Residents of Baltimore’s Rose Street Community say they are pursuing legal action against systemic police abuse, even while they have stopped murders in a 77 block radius for months
MEGAN SHERMAN, PRODUCER: Early Tuesday, December 17 in East Baltimore, members of the Rose Street Community Center held a press conference to announce their plans to pursue legal action against the Baltimore City Police Department.
CLAYTON GUYTON, DIRECTOR, ROSE STREET COMMUNITY CENTER: Enough is enough. That’s where we’re at. They will stop us, take our cell phones, look at stuff. Okay? Unconstitutional! They break our phones. They broke her phone ’cause she was videoing. They broker phone. She still haven’t been compensated.
SHERMAN: They say that the police have mistreated and abused residents in the surrounding community for decades.
The Real News reached out to the department for a statement, but they have not yet responded at the time of production. Clayton Guyton, the director of the community center, and Kevin McCamant, a clinical psychologist who works with the group, describes some of the negative interactions that residents have had with law enforcement and how certain policies protect abusive officers.
GUYTON: And the police union will protect the bad apples, so they don’t care nothing about calling our women Bs. I got locked up a few years ago because I asked an officer not to call a young lady a B. I ended up in /ˈsɛntrəpoʊl/.
KEVIN MCCAMANT, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: You know, Baltimore City Police have been abusing this community for over 30 years or over a generation with impunity, largely because of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and the unwillingness of city administrators and police administrators to take this business seriously and hold people accountable for the wrong that they have done.
SHERMAN: The employees at the Center addressed what some referred to as black-on-black crime by focusing on lowering the murder rate in the areas surrounding the 800 block of Rose Street and de-escalating conflicts that could lead to violence.
MCCAMANT: The two issues that have been longstanding on the one hand are the police misconduct and brutality and on the other hand what has been called black-on-black crime.
I want to underscore that Rose Street has been for a long time dealing with that issue of, quote, black-on-black, endquote, crime. The homicide rate midyear citywide in Baltimore was the lowest in 30 years.
In the news they were talking about they couldn’t figure out how this had happened. Well, I can tell you how it happened. Many of the people in this room have risked their lives on a regular basis on their blocks to intervene and defuse potentially lethal situations before they came to violence.
SHERMAN: The response from Rose Street is just one of many amongst the recent national unrest over failure to indict white officers for the killing of unarmed African Americans like Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
GUYTON: What the /ˈæfələns/ is doing, wearing it on their T-shirts, that’s admirable. Laying in the streets with a die-in, fantastic.
But guess what? We in Baltimore City in the Rose Street vicinity got our way that we’re going to respond. Class-action lawsuit. That’s what we’re going to do. And we’re asking for money for those that have been affected, and we’re also saying we want good policing policies to be put in place.
SHERMAN: The Rose Street representatives mentioned that they will be collaborating with the ACLU of Maryland and Amnesty International, which they believe will help push the police to hold its officers accountable.
MCCAMANT: We are going to be working in a disciplined–well, the word that was used here at our meeting on Saturday was professional manner–to collect evidence going forward here that the American Civil Liberties Union have used to prosecute this class-action lawsuit. And as far as that goes, the idea of criminal prosecution against the police is not–against individual officers is not off the table if we have evidence that will support that level of wrongdoing.
It was a representative of Amnesty International who’s coming to talk with us, because amnesty has recently made police misconduct and abuse in the United States part of their international human rights effort. And so Amnesty is very interested in partnering with Rose Street to see how they can help support this effort to bring justice to the community and to hold the police accountable to contribute to this truth and reconciliation effort.
SHERMAN: They believe that the only way for the relationship between law enforcement and communities to improve is by compensating residents for past transgressions and working to develop better policing policies.
MCCAMANT: It will never work for people not to have accepted accountability for the misconduct and abuse that they have done. It will not work if there has not been reparation. It will not work if there hasn’t been a sitting down and face-to-face and coming to terms with what has been done and how people feel about it, and then working together to figure out how to move into the future in a constructive way.
GUYTON: We’re not hating on the police. What we’re saying is we want equal justice under law, like every other citizen in this country. We’re not asking for special treatment. We’re asking for fairness.
SHERMAN: This is Megan Sherman reporting with The Real News Network.