Baltimore Community Members Raise Concerns about DOJ’s Next Steps
Activists, legal experts, and victims of police brutality at the Elijah Cummings-hosted town hall say the recommendations in the Department of Justice’s report on the Baltimore police department don’t go far enough
KWAME ROSE, PRODUCER, TRNN: It’s been almost a month since the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division released a report on the unconstitutional tactics Baltimore police historically have practiced.
UNIDENTIFIED (MEGAPHONE): We have been proactive since day one, fighting for justice. All these people sitting on panels, they are just reacting. That’s all they’re doing is reacting. How are you going to deal with it now? How are you going to deal with this pain?
ROSE: Last night, Congressman Elijah Cummings and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund hosted a community townhall meeting where activists, legal experts, and the families of police brutality victims mentioned in the report said that the Department of Justice’s recommendations aren’t enough to ensure that Baltimore police stop terrorizing black residents.
ELIJAH CUMMINGS, U.S. REPRESENTATIVE (MD-7): And we must take this moment and turn it into a movement. And it can be done.
ROSE: One of the many challenges that stand in the way of the Department of Justice holding members of the police department accountable is the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a law that gives officers special provisions, but one that legal expert and board member here at The Real News A. Dwight Pettit says must be changed to ensure the community finally has a say in who polices their neighborhoods.
A. DWIGHT PETTIT, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, I think that’s one of the things that legally and legislatively has to be taken down. That’s one of the main obstructions to justice being rendered in the City of Baltimore, that the police officers are able to stand behind the law enforcement bill of rights with all the protections that a normal citizen doesn’t have. So that’s the first thing that has to be done legislatively to ensure some type of progress going forward.
ROSE: Several activists suggested that the Department of Justice disband the Baltimore Police Department, saying that the distrust between community members and police is beyond repair.
ROSE: So what is it that you would actually like to see?
TAWANDA JONES, SISTER OF POLICE SHOOTING VICTIM TYRONE WEST: So if in the consent thing, first of all, I don’t want to consent to it unless they’re going to bring criminal charges. That’s the only way I’m consenting to it. But if I’m pushed to do anything and pushed to see something happen, they need to dismantle the Baltimore City police department. So I will be willing to consent to that, because it’s too deep-rooted. And all the evildoings of dehumanizing our men, women, and children daily for decades, it’s too deep-rooted.
JONES: I’m going to start off by saying I don’t consent to anything, nothing short of killer cops in cellblocks. If y’all don’t see it in this book–and this don’t even show all the corruption.
CUMMINGS: The DOJ report presented the evidence to the world, OK? Then the question is is how do you get the reforms that are needed. And that’s what this was all about. People came here and said, this is what we are concerned about. But more, just as important, they expressed their pain. Then you take that. Then they come up with a consent decree.
And I disagree with a number of people who got up and said, oh, if we go along with a consent decree, that means that we are OKing bad things. No. All a consent decree says is this is how we’re going to improve the system, and a court is going to make sure that we do what we say we’re going to do. Other than that, what are you supposed to do? Nothing?
ROSE: We spoke to a lot of legal experts today. And a lot of victims of police brutality, and their families as well, say that the only thing that can come out of the Department of Justice report that they’ll support is if Baltimore City police is disbanded. What are your thoughts on that argument? And is it actually a reality? Is it something that people should actually advocate for?
DAYVON LOVE, LEADERS OF A BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: I think it is a good long-term goal. I think we need to really look at the procedure for figuring out how to actually make it happen. But, yeah, I think it’s a good long-term goal.
ROSE: We’ve heard from lawyers and police brutality victims and their families. They say they want the police department to be disbanded and a new police department built, one that’s community-controlled and community-oriented. As a legal expert, as a policing expert, what are your thoughts on that?
MICHAEL WOOD, BALTIMORE POLICE SERGEANT (RETD): I think that’s our only solution. We have evolved policing from the protection of white property and the catching of slaves, and we still see that today. When you had the uprising in Baltimore, everybody was still concerned about the white property, the CVS burning, than they were about the death of a black man in the hands of the police. So we still see that as [it comes to enforcement] today. This is the tree that has grown from this system. If we don’t plant a new tree, I don’t see any other way to get around that.
PETTIT: There has to be some consent decree in terms of input, in terms of if they’ve got to take the Baltimore City police department apart and put it back together to avoid receivership, then that’s what they need to do. And that needs to go to commanding officers, not just the police department.
One of the things that we talked to the Department of Justice about was their relationship to city solicitor’s office and the mayor’s office, because to me that is so hypocritical, to stand and say, yeah, we invited the Department of Justice in, when they’ve been one of the biggest roadblocks to any type of investigation or litigation on behalf of the citizens of Baltimore and, in my stronger opinion, have been obstructionist. So I think the DOJ has to start at the top and go from the top down through the bottom.
ADAM JACKSON, CEO, LEADERS OF A BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: Well, the fundamental problem in general with the consent decree is that it’s a piecemeal solution that deals with some of the policies and procedures of the police department, but if you’re not talking about civilian oversight and as it relates to more residents in Baltimore being involved in the process of policing, then you’re not actually making any changes. And so the problem with the consent decree is that it doesn’t affect any of the local or state laws that actually govern those statutes or codified law.
And so, because they aren’t actively involved, at least talking about being in Annapolis, testifying in front of legislators, at least discussing or giving their expertise on the issue, then that means we’re limited in terms of the actual impact we can have, because long-term, if we’re only going to change some of the internal processes but not the larger institutional arrangement of racism that exists as it relates to civilian involvement with policing, then we’re not going to change the structural problems–it’s going to all remain the same.
ROSE: However, at this point the idea is long-term. But something that Congressman Cummings does support is community oversight and participation on the police trial board, something that Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a grassroots think tank here in Baltimore, has advocated for continuously since the Department of Justice began its investigation.
CUMMINGS: I mean, we can do all the policy we want, but there’s got to be some serious soul-searching with regard to our police department.
ROSE: Well, my specific question on policing was supporting complete disbandment and creation of a new police department seems pretty far stretched at this point. But will you support a mandate to have a civilian on the trial board?
CUMMINGS: Oh, without a doubt. I think it’s very important. I think other jurisdictions have done it and done it very effectively. I think you make sure that you have somebody–by the way, the process of selecting the person on the trial board is very important, too, because you want people to feel comfortable that their views are being heard and not being just washed over.
ROSE: Michael, you were a police sergeant, a police officer in Baltimore City police for 11 years. The current culture and climate of Baltimore City police, do you think that the officers are open to police reform, actually holding bad officers accountable?
WOOD: You know, I still think that the regular cop that’s on the street is still open for reform and does still want to do the right things. They haven’t been as corrupted by the system. [Where] the problem comes in is when you get to command staff and you get to the politicians, the ones that are creating the structure and the orders for the officers to go out and follow. They can be naive, they don’t know, but that doesn’t mean we can’t save them. We can educate them and we can bring them into an environment like this so they can see how our actions affect the lives of the people that we arrest, the people that we put into the system, or the people that we just simply focus on because they’re black males between the ages of 18 and 24.
CUMMINGS: I think one of the most important things that happened was to have the patterns and practice examination, because other than that, you have a lot of people who are complaining, but you have no evidence. You don’t have, in other words, a–when I say evidence, I mean all evidence pooled together. We have a lot of people upset, rightfully so. But this puts it all in one piece of information, and then that can be used to make the reforms that are necessary.
ROSE: At this point, what does justice look like for the family of Tyrone West?
JONES: First of all, there is no such thing to me as justice. It’s just us. But what accountability look like is all those killer cops being held to the fullest extent of the law, and including the mayor, the state’s attorney, and anybody and everybody that has something to do with corruption. They need to go. That’s accountability, to me.
CALLER: No justice!
ANSWER: No peace!
CALLER: Justice for Tyrone West!
ANSWER: Justice for Tyrone West!
CALLER: Justice for Tyrone West!
ANSWER: Justice for Tyrone West!
CALLER: Justice for all victims!
ANSWER: Justice for all victims!
CALLER: Of police brutality!
ANSWER: Of police brutality!
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