It’s been 478 days since the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. It was the weekend of my 25th Birthday, and for the second time in my life, since the execution of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, I knew what it was like to live in 1968. I watched, as the death of a young man no older than me at the time, spurred a wave of protest, some of which devolved into chaos. An explosion of deep-seated racial tensions met its climax in a city where 3 out of 5 of its residents were African-American.
This morning, the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division released its “Investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department,” a 163 page report in which it outlines its case that “the [Baltimore Police Department] engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitution or federal law…using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African-Americans”
What does that mean for you? We just made a deposit in racism’s pay-pal.
The report cites a range of misgivings by the police department in Baltimore including the escalation of power and arrests of individuals who have not been suspected of a crime, excessive use of physical force and firearms and numerous documented cases of verbalized prejudices, largely targeted at the African-American community.
We’ve heard this story before. The justice department, just last March released a detailed investigation in which it found that officers in Ferguson, Missouri were “Conducting stops without reasonable suspicion, and arrests without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment”
This problem is not unique to Baltimore. It is not unique to urban centers. Wherever people of color are in the United States, there is a risk of prejudiced thoughts and biased behavior, leading to an abuse of power.
So…what have we learned?
- We’re all a part of La Familia
The DOJ team determined that the “constitutional violations described in our findings… result in part from critical deficiencies in the Baltimore Police Departments’ systems to train, equip supervise, and hold officers accountable and to build relationships with the Baltimore community”
That’s what the Black Lives Matter movement has been saying for months…we need more involvement in the community. According to a 2014 report, young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by the police than their White counterparts. This is what provoked Earldreka White, a woman who was harassed by police in Houston to call 911 out of fear for her life.
Even president Obama noted in his open letter to Police Officers last month, “When you see civilians at risk, you don’t see them as strangers. You see them as your own family.”
Police officers need to start living the President’s truth, viewing the community as family; and like any relationship, this is fostered through training and spending time in the community they serve. Police in places like Boston have the right idea. They spent $89,000 on an ice cream truck that delivers treats to neighborhood children.
A few days ago I watched the video of the traffic stop that ultimately led to the death of Korryn Gaines, another Baltimore resident who was hit by police fired bullets that killed her and wounded her 5-year-old son. In the video, the officer pulls Gaines over asking for her license and registration without providing a reason for the stop.
The Justice Department identified additional cases like this, where officers instigated a controversy without any basis to do such. One example can be found in the cases of a practice called “clearing a corner” that involves dispersing of people who are lawfully congregated with little or no suspicion of crime.
“One officer…while responding to a call about a gang fight, stopped to engage an African-American man and his four-year-old who were sitting on a fence by a playground where the young boy had been playing. The officer told them that they ‘couldn’t just stand around’ and ‘needed to move.’ A second officer, after explaining to his supervisor that he had no legal basis to clear a corner, was told to “make something up.”
In 2012, the City of Baltimore settled out of court for $95,000 in an incident where they criminalized an 87-year-old Black woman.
“She was shoved against the wall after she refused to allow an officer to enter her basement to conduct a warrantless search. After shoving the woman to the floor, the officer allegedly stood over her and said ‘Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up’”
- You don’t always have to send the 5-0, we have other civil servants, too
If there’s a fire at your house, you call 9-11 and the dispatcher will route you to the fire department. If you are having a heart attack, you are sent an ambulance and an EMT. In Baltimore, police officers are called to help escort those with mental disabilities to the hospital. We don’t have to look that far back in the past for another example of where this went wrong. In March of 2015 in Dallas, a Schizophrenic man was shot and killed by police officers after his mother reported to 9-1-1 that she needed help during one of his episodic breaks.
As the Baltimore report describes “Frequently, these individuals have committed no crime and present no significant threat to officers or other members of the public….Baltimore Police Officers resort to using unreasonable force if individuals fail to comply with their commands.”
A separate issue needs a specific and more clam response. Which leads to the next point…
- This is not Grand Theft Auto, this is real life
Life is nothing like Grand Theft Auto. You can’t steal a car and lead cops on a high-speed chase to a neighborhood and hide for a minute and re-spawn with a clean criminal record. But cops need to know they can’t really do the high speed chase part either and expect no one to get hurt.
This is text taken literally from the Baltimore report.
“Baltimore Police Department’s Discharges of Firearms at Moving Vehicles Are Highly Dangerous, Ineffective and May Be Constitutionally Impermissible.”
Yes, you read that right. The Police in Baltimore are shooting at moving cars.
And again, a recent example can be found in an 18 year old kid, Paul O’Neal who was murdered by police, after a round of officers shot at a moving car he allegedly stole. This was in Dallas. Common practices.
The justice department found that in pursuits like this “At that point, the vehicle is no longer posed a serious threat to the officers, and if it posed a threat to others, shooting at it likely increased that threat rather than eliminating it”
As if a kid driving high-speed in a stolen car isn’t dangerous enough, you have an officer driving just as fast behind him firing a deadly weapon. Sounds like the plot for a new fast and furious movie..and I’m not buying a ticket.
- All Black people live in the Hood, right?
Bias is weaved into our everyday life as Americans. I can regale you with countless tales in which my race or where I lived produced assumptions about my character. This was revealed to me the time a kid from the suburbs of Central Jersey asked me whether I lived scared every day that the people in Newark who carried AK-47’s around on their backs would kill me. Or the other countless times at predominately White college parties that I would be asked to “spit a verse.” My cousins will proudly tell you that neither rapping nor dancing are my forte.
Racial bias does not belong in policing, and most certainly causes undue harm to its victims.
As one man in the Baltimore report alleged “while walking in April 2015, officers stopped him, accused him of looting and called him a ‘low life nigger’”
The continued report found that “Baltimore Police Department supervisors repeatedly fail to seek evidence that could corroborate bias allegations and result in officer discipline.”
This is the true root of the problem. Officers who commit these acts are not held accountable for what they do, which in turn keeps the behavior under the radar. This is also a result of the lack of officer supervision and what the investigation describes as “Early Intervention Systems” that help in curbing problematic behavior before things get out of hand. Police are watching us, but who is watching the police?
- What you think you too good for us now?
So Imagine you’re a high school basketball coach and you have this really good player. He’s 6’ 7’’, he can dunk, and has really good ball handle. Then all of a sudden, he leaves your team for an opportunity at a fancy private school up the road. Your team loses morale, because you sucked in the first place and didn’t want to admit that he was basically holding the team down from the start.
This is also what happens in life. Flight from predominately black, predominately urban areas has not just been a phenomenon in housing and education it also affects the quality of police officers.
As the Baltimore study found,
“We heard from officers, supervisors and command staff that many officers join the Baltimore Police Department to gain experience in a high-activity environment, and after three to five years, leave the department for less-demanding and higher paid-positions with neighboring agencies”
Essentially, you’re losing some of the best and the brightest for opportunities that they deem more fruitful. They are literally using their time as cadets as an internship.
So What Now?
If you don’t take away any other lesson from this Baltimore investigation, know this….The problems are widespread, and quite systemic in nature.
Oh yeah, and remember…you paid for it.