The True Toll of Policing in Baltimore – The Arrest of a 7-Year-Old

Long before Baltimore police were thrust into the national spotlight for recent allegations of brutality, the arrest of a child for sitting on a dirt bike made international headlines.

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Story Transcript

STEPHEN JANIS, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, TRNN: Hello. My name is Stephen Janis, and I am an investigative reporter for The Real News Network from Baltimore.

The death of Freddie Gray while in police custody has brought national attention to policing in Baltimore. The Real News Network has been covering this topic extensively and even hosted town halls. Part of that coverage includes a series we call The True Toll of Policing in Baltimore, where we talk to people who have experienced the consequences of aggressive law enforcement firsthand. One of them was just seven years old when he was arrested by Baltimore police, and it’s how he was treated and why he was arrested in the first place that reveals how much of the problem with policing in Baltimore is deeply rooted in the past.

Gerard Mungo had just turned seven when he was arrested by the Baltimore City police for allegedly riding a dirt bike. He was handcuffed and booked, and even questioned, an arrest that made international headlines and prompted criticism from then-Mayor Sheila Dixon. Later it was revealed during a lawsuit that the arrest was retaliation for his mother calling the supervisor to complain that his dirt bike was confiscated. Today Gerard, and his mother Lakisha Dinkins, joins us to discuss this encounter with police and how he has fared since.

Thank you for joining me, both of you. I appreciate it. And I appreciate you talking about it.

LAKISHA DINKINS, GERARD’S MOTHER: Thank you for having us.

JANIS: So first let’s start with you, Gerard. How are you doing, what’s going on with your life now?

GERARD MUNGO, ARRESTED AT AGE 7: I’m doing fine.

JANIS: I hear you’re like a basketball star?

MUNGO: Yeah.

JANIS: What position do you play?

MUNGO: Point guard.

JANIS: That’s good. And Lakisha, how are you doing?

DINKINS: I’m doing okay.

JANIS: You’re doing okay. So I want to ask you both about looking back seven years and what happened. You know, it was a traumatic incident for you, and maybe, Gerard, if you feel like discussing it, what you remember and how you feel about what happened to you then.

MUNGO: I just remember sitting on the dirt bike and getting slammed off of it.

JANIS: And what did you think at the time about that, and what happened?

MUNGO: What was happening, was going on. I didn’t know what was going on.

JANIS: Yeah. Were you confused? Angry?

MUNGO: Angry.

JANIS: And Lakisha, do you remember? I mean, what were you thinking at the time, in terms of what happened?

DINKINS: Well, to think back to that, that very day, I could say that I was more so angry as a mom. Upset. Basically confused, because I didn’t really understand, why was he arrested. It was just a bit too much.

JANIS: Yeah. And I remember when I interviewed you, you were upset. Do you still to this day have any sort of sense of anger about that moment? Or is it something that’s passed for you?

MUNGO: Yes.

JANIS: Yes what?

MUNGO: I have anger. I still have anger.

JANIS: And what specifically are you angry about?

MUNGO: That they arrest a seven-year-old. And that I got slammed off my bike.

JANIS: I mean, to you as a teenager now that kind of seems–I guess what you’re saying is absurd?

MUNGO: Yeah.

JANIS: And Lakisha, in terms of–how do you think it’s affected your son, in terms of his encounter with police and going forward?

DINKINS: Well, I can say that it affected him in a way where, so he always had questions. Like when he see a lot going on outside, he asks questions like, well Mom, what do you think going to happen? Is he going to be arrested? Will he get a fair trial? What if he go to court? You know, he have a lot of questions from this, how can I say it, this incident that scarred him for life.

JANIS: And do you believe it’s scarred him for life?

DINKINS: Yes.

JANIS: Well, Gerard, what’s your perspective now on–you know, you’ve seen a lot of things going on with criminal justice and about policing. Given your experience, has it affected or influenced your view of how the criminal justice system works?

MUNGO: No.

JANIS: I mean, do you think it’s fair?

MUNGO: What?

JANIS: The criminal justice system, from your experience.

MUNGO: No.

JANIS: And what do you think?

DINKINS: No.

JANIS: Now, you had in, during a trial–not a trial, but a civil lawsuit against the police department, it was revealed that the police officers had decided to make the arrest because of the dirt bike. Can you tell us a little bit about what that, what the suit and what happened?

DINKINS: Well, that day. . . if you really ask me, I think it all escalated from when I called back and I asked for a supervisor.

JANIS: And that was borne out by the transcripts.

DINKINS: Right.

JANIS: And so what, what were they doing, basically, from what you understood? Once they decided to make the arrest it was–

DINKINS: I think it was, I think it was absurd.

JANIS: I mean, did you ever, in terms of your lawsuit, do you feel like you got justice from that? Or why not?

DINKINS: No. For one, I don’t think that we had a fair trial. I think if it happened in the city it should have stayed in the city.

JANIS: Because it was moved because of, because they felt the publicity was too much.

DINKINS: Right.

JANIS: And were you at all, either of you, surprised by the publicity this arrest got? I mean, was it surprising to you?

DINKINS: It was very surprising. I didn’t know that it was going to get this, you know, blown out of proportion the way that it did.

JANIS: Well I mean, it was I think partially because an arrest like that was so unusual, to arrest a seven-year-old. The rest of the world viewed it as a very unusual event. But here in Baltimore it has sort of a–how did people perceive it, what did you, what kind of feedback did you get? Or not feedback, but what, what did you hear after the publicity and after the story became big?

DINKINS: It was a lot of stories. Negative. It was people that said they was praying for us. It was, it was a lot of feedback, and the things that we read on the social media kind of hurt him. We had to keep him away from the computers, and stuff like that.

JANIS: So now going forward, Gerard, you now are quite a basketball star. Tell us a little bit about that.

MUNGO: I am top [in in the whole country.]

JANIS: Really.

MUNGO: Yeah.

JANIS: And so what position, and what do you–

MUNGO: Point guard.

JANIS: Point guard. And what, is it from scoring points? Or what makes you top?

MUNGO: Just being a good ball player. Teammate. Encouraging others.

JANIS: What do you like about basketball?

MUNGO: That it’s fun. You know, I ain’t out on the corners, or yeah. Just like going up and down the court, dribbling basketball.

JANIS: Does that give you, does that allow you some sort of, I guess, escape from some of the realities of what you have to deal with?

MUNGO: Yeah.

JANIS: How hard is it for someone your age growing up in Baltimore? How hard is it to keep safe, and to have a good life?

MUNGO: It’s hard. Real hard. Any, any, any time of the day you can walk outside and get robbed or anything.

JANIS: And do you feel like you have, in terms of a police–trust with police, that if something happened to you, you know, you’d be take–would be helped?

MUNGO: No.

JANIS: So there’s still some mistrust there based on what occurred. How do you deal with that?

MUNGO: Go to the basketball gym. Stay from outside. That’s about it.

JANIS: So focus on the sport, and hopefully [in some sense]. So you have, you’re going to have plans. You think you’re going to go all the way through getting a scholarship? And do you have big plans?

MUNGO: Yeah.

JANIS: Yeah. Well I’m sure everybody in the city is rooting for you. What do you think? Is he going to be a star?

DINKINS: Oh yeah. Without a doubt. As long as I have air in my body I’m going to make sure he accomplish his goals.

JANIS: So looking back for you, what do you think–I mean, how do you feel now, seven years later, about what your son has to go through? What kind of challenges does he face?

DINKINS: He faces several challenges. I try to stay–I’m not going to say I try to be hard on him, but I try to more so have more communication with him. Talk to him and let him know what the real world is like.

JANIS: Well, I appreciate both of you joining me. Gerard, thank you for joining us here.

DINKINS: You’re welcome.

JANIS: And Lakisha, thank you for joining us.

DINKINS: You’re welcome. Thank you for having us.

JANIS: Yeah, thanks for being willing to talk about this. I know it’s a painful chapter in your lives, but I think it will be helpful to people trying to understand that policing is a multifaceted process, to say the least.

My name is Stephen Janis, and I’m reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore. Thank you.

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DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.