Justice Department Report Reveals Just How Racist Baltimore’s Police Policies Are
Targeting of African-American’s with illegal arrests, unconstitutional stops, and harassment is widespread and systemic
TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. We’re at City Hall, where the mayor, Commissioner Kevin Davis, and the Justice Department have just released an over 100-page report discussing the pattern and practices of the Baltimore City Police Department that have led to racial disparities and arrests.
SPEAKER: The BPD engages in a pattern of practice of making unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests.
GRAHAM: It is a report that is both damning in its conclusions and unwavering with the data to support them. The Department of Justice assessment of the Baltimore City Police Department released today, which recounts an agency that targeted African-Americans with unconstitutional arrests, unwarranted chases, searches, and the constant threat of harassment.
SPEAKER: Using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches, and arrests of African-Americans, using excessive force, and retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally-protected expression.
GRAHAM: And these findings are not based upon supposition. The 164-page report is crammed with statistics and analysis of data supplied directly by the Baltimore City Police Department.
SPEAKER: These violations have deeply eroded the mutual trust between BPD and the community it serves.
GRAHAM: Among the conclusions, 300,000 people, primarily African-Americans, were stopped and frisked without resulting in arrest, as well as the city’s so-called zero-tolerance arrest policy under Martin O’Malley led to repeated violations of the constitutional rights of African-Americans. Also, undue use of force targeting African-Americans, which was poorly investigated and often brushed aside by the department. Within the category of officer’s discretion, 91 percent of those arrested solely for failure to obey or trespassing were African-American, even though the city is 63 percent black.
Findings relevant to the recent case against six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray are the unwarranted chases of African-Americans who had not committed a crime and posed no danger. The report also cited serious concerns about gender bias against rape victims, with detectives often exercising undue skepticism about the claims of sexually assaulted women.
All the conclusions are backed up by data in this report, which reviewed thousands of arrest reports, interviewed hundreds of residents, and examined documentation of uses of force. It was a thorough indictment of policing in Baltimore that begged the question: who was responsible for allowing the police department to operate with such impunity? Who allowed racist policies to be implemented in a city governed by primarily African-Americans?
We asked the mayor, and her response was: not her.
STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: [Who should be held responsible?] [Inaud.]
STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE: They are systemic. And by the nature of your question, a system is not an individual. That being said, I’m responsible for ushering in the meaningful reforms that have taken place thus far, and I am certainly committed to making the meaningful reforms moving forward.
GRAHAM: Others told us City Hall was, in fact, to blame.
JANIS: So the majority of these policies, unconstitutional, illegal policies were prosecuted on African-Americans. You’re an African-American, the mayor is. How do you feel when you read something like that? Your own city, where you’re a public official, is targeting African-Americans with an illegal policy.
SPEAKER: Well, Steve, that’s why I got into this line of work, because I know that not just my city or my state but my country has issues with African-Americans in particular, young African-American males. And my hope is that now we can continue to have this conversation both locally and nationally about change. As I’ve been saying, and as I said recently in an op-ed in the Hill, America has to understand and recognize that in order to deal with these issues around policing and race in the country, first, that we have a race problem. And until we do that, and in particular the plight of African-Americans and African-American men in this country, then we’re going to continue to have this conversation.
GRAHAM: Another uncomfortable question raised during the press conference was how the report shed light on the prosecution of six officers for the death of Freddie Gray, another question the mayor says is not relevant.
REPORTER: [Question inaudible]
RAWLINGS-BLAKE: I think it’s a totally separate–I mean, one has nothing to do with the other.
GRAHAM: So we asked Councilman Nick Mosby, husband of Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
JANIS: The report said that the police chase people unnecessarily all the time. Freddie Gray was chased unnecessarily. I mean, your wife had to endure a lot of criticism for prosecuting these officers, but you look at the report, it seems to back up the fact that what they were doing was unconstitutional and illegal. How do you feel when you see this report after what happened with the officers who were tried for the death of Freddie Gray?
NICK MOSBY: Well, we talk about systemic issues, when you talk about changing your systemic issues, change is tough. Especially when there’s not a concerted effort for that change. I think what the Department of Justice has done today, and with the report, and with the ultimate consent decree that’s going to come out, that’s going to allow that change to manifest a lot smoother and more efficiently.
GRAHAM: Finally, we spoke to former police lieutenant Stephen Tabeling, a former trainer at the police academy who says he was not surprised by the report.
JANIS: See, do you have any initial thoughts about this report? I mean, it’s pretty damning. It says the police department arrested people illegally, said the police department chased people illegally. You know, you were in the training academy. Does this surprise you?
STEPHEN TABELING: Some of it doesn’t surprise me really, because I don’t think there’s adequate training in a police academy. I don’t think the officers are exposed to the scenario-type training. When I was in the academy we used to actually go to courtrooms, testify, and they stopped all that stuff. And I just believe that officers have to know the 4th, 5th, 6th Amendments of the United States Constitution in order to go out on the street and do their jobs properly. I haven’t been in the academy for several years, but from the information I hear and for what I see on the street, the training certainly needs to be upgraded.
GRAHAM: But University of Maryland law professor Doug Colbert says reform won’t happen without radical change, including ending the war on drugs and a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system.
DOUG COLBERT: We really need an overhaul of the pre-trial justice system, beginning from the very first contact between police and citizen, and then continuing to the lawyers and judges who were working within our justice system.
GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.
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