Tag: Baltimore

The Baltimore Mess

As you may have read, the final charges were dismissed in the Freddie Gray case a few weeks ago, after the first four trials ended in acquittal. What strikes me about the Freddie Gray case is the staggering incompetence of the prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby. In Freddie Gray, we had a man who had not committed a crime, was bound up and tossed in the back of the van and emerged with his neck fatally broken. You would think you could at least get something out of that. But through a series of blunders — concealing exculpatory evidence, overcharging (murder instead of negligent homicide or manslaughter) and other incompetent idiocies, Mosby got nothing. Well, she got her face on TV, which seems to be what mattered most to her.

Mosby is running around insisting that if she’d only had a jury trial, she would have won (ignoring that the first jury deadlocked). She’s wrong:

A prosecutor who evaluates cases based on evidence and appropriately applied laws is actually charged with seeking convictions over justice, not the other way around. Mosby admitted to the nation she was not looking for convictions. The only other explanation was that she was looking to appease the angry citizens of Baltimore.

That would seem noble, except it’s not. Prosecutors have a serious job that comes with serious power. And the way they wield that power is extremely important. Politics and criminal law don’t mix well. That’s been on full display as Mosby’s prosecutors keep spinning wilder legal theories and, not surprisingly, keep getting handed acquittals.

The larger pity of this is that the acquittal overshadows some very serious problems in the Baltimore PD. The Justice Department recently issued the results of its investigation in the BPD. Balko, who calls the DOJ report “the worst I’ve ever seen” goes through it point-by-point. BPD has been told to make large numbers of stops and arrests, regardless of whether someone is committing a crime or not. Unsurprisingly, these arrests are concentrated in a handful of poor black neighborhoods. People are frequently detained, questioned and searched without probable cause (95% of them turn out to have no contraband or outstanding warrants). People have been strip-searched in public without probable cause, arrested without probable cause, made to “justify” their presence in public areas. Of thousands of complaint of excessive force, only a tiny number were investigated and only one resulted in discipline. BPD officers are routinely instructed to use excessive force, including being told to point their guns at people in non-violent situations to exert control.

This passage in particular is just jaw-dropping.

During a ride-along with Justice Department officials, a BPD sergeant instructed a patrol officer to stop a group of young African-American males on a street corner, question them, and order them to disperse. When the patrol officer protested that he had no valid reason to stop the group, the sergeant replied “Then make something up.”

Just so we’re clear, the sergeant not only instructed a subordinate to violate the men’s constitutional rights by concocting a lie, he did so while knowingly in the presence of DOJ monitors. That’s some serious cultural and institutional rot. In another incident, the report describes how several officers detained a man whose only offense was to be in a “high-crime area” with his hands in his pockets. (The DOJ report notes that it happened to be a cold January morning.) After repeated questioning, the officers found a (perfectly legal) kitchen knife in his possession. They then illegally arrested him. When he resisted, they beat and Tased him to the point that he needed medical care. He was never charged with a crime. In his report, the supervising sergeant praised the officers for their “great restraint and professionalism.”

Notorious police-state bootlicker Heather MacDonald posted a response that basically ignored everything in the report. It amounts to, “well, most crimes are committed by black people.” That’s true, but it does not justify routinely detaining, searching, arresting and harassing black people. It does not make standing on a corner being black probable cause. It does not justify ignoring almost all complaints of police brutality and misconduct. This is not either-or. It is perfectly reasonable to note that black people commit an astonishingly high proportion of crimes and that the BPD is engaging in astonishing unconstitutional practices that are tinged with racial bias.

One of the things we have seen is that when riots erupt, there is often a history. That does not justify the riots, obviously, since the riots only do more damage to the community and discredit the cause. But the Rodney King riots erupted after years of complaints about Darryl Gates’ LAPD. The Ferguson riots erupted after years of the city sustaining its unsustainable budget by fining and ticketing the shit out of its black citizenry. This report shows that the Baltimore riots erupted in a city engaging in incredibly aggressive policing that makes its citizens feel under siege.


I can’t imagine what it must be like to get stopped by the police 20 or more times every year — to be arrested and jailed for nothing at all, to be stripped nude and searched in public for a traffic offense, or to be told it’s basically illegal for me to merely exist in public. I can’t imagine trying to have a life under those conditions, to raise kids, to just function as a human being — much less rise above my surroundings. I suppose defenders of these tactics will say that black neighborhoods are disproportionately targeted because that’s where most of the crime takes place. I don’t doubt that may be true. But your constitutional rights aren’t determined by the behavior of people who look like you, or by the behavior of the people who live in your neighborhood. Neither should the dignity and humanity afforded to you by the people who are supposed to be protecting you.

This, of course, only makes the riots all the more tragic. Peaceful demonstrations would have done a better job of highlighting these problems without alienating everyone*. But the violence doesn’t change the reality that BPD has a serious problem in its policing.

(*Possibly. The might also, as we’ve seen in several cities, provoked a militarized response anyway.)

Baltimore Into the Abyss


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.

The Party of “It Wasn’t Us!”

In the wake of the Baltimore riots and unrest, the Democrats are trying desperately to shift the conversation away from what happened and more toward … anything. One issue that they seem to have locked into is that the events in Baltimore aren’t a response to militarized policing or the War on Drugs or a poisonous relationship between the police and the community. No, it’s about … inequality. And they are proposing to address this with a raft of proposals that are basically Democratic Liberalism 101: more taxes on “the rich”, higher minimum wage, more spending on “infrastructure” and schools, etc. Barack Obama, in particular, has called on Republicans to embrace more spending and job training.


Officers Charged

That was fast:

Six police officers have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Friday. One officer — the driver of the police van — has been charged with several counts, including second-degree depraved-heart murder. Another officer has been charged with several counts, including manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Two other officers have been charged with several counts, including involuntary manslaughter. An additional two officers are charged with several counts, including second-degree assault.

There’s been a lot of information flying around the last few days, such as claims that Gray had recent neck surgery (which proved false) or that he somehow broke his own neck (which is dubious and now contradicted by other sources). As I noted earlier this week, the Baltimore PD have a long and ugly history with giving prisoners “rough rides”.

We will see what comes out at trial.

Baltimore Erupts

The city of Baltimore is in a state of emergency right now. Riots have erupted over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Gray, who was arrested for possessing a switchblade, was put into a police van. When he emerged, his neck was shattered and he would later die of severe spinal injury. And this isn’t the first time someone has been seriously injured by a Baltimore PD van ride:

Relatives of Dondi Johnson Sr., who was left a paraplegic after a 2005 police van ride, won a $7.4 million verdict against police officers. A year earlier, Jeffrey Alston was awarded $39 million by a jury after he became paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a van ride. Others have also received payouts after filing lawsuits.

For some, such injuries have been inflicted by what is known as a “rough ride” — an “unsanctioned technique” in which police vans are driven to cause “injury or pain” to unbuckled, handcuffed detainees, former city police officer Charles J. Key testified as an expert five years ago in a lawsuit over Johnson’s subsequent death.

Christine Abbott, a 27-year-old assistant librarian at the Johns Hopkins University, is suing city officers in federal court, alleging that she got such a ride in 2012. According to the suit, officers cuffed Abbott’s hands behind her back, threw her into a police van, left her unbuckled and “maniacally drove” her to the Northern District police station, “tossing [her] around the interior of the police van.”

“They were braking really short so that I would slam against the wall, and they were taking really wide, fast turns,” Abbott said in an interview that mirrored allegations in her lawsuit. “I couldn’t brace myself. I was terrified.”

In fact, the city of Baltimore has paid out $6.3 million in settlements for police brutality just since 2011. Report indicate rampant and widespread abuse. When you add in the city’s problems with crime and lawlessness, it has been a powderkeg for a long time. There is some evidence that complaints are down under the new Mayor. But I suspect this situation will not resolve any time soon, especially if the officers involved are not indicted or are acquitted.

The protests since’s Gray’s death have been peaceful. But starting over the weekend, hooligans have been taking advantage of the situation to engage in looting and violence, which has exploded into today’s chaos. The police are also claiming they have “credible threat” that gangs intend to retaliate against the police. Let’s hope some order can be brought to the situation.