Baltimore Police Chief Allowed Looting to Discredit Protestors, Says Union
Veteran police officers Kenneth Butler and Neill Franklin discuss a report issued by the Fraternal Order of Police that accuses recently fired Chief Batts of ordering police to stand down during looting so protestors would be blamed as the aggressors
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
On July 8 the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan in Baltimore. The police chief was essentially fired. On the same day, the Fraternal Order of Police issued a scathing report about the leadership of the Baltimore Police Department, mostly talking about lack of leadership during the events following the death of Freddie Gray, claiming morale was at an all-time low. But there’s a specific section in that 32-page FOP report that I don’t think is getting quite enough attention, and I’m going to quote it now.
Commissioner Batts and command staff members addressed officers during a roll call on April 25, 2015 at police headquarters. Of those officers who were present and with whom the after-action review committee spoke–that’s the after-action review committee of the FOP. Each reported being given direct orders from Commissioner Batts and command staff members not to engage any protesters. Officers were ordered to allow the protesters room to destroy, and allow the destruction of property so the rioters would appear to be the aggressors. According to the officers’ accounts they were told, quote, the Baltimore Police Department would not respond until they–in brackets, the protesters–burned, looted, and destroyed the city so that it would show that the rioters were forcing our hand, end quote. The officers were told their primary job was to deescalate any situation with no response, rather than to escalate with action. This was confirmed by officers from other jurisdictions who attended that roll call.
There’s other–there’s other examples given that back up this part of the report. That same afternoon the Central District had an occurrence, and the command staff member responded on radio channel 11A that, quote, looting is expected, let it happen. Several officers stated their units were ordered to allow the looting of stores on Howard Street, even though it was occurring directly in front of them. On-scene at downtown CVS store, officers reported being told not to stop looters and to hold their position. Again, over city-wide radio on April 25, 2015, officers were advised not to respond to a Signal 13, in brackets, officer needs assistance, call in the vicinity of Camden Yards.
Now joining us to discuss the significance of this part of the FOP report, first of all from New York, although he’s normally in Baltimore, is Neill Franklin. Neill is the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, otherwise known as LEAP. He’s a 33-year police veteran who led multi-jurisdictional anti-narcotics task forces for the Maryland State Police and ran training centers for the Baltimore Police and the Maryland State Police. And joining us in the studio, Lieutenant Kenneth Butler, 29-year police veteran. President of the Vanguard Justice Society, which represents black cops in Baltimore. The Vanguard Justice Society works very closely with the Fraternal Order of Police, but it’s not the same organization.
Thanks for joining us.
LT. KENNETH BUTLER, PRESIDENT, VANGUARD JUSTICE SOCIETY: Thank you.
NEILL FRANKLIN, EXEC. DIRECTOR, LEAP: Glad to be here.
JAY: So let me start with you, Kenny, the–what evidence is there of this? This is quite a serious allegation, that Commissioner Batts and other leading commanders of the police force essentially created the conditions for a spiraling out of control of the situation.
So first of all, what evidence is there for that?
BUTLER: I think the best evidence is what you just read, because it’s verbatim what some officers heard at the roll call. And I remember, because I was assigned to Camden Yards, and I remember–I can’t remember who told me, but they said to take off your, if you had black gloves on, because it looks intimidating. Not to put your riot helmet on, because it may agitate the protesters. And also, like you just said, you heard some of the, some of the radio transmissions as far as what was occurring and what we were told not to do. And I think that set up–I think that Saturday with the lack of enforcement set up what happened Monday with the civil unrest.
JAY: Now, there’s kind of two contradictory narratives about why this could have happened. The official one so far has been not to try to escalate the situation, not to create–make it more confrontational, not to have this kind of all-out warfare between police and protesters in the streets.
But this is different, what’s being said in the FOP report. Here the intent is to let the situation become a much bigger riot than it might have been otherwise, to allow looting. Like, you can imagine–I mean, I can imagine the argument of deescalating with kids that just got out of a high school throwing some rocks and not wanting to start some warfare with those kids. That’s one thing. It’s entirely another thing to sit and watch looting taking place and do nothing about it.
And so one can only conclude the objective of that is you want the rationale for something. What is that something, more for, for what? For the National Guard to be called in? For thousands of police to be called in?
BUTLER: I didn’t understand that from day one, as far as not taking any enforcement action when you see the law being broken. And what it did, in my opinion, it just empowered the, some of the protesters–because remember, there were a lot of peaceful protesters.
And as a matter of fact, when I was down Camden Yards that Saturday, we had a first wave of protesters. And I actually had a conversation with a couple of them. And I remember–and someone from the middle of the crowd threw a bottle. And I remember a young kid, he had to be no more than 22 years old. Well, he stood up and said, don’t throw anything else. No one threw anything else. And I remember, I had a conversation with an elderly gentlemen. He said, hey, Lieutenant, look, we just want to have a peaceful protest. So you’re not going to have any of that, no more bottle throwing. Okay, fine.
I spoke with the young man, he goes to the University of Baltimore. I can’t remember his name. But I had a conversation with him. That was peaceful. Then–but the second wave that came in, that’s when everything hit the fan. And we, we still could not take action. I mean, they threw trash cans. Bottles. Whatever you could think of, that’s, that’s what what they threw at us. And I told my officers, put your riot helmets on.
But I think–I just couldn’t understand that type of order. I understand you don’t want to instigate or agitate. But at some point you have to take a stand.
JAY: Well, the allegation here is that it’s deliberately done to have as much violence as possible in order to what? The only–to what has to be to eventually have much more policing, but somehow you’ve justified it because there’s all this looting. And you know, the image–it’s also the way the narrative in the media changed. Instead of it all about what was being called the murder of Freddie Gray, it’s now about a burning CVS.
Neill, let me come to you for a sec. Because this allegation against Commissioner Batts goes further than just what happened during that roll call. There’s a, in the FOP report, Batts is quoted in an article that’s in the LA Times, that when he was the head of police in Oakland when there was a protest that was becoming violent, I guess. And here’s the quote from the LA Times. Quoting Batts: We allowed the protesters to start breaking into Foot Locker. They broke into Foot Locker at different places. But we had to do that because we didn’t want to look like this was a police action where we were responding too soon.
In other words, the policing is based on propaganda as a PR positioning. But in this case in Baltimore it seems to me it’s even a little more nefarious than that. It’s that we’re going to create the conditions for thousands of police to join us. Because we know that Batts ahead of time, before any of this happened, had already created the idea that they were going to invite, what, three, four policemen, thousand policemen from across Maryland to come to Baltimore. And he must have known in the works was the National Guard. Now whether–there’s some question whether he really wanted the National Guard or not. But certainly it was in the works. And they–and by creating this out of control situation, if that’s true, it becomes the justification for the occupation of Baltimore by–you know, military occupation, really.
BUTLER: Yeah. I hope that this–if true, I hope it isn’t, is style of dealing with an uprising, a riotous or potentially riotous situation. Hearing that about Oakland and then seeing what happened in Baltimore.
But I always tend to take a position on things or at least look at things from a perspective of a criminal investigator. So if he in fact said these things in a roll call, and I’m not–what I’m about to say, I’m not denying that he said anything or whatever. If the reason is so that we can allow this to happen, allow the looting, allow the destruction of property and other things so that we can become more heavy-handed with our policing–but that didn’t occur. I mean, we brought in resources from other police departments, and the National Guard. But we didn’t have this overall heavy-handed enforcement effort as the days went on. As we’ve seen in some other cities, for instance.
Also, I find it a little interesting, I know how police are. I know how we are. And if something like that is being said and it’s really inappropriate or controversial, we tend to record things. This day and age, I’m surprised nobody surreptitiously pulled out their cell phone and just started videotaping what was being said. Or any, or that point on, any time a commander said something.
JAY: Well, Kenny, were you at that roll call?
BUTLER: No. I came in after.
JAY: But have you heard–you heard people who say they were at the roll call and heard this.
BUTLER: Yes. Yes.
JAY: So it’s–I mean, it’s not, you wouldn’t think the FOP would not make all this up, would you now?
BUTLER: Well, I, I would hope not. I would certainly hope not. But you got to understand, this is the, this is how I look at things. I’m not saying that it didn’t happen. I’m just saying this is how I look at this, look at things. Because also context, the exact words that are used, are also important, and the order of those words.
For instance, when the mayor said what she said about wanting to give room for the protesters to do what they did, I mean, that was recorded. So there’s clear evidence of her saying that. Whether she meant it or not, she said it.
JAY: It seems to me that’s different, perhaps, than what is being said that Commissioner Batts and the other leadership said. Because it seemed to me that if you’re talking about, as I said, kids throwing rocks, and you don’t go and do these mass arrests of kids throwing rocks, and if she—if we’re speculating a bit here, what she meant. But if she meant we didn’t go after all these kids, I think that makes a certain amount of sense.
You’re talking about looting, and I’m not even getting into the right or wrong of looting, and all the rest of that. Because there’s a lot of the young activists and people in town that say looting was a lot less of a crime than some of the other stuff that goes on in this place. But setting that aside, that’s a different category of non-intervening. So the mayor might have been talking about kids throwing rocks and not allowing looting.
FRANKLIN: Well I’m, I’m not sure what she was referring to. But I’m–when she says it, I’m just thinking of the looting as well.
But let me just point out something that’s very important. I think overall there was a, a grave misjudgment here, a lack of preparedness for it. You could have the personnel either from Baltimore City or other agencies ready, off-location, off-site. You could have the helmets and the shields and the batons, and all the other protective gear and equipment that the officers need ready in vehicles, in vans, that would take just seconds to deploy, to hand out when things do get out of hand.
When that first group downtown started, as Kenny said, the second wave, that was a manageable size of, or violent–and I call them violent protests because I’ve watched the video. I watched the bottles and items being thrown, and the fences, the steel fences in the trash cans. it–we’re just fortunate that no one was seriously hurt during that. But it was a manageable size crowd, that if the police were ready to respond rather quickly to quell that, they could have done it.
JAY: But that’s my point, really. Kenny, if you go back to the FOP report, it’s–there was plans in place. I mean, the National Guard is here within a very short period of time. They clearly were very well prepared. They knew exactly what buildings they were going to stand in front of. This was a well-planned, what do you do if there’s enormous unrest in Baltimore? The National Guard was all ready for this. There were thousands of other cops waiting to come from other parts of Maryland to Baltimore.
The curfew. Without this crazy stuff there never would have been a justification for a curfew. So, so–I think part of it is I come at this from my experience of having covered the G20 in Toronto, I guess in 2010, where 20,000 peaceful protesters marched down the street. A hundred–maybe 125 Black Bloc tactic types run down the street, break windows, burn a police car. And hundreds, maybe thousands–in fact I think it was almost 5,000 police in the area because the G20 was there, are told to stand down. Exactly like this. A good 45 minutes of mayhem. Then the police march in, and then they arrest 1,000 people. Mostly people who were not involved in any of the violence.
I mean, I talked to someone very senior in the police department in Toronto, and I said to him, this looks like it’s a rehearsal. You’re training your police how to do mass arrests, and you needed some excuse to do it. This one feels like we needed to stop talking about the death of Freddie Gray, and let’s talk about burning CVSes. So let him go.
BUTLER: But you know, I think that, and from being there, I think once–once you allow a certain type of behavior then other people just get emboldened. But I think just like–.
JAY: Sure, once you send the message, it’s a free-for-all.
BUTLER: Absolutely. But my thing is–and listen, I’m an old school cop. The first rock thrown should have been the last rock thrown. Because now, you know, you may say, okay, allow them room to protest. I’m okay with that. Peacefully protest.
But when you talk about looting, what about the family that owns that business that’s just been looted, and that’s how they feed their family? Well, how do you think they feel when they hear that, you know? Oh, the mayor said this. Well, so now I’ve lost my income because you allowed them to loot. You gave them room to destroy. And I think that’s unfair to the business people. I think it’s just unfair to the peaceful protesters who just wanted to have their voices heard.
JAY: Well, that’s the point of actually–there’s certain parts of this FOP document I have some serious questions about, and we’re going to get to. But the real point here is it’s actually to smear the peaceful protesters, to make all the protesters the villain of the piece, and that’s the reason you let it go.
Neill, as I said, I saw this in Toronto. There’s been a lot of discussion about, in Baltimore, I don’t know how much you know about this particular case. But how that–there’s these things called the fusion centers which are, we know there’s one just outside of Baltimore where you have an integration of the NSA and you have the FBI and Homeland Security, local police. And they have a lot of experience, and are working on this issue of what you do when cities erupt.
I mean, is this one of the plans? This is why I ask, based on the Toronto experience, is part of the sort of strategy here is let it go crazy for a while–.
FRANKLIN: No, I–I don’t think there’s, you know, I just think this was poor decision-making by one or two people at the top in the city.
BUTLER: I agree with you, Neill.
FRANKLIN: I’m very familiar with the G20 incident and what that was about. But the police officers there, for instance in Toronto, they were prepared, equipment-wise, personnel-wise. And as you said, they let it go with this one group committing this destruction, and get to a point so that they can go in and pretty much enforce, you know, take enforcement action on everyone. No matter whether you were a peaceful protester or one of the ones causing the havoc.
This was completely different here in Baltimore. And again, because we didn’t see the response that we saw in Toronto with G20. It was pretty much a stand down for the most part the entire way. Yeah, there were some arrests. You know, later on, during the curfew, and–.
JAY: But the curfew itself is a violation, takes away people’s rights to protest after 10:00. The occupation of the city. But I think it also showed, once there was going to be some consequences for looting, it stopped almost instantly. And it’s only really the one night.
FRANKLIN: I think what stopped that was the city coming together. The community folks, the community leaders. The faith community came out. Other leaders came out. And despite what we believe about and know about some of these gangs, I think they had an ulterior motive for coming together so that we could move beyond the curfew and beyond the mayhem, because they were losing business.
BUTLER: Absolutely. They were losing money. That’s right.
FRANKLIN: [Inaud.] business and money. They [inaud.] get back to normal as quickly as possible so that they could continue their operation on the street corners.
So I think that it was the community response that suppressed the uprising that we saw and the problems that we saw.
JAY: Just finally, Batts made these comments at a roll call and other senior commanders involved, number one, shouldn’t there be some reckoning for the other commanders that told people let this happen. But two, would this really happen without some political people involved? I mean, the mayor, and who knows who else. I mean, who else–someone else has to be on the decision that says, let’s make them look violent. Let’s vilify them, and then we’ll do something.
BUTLER: I agree with you, but will we ever find out. Because I can tell you now, just my opinion being in the police department for 29 years, no commander is going to be held accountable. I can tell you that now. You know, it’ll just be swept under the rug. And we’ll move on to business as usual.
FRANKLIN: A lot of it has to do with just the, again, not just the men and women in the streets were not receiving the training that they should have, but the commanders don’t have training for dealing with these types of situations. You know, and how to strategically deal with a group of people who are throwing the rocks, throwing the bottles, and how to use the different formations so that you can do the things that are needed strategically, dividing the groups of people, sending them in particular directions, but not just to push them in a direction with nothing else planned. You know, you have to have other personnel to come in from different directions to take enforcement action, as well. So–.
JAY: That–well, I wasn’t going to get into it in this segment, but maybe I have to. That gets into the whole beginning of all this. Like–first of all, I still want to know why no one’s been charged for putting something on the internet which says, what was the phrase. Purge, I think it was.
JAY: I mean, in this day and age, and with the NSA clearly on top of everything, how come we don’t know who did that? How did this all get instigated? For people that aren’t following this, there was some internet message that said purge, which was interpreted by some [of the] 30-40 kids apparently to go to this Mondawmin Mall, and apparently go create some mayhem or something at the mall.
But this high school right across the street from the mall gets out right at the same moment. Well, who is it decides to close down the subway, the metro and the buses, so that kids can’t get home? And then who is it decides to corral all these kids and push them down to Penn and North? And then the kids are not going to react?
FRANKLIN: Right, yeah. This is tons of poor planning in that area.
JAY: Or real planning, to some effect. Because as I say, all the media attention was on the death of Freddie Gray. And after this happens, all the media attention is on a burning CVS. So you know, there may have been some planning in this.
FRANKLN: Right. But really, you should have had a coordinated effort from three, at least three entities that I know of. Number one, the school system, number two, the MTA, and number three, the police department, as they were trying to prepare for this so-called purge at the Mondawmin area. But it seems like they weren’t even communicating with each other.
They should have a staggered school release. The police department shouldn’t have had their, the men and women suited up and ready to go there. They should have been off. They could have been ready, but out of sight, completely on the other side of the mall. And then they should have made things appear as normal, and they should not have closed down the bus lines and the metro. And they could have been ready to deploy, if need be, the numbers that they needed. But when those kids got out there, no transportation–these kids from Douglass, no transportation. And then seeing these officers–you just made the situation much worse than what it needed to be. You just agitated this–.
JAY: Yeah, that’s my point. Well, maybe that’s what somebody wanted.
Anyway, I would–I’m going to give you both a softball, because I’m assuming you’re going to agree with this. But shouldn’t there be some serious inquiry into everything? Not just the court cases, but a full-scale inquiry into why and how all this happened?
BUTLER: Oh, I agree. I agree. And I think–and you can help me out with this, Neill. I think that’s where [perth] came in. And I think they said they were going to do an inquiry into everything that happened with the civil unrest and everything. But I don’t know if it’s still going to take place because of what happened with Commissioner Batts. Because I know his press conference was scheduled yesterday.
But I’ve always said we need to look into something and see what we did right, see what we did wrong. Because if this should happen again–prayerfully, it doesn’t, that we’ll be better, better prepared to handle it the next time.
JAY: All right, thank you, gentlemen. Thanks for joining us. Thank you, and thank you, Neill.
And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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