DOJ Finds Baltimore Police Routinely Violate Black Residents Constitutional Rights
Law Professor Doug Colbert says the findings of the Department of Justice Report will only be surprising to Baltimore’s white community
KIM BROWN, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network, I’m Kim Brown here in our Baltimore bureau, standing here with law professor from the University of Maryland, Doug Colbert.
Doug we just finished watching the press conference with the Department of Justice and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake here in Baltimore city hall. What are your thoughts about the revelations that came forth in this DOJ report about the Baltimore City police?
DOUG COLBERT: Well it’s a momentous occasion whenever the federal government takes actions within the local government. So what we’re seeing here in Baltimore is something that requires federal intervention. Nothing was going to be happening to change police activity without the Federal Justice Department stepping in.
BROWN: There were some really egregious things that came out of this report. Including but not limited to many police or not many rather, a certain number of police that prosecutors had on their do not call list because there were concerns about the integrity and the ethics about these police officers and the prosecutors were reluctant to put them on the stand. What do you think about that?
COLBERT: Well the report confirms what many of us already knew. Those of us who have been part of the criminal justice system and have been critics of police activity, we have been well aware that there are police officers that violate people’s constitutional rights, who use the system by arresting people without even hoping or thinking that a conviction will result. But knowing that once people are arrested they will come into the system, the will spend one or two months in jail before charges are dismissed. So in many ways when you have a list of officers who have shown to be not credible which is a nice way of saying that they cannot be believed. That they don’t, that they’re saying things that are not truthful, then that shows right away that there’s something fundamentally wrong with elements within the police department.
BROWN: And some of the other details included in the report have to do with how people are stopped and frisked the way that police engage with the public at large. One man reportedly was stopped, I believe 40 times over a 4-year period with no charge, no arrest ever. How does this effect how the community views the police as a whole and how they engage with them and the level of public trust there?
COLBERT: Well the community cannot trust police when so many people are being arrested who are African American. When race becomes a reason to stop people, to frisk them, to arrest them, to charge them with crimes, that ultimately are not crimes at all, you cannot expect a community to believe in the trust of an impartial police department. So what we’re seeing here is 95% of the people who were stopped more than 10 times. 95% were African American. This will come as a shock and news to most of the white community. But this is a well-known reality for people living in our city who are African American.
BROWN: Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis along with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, they both seem to understand the gravity of this report. But at the same time they both took the position that this is just a handful of bad officers, bad actors not representative of the police force as a whole. At the same time acknowledging that these problems are generational and systemic. How do those two explanations go together?
COLBERT: There’s a culture that has to be fundamentally changed here and whether the number of bad police are 5% or 10 % or higher than that you must address the problem. You cannot allow police to be violating people’s rights without taking action against them. My hope is that with the new leadership of a relatively new police commissioner who already has acknowledged problems in the department and a relatively new state’s attorney, that we’re already seeing some of that collaboration which is going to address longstanding problems. So once you do that, once you show that you’re serious about deterring illegality, the rest of the officers will get that message.
BROWN: And lastly professor, we know that these issues with the Baltimore police and racial profiling and police brutality have been ongoing for decades. However, it appears as though the homicide of Freddie Gray was the catalyst of getting the Department of Justice and the federal government to take notice and to take action. What are your thought s about that?
COLBERT: Well I think it actually began with the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. I think that killing and other deaths that followed reawakened the black community and elements within the white community. We’ve seen this, I’ve seen this a few times during my life when it looks like we are now at the opportunity to take advantage of people knowing more about police illegality and making sure that we create a police department that really serves a community.
BROWN: The bulk of the Department of Justice’s investigation has to do with the police. But you were making a point off camera about how that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reforms for the justice system.
COLBERT: Yea the investigation really has to extend to what happens to people after arrests when they’re brought into the justice system. And there are police officers that are well aware that once they make an arrest that certain judges are going to be setting a bail that people cannot afford and that will result in people spending the next 4 to 6 weeks in jail because they can’t afford the bail. So even when the arrest is dismissed and 2 out of 3 arrests are not prosecuted or are dismissed, it means that the police have sent a very clear message. I have the power to arrest you and to charge you with crimes and it almost doesn’t matter whether or not you’re convicted because I have taken away your liberty for 6 weeks. And during that time you may well lose jobs or be away from family or you’ll miss school or many other parts of a person’s life may be effected.
BROWN: That’s professor Doug Colbert. He is from the University of Maryland School of Law. I’m Kim Brown here in the Real News Network, Baltimore Bureau. We will be discussing more with analysis and reaction about the Department of Justice’s consent decree for Baltimore police.
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