides in Baltimore that she wasn't allowed to release patient information unless they can be sure you are a friend or family, and not a foe. But Kelly's pleading with the woman on the phone who meets her in the middle. The operator asks her if she can identify any marks or tattoos on his body.
Kelly Davis: And I was like, "Well, yeah. You know, he has lots of tattoos, he's covered in them." And she was like, "You know, can you describe one in detail?" And I said, "Well, he has a peace and he has a war across his chest." And she said, "He's here. He is in critical condition."
Mack: Kelly gets a ride to the hospital, and when she gets there, she's in a daze. She's so spaced out that she doesn't even notice the TV above her head in the waiting room. It's the news, giving her some information she might want to hear.
Kelly Davis: I remember just sitting there in the waiting room, and the news came on. And it was all the police officers, and they're like, "We have this police-involved shooting." They were just kind of saying stuff.
[NEWS CLIP: The officers made contact with that suspect, and shot the suspect at least one time in the face.]
Kelly Davis: But still, I pushed it out of my head because that press conference didn't really mean anything to me. I still, at that time, did not know that that press conference was about Keith.
[NEWS CLIP: ... shot several times.]
Mack: Later, Keith would tell Kelly what happened to him in those moments after their call dropped. He says he was walking through West Baltimore with his headphones in and his phone in his hand when he walked up on the crowd. He sees an accident. Suddenly, everybody in the crowd started running, so he started running too. He ran and turned down an alleyway when he started to hear gunshots. He's hit. Keith had no idea who was shooting at him. But he keeps running. He sees an open garage and ducks in. That's where he calls Kelly back. That's where he tells Kelly, "Babe, I'm gonna die."
Mack: Sitting in the waiting room, Kelly didn't know any of this yet. But when she saw a doctor walking towards her, her heart started to sink.
Kelly Davis: She sat me down and she said, "He's been shot in his face." And I said, "What?" You know, "Like, how?" And she said, "I'm not sure."
Mack: The doctor told Kelly that the bullet went in his face through his cheek and lodged into his neck. She said the bullet was still there, and they didn't think they'd be able to move it because of how close it was to his spine. They also said he had been shot straight through his left arm, and that he had a bullet graze across his back.
Kelly Davis: And I said, "Well, can I see him?" And she said, "Well, he's very sedated right now." And I was like, "Well—you know, well, when can I see him?" And that's when she said, "Well, right now he's under arrest." And I was like, "What? For what?"
Mack: No one can tell Kelly what Keith is under arrest for, but he's being guarded by the cops 24/7. They hover around his door and over his bed, and they refuse to let Kelly in to see him. But finally, his mom is able to sneak her a note.
Kelly Davis: The note [laughs]—the note from him said, "Tell Kelly I didn't shoot anybody. Tell Kelly I didn't have a gun. Tell Kelly I don't know what is going on. I didn't do anything. I don't know what they're talking about. You know, I didn't have anything to do with this."
Mack: Even with cops crawling around everywhere, the person Keith is focused on clearing things up with is Kelly.
Kelly Davis: So he would write stuff down, and the nurses would come out to me and they would be like, "Look, these police are over him, and they snatch up anything that he writes. Tell him please to just stop talking. Like, just tell him not to write anything down."
Mack: Kelly writes back to Keith and tells him it's best he doesn't try to pass any more notes, effectively breaking the only form of communication they really have. The hospital waiting room is becoming Kelly's own personal hell. And she sits in it, disconnected from Keith who sits behind a door, guarded by Baltimore PD for four grueling days. Until one day, a nurse comes rushing to find her. They're gonna allow her to see Keith. Kelly remembers she put down a cup of soup she was forcing herself to eat, and ran behind the nurse down the hall to find his room.
Kelly Davis: So, like, his bed is facing toward the window, so he can't see who comes in. And I'll never forget his dad saying, "Hold up, hold up, hold up. Hey Junior, who is that?" And he turned his body as much as he could, because he still had a tube and stuff, and I came around and I said, "Hey, handsome."
Mack: When Kelly enters the room, at first all she can see is the left side of his face, which, all things considered, still looks pretty normal. It's not until she walks around to the other side that she's able to see the result of the injuries the nurse had described to her days before.
Kelly Davis: You don't see the bandaged side until you came all the way around the bed. And I remember just being like, oh, my God, I don't want to react, because I show how I feel all over my face. He also had that thing in his neck, which I had never—a trach, and I had never really seen—I had never really seen it, like, up close on anybody. And it made, like, this horrible rattling noise because it was, like, taking all of, like the spit and stuff that was in his mouth. And he was little. Like, he was already kind of tiny, but he was, like, extra tiny to me. And I remember writing down like, "Did you lose weight?" And he was like, "I think so." And I was like, "From being shot?" And he, "Mug, yeah." And I was like, "Shoot me now!" [laughs]
Mack: Oh, my God, Kelly! I can't ...
Kelly Davis: Shoot me right now! [laughs]
Mack: Kelly is doing her best to play it off, to play it cool and make him laugh. And despite how gruesome everything appears and how completely disorienting this whole thing is, Keith is trying to look good for his girl.
Kelly Davis: He's a clean freak. So he was just like, "Can you wipe me off? Is dirt coming out of my hair?" And he had dried-up blood everywhere. And so I asked the nurse, "Can I wipe him off?" And she said, "Yeah." And she kind of like, gave me these wipes, and I kind of wiped him off and everything else like that.
Mack: Kelly stayed by his side for more than 12 hours that day. She didn't leave until almost two in the morning. Way past visiting hours. She was lucky enough that a new cop came to stand watch who didn't really know all the rules, And the two different nurses who worked that shift didn't say a word.
Mack: So for more than 12 hours, Keith and Kelly filled notepads with their messages to each other. Kelly talks, and Keith responds by scribbling all over the place. When the notebook they were writing in ran out of clean pages, they just started using anything. Napkins, random scraps of paper, even ripped off pieces of the charts that nurses would use to fill out Keith's vitals.
Kelly Davis: I also still have those notes that him and I wrote back and forth when he was saying, like, you know, "I don't know what's going on." And I was like, "Me either." And I said, "They're saying that you're under arrest." And he said, "Yeah." I said, "So what if you have to go to jail?" And he said, "You know, if I have to, it's what I have to do to get this over with, you know, so they can figure out that I didn't do anything wrong, but it won't be for long." And I said, "What?" He was just like, "Yeah. No, it won't be for long. You know, I didn't do anything."
Mack: That first visit seemed to have a big impact on Keith. It was the first time he stood up and walked around, and in the days to come he went from being wiped off to being bathed. And Keith being Keith, he wasn't trying to use no hospital soap, so Kelly went home and brought him the things he liked: lavender Dial soap, a travel-sized container of cocoa butter, his deodorant, Dove men's shampoo and some Blistex.
Kelly Davis: So when I got there with his soap and stuff, this big Lurch-looking cop was outside and I went to walk in and he was like, "Hey, you can't go in there." And I was like, "Why not?" He was like, "Because you can't. He can't have any visitors." And I was like, "Well, I was here yesterday." And he was like, "I don't care where you were." And I was like, "Well, can—" I saw the nurse, because she was writing up on the board. And, you know, I said, "Well, can I—" I started to kind of just, like, hand her the stuff, like, "Well, can I at least give her, you know, his stuff for his bath?" And he pushed me. And once he pushed me, Keith started to get up and move. And I could hear the machines going off, and I remember the nurse being like, "Please tell him you're okay. Please tell him you're okay. You're okay." And I said, "Baby, I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay." And he was twisting up his face and pointing at the cop. And she was like, "I got him. I got him. I'll make sure he gets washed up. I got him. I got him."
Mack: Kelly goes home and she's worried as hell about Keith, especially since she won't be able to see him. Two nights later, she's trying to get some sleep, when her phone starts to ring around 3:00 am.
Kelly Davis: The person said "Kelly!" And I said, "Who is this?" He said, "It's me. It's Keith." And I said, "Keith?" He said, "Yeah." I said, "Stop playing." He said, "No, babe. It's really me." It didn't sound like him. I said, "You can talk?" [laughs] So he said, "Yeah, they took—they were supposed to call you and tell you they took the thing out." And I said, "Oh my God, you're okay? You can talk!" He said, "I'm in jail." And I was like, "What? Like, what? Like, what?" And he was like, "Listen, this is what I need you to do. I need you to contact that lawyer and let them know." And before he hung up, he said, "You know, I'm okay. I'm-a be okay. It won't be long. They just got to sort it out. They just got to, you know, know that I didn't do anything. They'll figure it out. It just might take a little bit of time. But, you know, this is how you put money on your phone." Because I knew nothing about jail. I knew nothing about boyfriends being in jail. Guys that I dated and they went to jail, I'd be like, "Holler at me when you get out, because I'm not a ride or die. I need to know where we riding to and why we got to die." This is just not my thing.
Mack: The thing about being a ride or die is that most people who end up doing it, they ain't signed up for it. But that night, Kelly had to make a decision. She could hang up from Keith, get back in bed, and let it be someone else's problem, or she could ride.
Kelly Davis: He hung up, and I'll never forget crawling to the top of my bed and just crying and just rocking back and forth, and feeling like, you know, I got to get him out of there. Like, I don't—I have to get him out of there. That next day I started. I started to just figure it out, like, how to get him out.
Mack: After the break, Kelly rides out.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Kelly Davis: When it comes under your administration, it's not justice. And my thing is ...]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Marilyn Mosby: Is this a question or a comment?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Kelly Davis: It's both.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, telephone recording: An inmate at a Maryland correctional facility. This call will be recorded and monitored. If you wish to block any future calls—thank you for using Global Tel Link.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Keith Davis: Hello?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Kelly Davis: So you just gonna bogart the phone for real?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Keith Davis: Oh yeah! Shit, I'll give it back to them when they ask for it.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Kelly Davis: You're terrible.]
Mack: This is one of the many recordings that Kelly has of her conversations with Keith while he's locked up. She knew that any communication she had with Keith could be twisted and used against him. So she started recording just for her own documentation. She wasn't gonna let the courts catch her lacking. But it also allowed her to capture lots of really precious moments. Like this one, where her daughter Peyton knows Keith is calling, so she asks to speak to him.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Kelly Davis: Say hello!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Keith Davis: Hey baby!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Peyton: Hi Keith!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Keith Davis: Hey baby!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Peyton: Hi!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Keith Davis: Hey baby!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Peyton: Hi!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Keith Davis: What's going on?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Peyton: Nothing.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Keith Davis: Nothing?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Peyton: Mommy got me some ice cream today!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Keith Davis: What?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Peyton: Mommy got me some ice cream today!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Keith Davis: I want some ice cream!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Peyton: What kind of ice cream you like?]
Mack: While Keith sat in jail awaiting trial, they needed to establish new routines for the family. So every hour of the day that a phone was available to Keith, he called. He called for birthdays, he called when the kids got in trouble at school. He called so much that at one point, their teachers didn't even know he was locked up. And nine weeks after Keith got shot, Kelly found out she was pregnant—Keith was gonna be a dad. When she went in for her first sonogram, Keith was on the phone for that too.
Kelly Davis: He had, like, maybe a minute left, and he got to hear the heartbeat. And he was so, so, so, so tripped out. And we sent him the sonogram after that. And he was so excited. He was excited, but he also just, like, was just like—like, "This is just my luck. Like, this is how my life is. I would be in here when something like this happens." Like, so it's kind of bittersweet for him too.
Mack: The news of the pregnancy raised the stakes for Kelly. It made her go even harder. Her four kids at least had the opportunity to meet Keith. She needed him to be free before this one was born. So she went into overdrive. Her nose was buried in any and all paperwork she could get her hands on. She was becoming an expert on Keith's case.
Mack: Baltimore PD, the cops who arrested Keith, claimed that Keith had robbed a cab driver with a pistol and fled from the police. They claim they chased him from the car and into a garage where he refused to give up his weapon. Keith 100 percent denies that this is what happened. On the phone, Keith and Kelly would go over the details that just didn't add up to them. Like the description of the suspect. The reports described the shooter having a full head of hair, and wearing blue shorts. Keith has a buzzcut. He wasn't wearing shorts. And there's no mention of the suspect having tattoos—Kelly says one of the first things you notice about Keith is his tattoos.
Mack: None of this made sense to Kelly, and she couldn't figure out how it could make to sense anyone else. So Kelly linked up with a group called Baltimore BLOC to get her and Keith's narrative out there. They built a campaign, #FREEKEITHDAVISJR. They did phone zaps, they launched different letter-writing campaigns. Kelly held her own press conferences. And when she felt like she needed to make more noise, she started popping up on elected officials. Like Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore State's Attorney. One day when Mosby was out talking about all the good things she was doing in Baltimore city, Kelly came to talk about Keith.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Kelly Davis: And I want you to look me in my face, because you got the wrong man but you got the right wife. So please understand this: I will be at everywhere you go. I will be everywhere you go, because you're a public servant and you have to answer to us. You talk about ripping families apart. That is what you're doing. You keep these men locked up with little to no evidence, you can smile and smug all you want to. I believed you, when you ...]
Mack: When Kelly saw Marilyn Mosby elected, she saw this Black woman stepping into the role as the youngest chief prosecutor in any American city. Her whole thing, her whole platform was justice. And Kelly said she actually believed it. She actually believed the city would see justice. But Kelly says all she's seen since Mosby took office is abuse of power and injustice.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Kelly Davis: So you guys can listen to her tell you because it's not your family, it's not your children. She's not for justice and fairness. And I'll be damned if I allow you, your administration or the police to take away the progression that he made. All of us are not dumb. All of us do not believe in this dog and pony show. You gonna have to show and prove.]
Mack: At this point, Mosby takes her bag, swings it over her shoulder and begins to walk out of the building. Kelly keeps going.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Kelly Davis: All of us aren't dumb. Some of us are educated. Some of us understand. I'm sick of it! She does this all the time. Yes, please walk out without an answer. Because you leave me to sit for 10 months without an answer. I'm tired of it! It's ridiculous!]
Mack: The ride or die was in full effect.
Kelly Davis: If I had a dollar for everybody that told me, "You can't go up against the police." Why can't I? "You can't go up against the state's attorney." Why can't I? "They not going to let you be there when he has surgery. He's in jail. He's in a property of corrections. They are not going to do that." Watch me do it, and watch them do what I say they're going to do.
Mack: While Keith is being held in jail for the suspected armed robbery, the prosecutor's office is building a case against him. Kelly knows that she's up against a machine. She pays close attention to cases involving young Black men in the city of Baltimore. And she understood the context that made Keith's case a very special one: Keith Davis Jr. was the first person to be shot by police in Baltimore since the infamous Freddie Gray case that took the world by storm just two months before.
Mack: Kelly knows the difference between Freddie Gray and Keith was that Freddie Gray didn't live. But Keith did, even after being shot at by police over 30 times. Her boyfriend was a living, breathing victim of American policing. And the fact that he lived and would be able to tell his story was much more dangerous to Baltimore PD's case than if he would have died. And Kelly felt like they were trying to shut him up.
Mack: The city put together a list of 17 charges, showing they really wanted something to stick. The charges ranged from attempted armed robbery, firearms use, discharging a firearm, handgun on person, first and second degree assault and reckless endangerment. On July 27, Kelly went to court, where she heard the wall of charges against him. Walking out of the courthouse, she started to feel sick. She went straight from the court to the hospital where she found out she was miscarrying. The life she had been planning and fighting for was disappearing.
Kelly Davis: I kind of just withered away. I ended up not being able to work. I was in school at the time for counseling and mental health. I remember having a final, and just going in and crying. And I had flunked out, lost my student aid. I couldn't do anything. My oldest son kind of stepped in and, you know, made sure everyone ate—even me sometimes. You know, just—life just—it was horrible.
Mack: Keith was devastated when he heard about the miscarriage. His strategy to keep Kelly going was to designate a new man of the house, and that responsibility fell to Kelly's oldest son, Amari.
Kelly Davis: Keith was just—he would kind of tell him that, you know, I'm here and I love you and you got to get your mother—you know, you gotta cut her some slack. And, you know, he was determined that this was his family.
Mack: Amari looks up to Keith a lot, so he wanted to step up for his mom and for his family. But Amari was nine years old at this time. Nine year olds aren't built for this shit. They forget simple things, like to clean their rooms, they forget to do their homework.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Keith Davis: This room should have been cleaned. Your homework should have been done.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Amari: My homework is done, Keith!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Keith Davis: What?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Amari: My homework is done!]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Keith Davis: No, you did your homework, you ain't did your room. That's why you still in the house.]
Mack: Keith continued to parent over the phone while his trial was postponed three times. And from listening to lots of Kelly's recordings you can hear that, even though he knows this is necessary, it's not easy. Keith sounds stressed. The kids sound stressed. Kelly sounds stressed. And this becomes their everyday reality. But they make it work. They make it work for 270 days before Keith's first trial.
Mack: A lot went down at that trial. The victim didn't think that Keith looked like the guy who held him up. And Kelly testified as Keith's alibi. He was acquitted of all the charges against him except one: possession. In the garage where Keith told Kelly "Babe, I'm gonna die," cops said they found a gun. And because Keith had a record, even being near that gun meant he was guilty. It's an automatic five-year conviction. But Kelly was prepared to take it in stride. They'd already been through almost two years of this. Keith is gonna serve three more years and be able to come home. So Kelly tried to be grateful. But days after the verdict had come down and Kelly was prepared to accept it, the Baltimore Police Department held a press conference. They weren't done.
[NEWS CLIP: Wednesday, Baltimore police announce they have Jones's killer behind bars, Keith Davis Jr. Investigators say they have a strong case against the 24 year old.]
Mack: Now that their original case had fallen apart, the Baltimore Police Department decided to charge Keith again. This time, it was for the murder of a man named Kevin Jones. Suddenly, they were linking the gun from the garage to a totally different case.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, police spokesperson: Keith Davis's print was recovered from that firearm. So that puts him in possession of that firearm. And that firearm was ballistically matched to the evidence at the scene of the murder.]
Mack: At court, the Assistant Public Defender argued that Keith was being set up. She told the jury, quote, "They blew a .40-caliber bullet through his face. When they realized he didn't have a gun, they planted the evidence because they were afraid." Keith was now facing up to 50 years in prison. For Kelly, it's like the world is imploding in front of her eyes. Five years felt doable. She had a plan for that. But 50?
Mack: So when you think about the possibility of 50 years, like ...
Kelly Davis: I can't.
Mack: You don't.
Kelly Davis: I don't. It's—it's just not—I mean, it runs cross my mind, like, 50 years? What am I gonna do with 50 years? But I don't. People always ask you, like, "How do you do this?" Keith is my person, you know? He is the person that I can rely on. You know, he's the person that I can vent to. He's the person that can kind of build me up. And I could never, ever—I would be stupid to leave someone like that.
Mack: In the early days of Keith being away, the two of them had held onto this idea that his name would be cleared, he'd be freed and they'd be able to get married.
Kelly Davis: Because I wanted a fall wedding, and I wanted it to be kind of like outside-y, like, November, and in the evening time, at night. And I had, like, these champagne colors picked out, like, these pretty fall colors picked out. And he was like, "Oh, I don't care about all of that. I just want this liquor to be there and that liquor to be there." Like, it was just we had planned it ourselves.
Mack: It was becoming clear that wasn't gonna happen. Besides, other things had become more urgent than the dream wedding. Keith still required medical attention behind bars because of the injuries he got when he was shot. Kelly wanted to oversee all that kind of stuff, but there's only so much the state will give a girlfriend access to. So the two of them decide, even though it won't be the way they imagined, they need to pull the trigger on marriage.
Kelly Davis: We got married July 25, 2017, in the Jessup Correctional Facility. We called the prison to just see how it worked. And they were just like, "Oh, you have to contact a chaplain." And I was like, "You know, do we pick a day?" And they were like, "No, we give you the day."
Mack: There were no fall colors or any of the alcohol Keith wanted, but they made it work. Keith saved the slave wages he was earning on the inside for a ring, which he bought out of a prison catalog. Kelly showed up in this white harem-style flowing jumpsuit. She's rocking full locks and has pulled them up to one side of her face, and they just kind of cascade down.
Mack: As she entered the building, what she described to me as "a hatin'-ass CO," claimed she could see through Kelly's outfit, so she wouldn't let her in. Kelly went back to her car and sorted through her trunk and backseat for something else. She ended up putting together a floral scuba skirt with a white blazer she hated. Keith wore a black sweater and was rocking a pair of thick-rimmed black glasses. He had a fresh cut with the swoop part. Most of the photos from that day are selfies of Keith and Kelly looking directly into the camera, smiling. There's this one in black and white where Keith is giving Kelly a kiss on the cheek. His eyes are closed and she's in bliss.
Kelly Davis: It was myself, a witness, which was the same person who married us, a correctional officer, and it was in the waiting room. And we wrote our own vows, we took pictures, and I went home and he went back to his cell. It was not the wedding that we thought it would be.
Kelly Davis: Still, we'll more than likely get married again.
Mack: The way Keith and Kelly have held each other down reminds me a lot of how, historically, America has made it really hard for Black Love to exist. From slavery to Jim Crow laws, even after the Great Migration, vagrancy statutes and tenement house law split up our families, made us hyper-focused on work for survival and used the law to crack down on courtship, sexual exploration and even how we could arrange our families.
Mack: Welfare reforms in the '50s and '60s came with rules like the "man in the house" rule, which meant that welfare workers would make pop-up visits to poor Black families, looking for any evidence of a man. And if they found any, they'd use that as a reason to cut the household's welfare checks. This kind of structural terrorism has done material damage to people and families, but it also seeps into the ways we relate to each other. These things were meant to keep us from bonding and forming genuine relationships, never pouring into each other or building bridges together.
Mack: But nothing could stop that. Black men still climbed up apartment railings to be with their families, and Black women still opened the windows. Black people still found ways to be queer, to be together, to be held, and to be free, whether the state said it was okay or not.
Mack: That's what Black Love is and always has been. It's not some universal concept of love, just with Black faces, it's being told that you can't love. It's having all the conditions necessary for loving denied to you, and responding by making your own thing out of the void. That's not something that can be packaged and sold. It's what's kept us alive.
Kelly Davis: This was his family, and this was the family that he had always wanted and that, no matter the circumstances, and no matter what it was, he was gonna be here.
Kelly Davis: I remember Amari graduated from elementary school, and his grandparents, his biological father's parents was there, and his grandmother being like, "Who's that yelling?" And it was Keith yelling through the phone when they were able to call his name. Or Peyton blowing out her birthday candles. And he's on the phone. And her wish was, "I just want my dad here."
Mack: Keith and Kelly's family is constantly trying on different routines to see what works for them. It means lots of travel to prison and lots of phone calls everyday. Kelly estimated the calls cost her more than $10,000 in 2019. Recently, because of COVID restrictions, Keith hasn't been able to call nearly as much as he used to, which really worried the family. But I talked to Kelly one day in January, and she told me that the day before, they got a Christmas card.
Kelly Davis: You know, this Christmas card we got yesterday finally, they each have a section. He tells Chloe, "Chloe, you're so special and smart. Don't be afraid to express yourself and let the world see how great you are. I love you, and you're one of a kind." "Jaiden, high school paves the way for college and college to a promising life career. Now is the time to take these things seriously. What do you want to do with your life? Not today or tomorrow, but period. Start to think for tomorrow, because proper preparation prevents poor performance. The Five Ps. I love you. I need you to stay focused and do your best, and you'll never be disappointed." "Amari, sometimes you do so good, you can be the glue that holds this entire family together. This is what a man is supposed to do. Hold things together. But with great power comes great responsibility. This same power can be used to tear things apart. The man, like I always tell you, is the balance in his house and his family. So you must decide in my absence, will you build or destroy? What kind of man will you be? Any man can destroy and tear apart. But remember, real men build on peace. Remember to take care of your mother and your sisters. I love you."
Kelly Davis: "Peyton, you're growing so fast it scares me sometimes. But you're so bright and you're so beautiful. You shine like the sun always. Know you're a prize and a blessing to everyone you meet, even if they're sometimes too dumb to know it and they don't know it. And the world is yours to conquer. Shine bright like a diamond and always be yourself. And remember to never let anybody push you around. I love you, and I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And hopefully I can catch the next one."
Mack: In 2019, after three trials—two where the jury couldn't agree, and one overturned conviction, Keith was found guilty of second-degree murder. Last year in March, he was sentenced to 50 years. He'll likely get another trial this year, but in the meantime, he's still in prison. Hours before we got this episode ready to publish, we found out Keith has been hospitalized and had to undergo emergency surgery. Once again, Kelly has rushed to the hospital to try and make sure that Keith will be okay. Her fight continues.
Kelly Davis: They've taken from him something that he's always wanted: His family. He has lost his only child that would have—that he could have brought into this world. They have snatched him away. They have locked him away. And now they determine when he gets to talk to us, when we get to see him, how we interact with him. I am going to raise holy hell until you feel like we're gonna just let his ass go, because this one is just not worth it.
Kelly Davis: I need this world, and I need especially this city, these police, this state's attorney office to know that you got the right one. He's somebody's somebody. He's my somebody.
Saidu: That was Mack. Resistance is produced by Wallace Mack, Bethel Habte and Aaron Randle. And hosted by me, Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr.
Saidu: Our supervising producer is Sarah McVeigh. We're edited by Lynn Levy, Lydia Polgreen and Brendan Klinkenberg. Mixing, scoring and magic by Catherine Anderson and Bobby Lord. Theme by Bobby Lord. Our music supervisor is Liz Fulton. Original compositions by Drea the Vibe Dealer. Fact-checking is by Isabel Cristo, and big shout-out to our previous fact checker Michelle Harris. We appreciate you so much, and best of luck at your new gig.
Saidu: Our show art is by Darien Birks of The Stuyvesants. Credits music, what you're listening to right now, is Bones by Ivy Sole.
Saidu: And special thanks to Alyia Yates, Clara Sankey, Amelia Parry, Jonah Delso, Bilphena Yahwon and Baltimore BLOC. If you enjoyed this episode, tell a friend about it. You can find me on Twitter at @saiduttj. Resistance is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production.
Saidu: All right. See y'all in two weeks.