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  April 7, 2017

Trump Administration Fails to Silence Police Reform Advocates

A federal judge in Baltimore brushed aside the Department of Justice's "grave concerns" about a consent decree between the city and the DOJ allowing residents to weigh-in on policing in their community by Taya Graham and Stephen Janis
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DONNA BROWN: My issue is – is that we do something. We need something concrete and immediate.

TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.

It was a public vetting that wasn't supposed to happen. A hearing in front of a Federal Judge to allow public input on the Consent Decree between the Baltimore City Police Department and the Department of Justice.

The Trump Administration asked for a delay as part of a nationwide review of similar agreements. The Department of Justice told the Judge it was moving to a law and order policy that might preclude holding police departments accountable, but Federal Judge, James K. Bredar denied the motion. And today, the citizens of Baltimore weighed in.

I'm here with investigative reporter, Stephen Janis, who was inside the courtroom. Stephen, can you tell us about what you heard today inside the courtroom and what the future of the Consent Decree looks like?

STEPHEN JANIS: Well, as you mentioned, you know, the Justice Department had asked for a delay in this particular... They asked for 90 days to review it because they said, as part of the overall policy changes the Department of Justice, that Attorney General, Jeff Sessions wanted to review all Consent Decrees, including this one which has been signed.

But, interestingly, in the courtroom, the Judge didn't seem to be too happy about that. He said, "Well, you signed it," right in the middle... Because the Federal attorneys for the Department of Justice got up and argued and said, you know, again -- they reiterated what was in the motion, which motion clearly said, "Our new policy is the law and order, and we want to make sure that this Consent Decree doesn't conflict with that policy of law and order."

And as I said before, the Judge was like, "Well, you signed the agreement and I don't see any reason to delay. And I'm not going to grant any delay right now."

And that doesn't mean they can't file for another motion to delay, but nevertheless right now they are going forward. And it seems to me that this Judge isn't going to cotton in to any sort of withdrawal from the Justice Department right off the bat.

TAYA GRAHAM: So, what happened in the courtroom? What did people say?

STEPHEN JANIS: Well, as we've seen in many of these hearings and many of these public situations where, you know, the Police Department has been under scrutiny of the community, there is tremendous anger and frustration; and tremendous outpouring of grief from mothers whose sons had died in police custody or have been shot by police.

You had community activists who said they'd been advocating for change for years and it hasn't happened. You had ministers; you had people from Latino community; people from transgender community.

So, you had an array of voices that seemed to voice the same concern, which is that the Police Department cannot be held accountable, by the community, and that the Feds have to step in.

So, it was really again sort of an outpouring of pain that this flawed relationship with the Baltimore City Police Department and the public has engendered in this city. So, it was really again, people just expressing those thoughts and letting the Judge know they wanted this Consent Decree to go forward.

TAYA GRAHAM: So, how did the Judge react?

STEPHEN JANIS: Well, as I said before, the Judge seemed to not be very sympathetic to the Justice Department's request for delay or to pull back from this.

It was interesting because the city solicitor, Mr. Ralph, argued that the city needs this because people don't trust Baltimore City government. And it's interesting because, you know, as we've talked about in a few pieces before this, the city has every power to implement many of these reforms.

But what the city solicitor said was, "If we don't have the Department of Justice codifying this agreement, and sort of enforcing it, the people in this community won't trust us. They will not trust the city itself".

So, it was a very interesting argument because he was saying, "We need this in order for the people to trust us." And the Judge seemed to, I think, be in agreement. I think the Judge is very sympathetic to this agreement.

Now, remember that the Justice Department is the plaintiff in this case. So, it seems to me they have some option to withdraw and they literally, you know, did not back down from that today. So, it will be interesting to see.

But after this testimony, I think the Judge is in a position where he would have to ignore the voice of the community in order to rule in favor of the Justice Department on anything.

TAYA GRAHAM: So, Stephen, where do we go from here? What's next?

STEPHEN JANIS: Well, next Judge Bredar takes it back to his chambers; considers the testimony of the community.

I would imagine the Justice Department is going to file another, either to withdraw, or some sort of other motion about this, an amendment or something. Because they seem, you know, very adamant that they are going to analyze and say, "This is not law and order; this conflicts."

I'm not sure why constitutional in following the law conflicts with law and order. It was interesting because Lawrence Grandpre of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle said very specifically, "I don't know why you're talking about constitutional policing because policing is not in the Constitution."

TAYA GRAHAM: And neither was slavery, he added.

STEPHEN JANIS: Neither was slavery. So, very interesting, so it's going to be -- it's really now up to the Judge. It's in the Judge's hands. I mean, but I do think the Justice Department hinted; not hinted -- said explicitly that they're going to fight some aspect of this.

So, ultimately the Judge is going to have some say as to what happens, because this has been signed. So, it has been signed. It is a signed agreement. And people should know that. That really, it's in the Judge's hands at this point.

TAYA GRAHAM: Are you concerned about the influence of the Donald Trump Presidency on the Department of Justice?

DONNA BROWN: Absolutely, and the community overall was... that was their initial concern after the election. And we had conversations with the Department of Justice, the representatives that worked with us previously. And they assured us that, no, that you know, the work that they had engaged, what they had supported in this and what they reported in this would be maintained.

And so, we were met with something else, and to be able to speak and meet eye-to-eye, you know, with the attorney that sat in today, to speak to him, to let him know: trust the investment of the work that your representatives have already done. They engaged over a two-year period, you know, in our community. Give some value and some weight to the work of your own colleagues and trust what they've already invested in this.

TAYA GRAHAM: Now, when you read the Consent Decree, were you surprised at all to see some of the unconstitutional practices? Some of the racist practices that were in the findings?

DONNA BROWN: Absolutely not. Like I said, I live here.

And as I said, I worked with, you know, children that ended up in our detention centers. I've worked with adults who've been affected by it. I've worked with adults who've been imprisoned, served their time and they come out and they were targeted once they got out; and how their lives were impacted.

You know, a gentleman who was a re-entering citizen, he... after he had been out he, you know, got a job and was working and doing well for himself; and was arrested walking down the street, going from his home to a corner store. And he was arrested because he didn't have an ID. But he was held in a detention center and ultimately lost his job, for something that menial, you know?

So, but because they knew him and they were familiar with him, and that we have police that target those folks; and when they're trying, when they're making a genuine attempt. And not knowing what this gentleman had gone through before he had even got back on the street.

I worked with him internally while he was going through a reform program that encompassed every manner of life that he would encounter, so that he would have a better perspective and a better opportunity when he got on the flipside.

But when he gets outside and is still targeted by police officers, you know, you have to do something about how they deal with us in our communities.

ISAAC WILSON: I came here to speak - to put forth the voice that is not heard in Baltimore City - the voice that cannot be... that is not viewed as what it truthfully is. Because before the Consent Decree was even proposed; before the DOJ even investigated the Baltimore City Police Department; it was... it's just constantly been cold war between the citizens and the Police of Baltimore, and it shouldn't have to be like that. So, I came here today to give voice to the voiceless.

SHANEJAH MCCAFFERTY: We can't do anything about it. They are officers. They are the law. So, we can't sit here and deny the law. But we do know our rights. We know that we can stand on our street, and we will.

Now, when an officer pulls out their stick, or their gun, or their mace, or their tazer, they're being a threat to us. And our best way we can do is use our voice because that's all we have.

TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.




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