In the wake of the blistering DOJ report, Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes says police abuse that perpetuates mass incarceration and poverty must be reversed
KIM BROWN: Listening and watching the Real News Network here in Baltimore. We’re sitting with district 12 councilman Carl Stokes. Councilman Stokes, thank so much for joining us this afternoon. CARL STOKES: Hi, good afternoon. BROWN: The bubbling news this morning was the damming Department of Justice report about Baltimore police and their conduct. SPEAKER: Today, the Department of Justice announces the outcome of our investigation and issues a 163-page report detailing our findings. We conclude that there is reasonable cause to believe that BPD engages in a pattern or practice of conduct that violates the constitution and federal and anti-discrimination law. BPD engages in a pattern or practice of making unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests. Using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches, and arrests of African Americans. Using excessive force and retaliating against people engaging in constitutional protected expression. BROWN: What was your reaction to what you’ve heard so far? STOKES: Well so far, it was obvious what the DOJ reports is not news to the majority of Baltimore. It certainly is not news to black Baltimore. There are two Baltimores obviously. I go to cocktail parties uptown, shall we say, and I say folks do you realize black people are being beaten up every day by a small group of police officers? And they say, no you’re exaggerating Stokes, not every day. And I say, yea every day. Then some 2-3 years ago the Baltimore Sun did it’s investigative reporting and it showed that black people were being brutalized by the same subset of officers, quite regularly. And the city was paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars because of these police actions. And then these officers stayed on the job to beat up people again and we would pay out again for the same officers’ brutality. So it is no news to the average African American in this city that there are a systemic issue of racism and brutality from a subset of police officers. It does not include the greater majority of the officers. But what is included across the board is the blue code of silence. That is to say that all of the other officers with the exception of very very few, turn their heads to the brutality and the racism that a few of their officers do. And this effects hundreds of thousands of young black males mostly who then are put in a position where it’s tough to get a job because of their record. Even though they may not be “formally charged”. They are picked up and they are charged. They may not be taken to the next thing which is trial and etc. But they have a record and then they have a difficult time getting work, have a difficult time going to college because they can no longer get Pell Grants or financial assistance because of their record, discriminated against in housing, etc. So sure, we’ve known that hundreds of thousands of black males have been arrested for no reason other than they’re black males and younger. Though it did go to older African American males also. So hundred thousand or more black men for 4 years were arrested by the police and the greater majority of that number never were charged with a crime. JAISAL NOOR: And you’re talking about the period of zero tolerance. The report actually referred to that as a period from which the wounds have still not healed. STOKES: Well they can’t heal. Because you do that to people and then they can’t get jobs, they can’t go to school, they can’t get good housing, they’re not eligible for certain social programs because they have this record. And so the wounds can heal because they’re out on the street right now. A place like Sand Town where 60% or more of the young African American males, 18 to 35, are unemployed. And they’re unemployed because yes many don’t have the skills. But also many have this record that has been laid on them and it just continues to cycle, frankly. Folks can’t get jobs. Can’t feed their families, let alone themselves. They make choices that you and I would say are bad choices but they would say it’s our only choice. NOOR: So we were talking, I was talking to Neil Franklin, he’s a former law enforcement officer, former head trainer for the Baltimore Police Department head of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. And he was saying the DOJ report alone is not going to change anything because you still have systemic poverty in place and the war on drugs in place. So you’re still going to have these interactions. You still have people with records who are going through the system. STOKES: Right, of course. It is – this DOJ report shows mostly what has happened and what is happening in one aspect of it all which is law enforcement. Yea the poverty plays into it. But the actions of these few officers have continued this systemic issue of poverty because of the racism, because of the jailing of people who are innocent otherwise, and it just perpetuates the situation of poverty in the communities. So let’s get rid of what’s happening in the police department. Some other things we have to do is proper education and employment. But let’s do the police department right. It will go a long way to curing many of the ills that are out there. It will go a long way toward doing that. So let’s not poo poo it that what we have in the DOJ report is minor. It’s not minor. This is huge. The people with the badge and gun can actually take your life. That’s huge. It’s huge to have such a power that folk with badges and guns have. To be able to just take your life, to take your freedom from you. To make you afraid. This is huge. So this is not a small thing, what is going on. And I’m more than disappointed that past commissioners have not rid their departments of the systemic problems that are there, let alone past mayors. We’ve got to do it. So we need not to talk about it. We’re past dialogue. That’s why people are angry. That’s why people are mad, you know. People are saying why are people doing what they’re doing against law enforcement. It’s a reaction to. We’re blaming the people who are reacting to being shot and killed and beaten. Rather than saying well the people who are doing, who initiated the violence, that they be taken down. That won’t be popular as you air this. But it is what it is.