May was the most lethal month in [Baltimore] in more than 40 years; in per capita terms, it may have been the bloodiest month since recordkeeping began.
There were 43 victims of homicide in the city last month, the most since August 1972, when Baltimore ’s population, now 600,000, was about 900,000. In addition, there were 108 nonfatal shootings in May, nearly triple the number recorded the same month last year. Over the three-day Memorial Day weekend alone, the city recorded 32 shootings and nine homicides.
As Baltimore’s streets succumb to the wave of carnage, the police have simply withdrawn, by many accounts. Harassed, hooted at and openly hated in the wake of the arrest of Freddie Gray, whose death in custody triggered the rioting in April, uniformed officers seem to have decided not to do their jobs.
Arrests, already down from 2014 levels before the rioting, have plummeted by more than 50 percent since then. Community leaders in Sandtown — the area where Mr. Gray was arrested — say there is a deliberate effort on the police department’s part to vacate the streets and see how the community likes it.
On Fox News, one officer, his face and voice obscured, explained the cops’ “reasoning.” “After the protests, it seems like the citizens would appreciate a lack of police presence, and that’s exactly what they’re getting,” he said. He went on to blame the city’s leadership for not having officers’ backs and prosecutors for indicting the six police officers in whose custody Mr. Gray was fatally injured.
This is not unprecedented. Cops in New York engaged in a slowdown after the Eric Garner non-indictment and some subsequent comments by the Mayor.
First thing first: the blame for this surge of violence obviously belongs with the communities. When two cops were assassinated in December, I wrote the following:
I am not an anarchist. We can see around the world how thin the veneer of civilization is and how easily it is destroyed. Law and order are a huge improvement over the lack thereof, no matter how poorly they are enforced. It’s one thing to criticize police and demand reform and changes. It’s one thing to defend yourself if, for example, cops smash down your door in the middle of the night and you have no idea what’s going on. People can and should oppose aggressive policing and the intrusion of government into their lives. But the deliberate and cold-blooded murder of two policemen is an attack on civilization, on the idea of law and order.
The primary problem we have with policing in the United States is not a bunch of evil cops running around. It is a political leadership that has given them a million laws to enforce, authorized an aggressive war on voluntary behavior, shoved assault weapons and tanks into their hands and chipped away at accountability. The system is failing the police as thoroughly as it is failing the rest of us.
I was mocked a bit for my line on attacking civilization, but look at what’s going on in Baltimore right now. Most people are good. Most people — even in the worst part of Baltimore — won’t run around killing and stealing. But you only need a small fraction to be bad for the system to collapse. And now that it has … I’m not sure the genie can be put back in the bottle. This may be the final nail in Baltimore’s coffin.
All that having been said, the idea that the police slowdown was justified by the actions of Baltimore’s Mayor and the prosecution of the six cops is ridiculous. It’s another sign of a police leadership and union leadership that are increasingly isolated from reality. The cops and their union reps have come to expect unwavering and absolute loyalty from political leadership and get extremely agitated when they don’t get it (the link includes an interview with FOP head Jim Pasco. Among other things, he says that people who videotape cops should get 15 years in prison).
After the Freddie Gray incident, the Baltimore cops have been saying that the prosecution is making them “hesitant” and shows that they are being “thrown under the bus” by the mayor and the prosecutor. Balko:
So because a prosecutor has charged the six cops who illegally arrested a man and gave him a “rough ride” in the back of a police van that resulted in his death, all Baltimore cops are now afraid to use force. How does this follow? It would be logical if they were now hesitant to give rough rides — and that of a course would be a good thing. But what happen to Gray shouldn’t impact conscientious Baltimore cops in the slightest. There’s no connection between employing extra-judicial punishment by roughing a suspect up after he’s been arrested and cuffed, and using force to stop a violent person from harming innocent people. To argue that accountability in the former will lead to hesitation in the latter is to argue that we can’t have any accountability for any killing by a police officer, because it may cause other officers to hesitate before shooting people.
We rely on police to keep us from the abyss. But it does not follow that they are unaccountable or that if they truss up a man, throw him in the back of the van and rough ride him around the city until his neck shatters, we should ignore that. To pull back from a city that so desperately needs law and order because of the Freddie Gray indictment or a few nasty words from a mayor is ridiculous. And it illustrates just how badly policing has gone wrong.
Not that there isn’t enough blame to throw the mayor’s way. A competent mayor would be able to condemn the cops who killed Freddie Gray, go forward with the prosecution and still keep the cops on the streets. Balancing the anger of the citizens, the need for reform and temper of the union is the mayor’s job. It’s tough but it’s what they’re elected to do. Even de Blasio’s comments only resulted in cops slowing down “broken windows” arrests. And while murders are up a bit in New York in 2015 (123 through May 28, compared to 107 last year), overall crime is actually down slightly. There has not been nearly the surge in violence we’ve seen in Baltimore. Think about that: Rawlings-Blake is making Bill Fricking de Blasio look competent.