In response to the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of members of the BPD the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) engaged in a thorough investigation of the patterns and practices of the BPD. The DOJ issued a scathing 163-page report documenting what many African American Baltimoreans have known and experienced for years: “Racially disparate impact is present at every stage of BPD’s enforcement actions, from the initial decision to stop individuals on Baltimore streets to searches, arrests, and uses of force.” The DOJ also found that “BPD uses overly aggressive tactics that unnecessarily escalate encounters, increase tensions, and lead to unnecessary force, and fails to de-escalate encounters when it would be reasonable to do so.”
The report cited specific cases of supervisors issuing explicitly discriminatory orders, such as directing a shift to arrest ‘all the black hoodies’ in a neighborhood. They also found that Black residents were more likely to be stopped and searched as pedestrians and drivers even though police were more likely to find illegal guns, illicit drugs and other contraband on White residents.
In one incident, officers in BPD’s Eastern District publicly strip-searched a woman following a routine traffic stop for a missing headlight. Officers ordered the woman to exit her vehicle, remove her clothes, and stand on the sidewalk to be searched. The male officer ordered a female officer to strip-search the woman. Finding no weapons or contraband around the woman’s chest, the female officer then pulled down the woman’s underwear and searched her anal cavity. This search again found no evidence of wrongdoing and the officers released the woman without charges. The search occurred in full view of the street.
We have to be very clear in this analysis and the resulting discussions. For as thorough as the DOJ report is, it fails to identify the source of these problems. First, these documented practices of using excessive force and issuing discriminatory orders have nothing to do with fighting crime, keeping the community safe, ‘Community Policing’ or ‘Broken Windows Policing.’ They are the result of what Dr. Francis Kress Welsing called racism (White supremacy). The local and global power system structured and maintained by persons who classify themselves as White, whether consciously or subconsciously determined. This system consists of patterns of perception, logic, symbol formation, thought, speech, action and emotional response, as conducted simultaneously in all areas of activity (economics, education, law, etc.). This is not a policing problem. This cuts to core of who America really is and always has been.
Second, looking at Baltimore as though it exists in a vacuum fails to take into account the widespread and historic nature of this problem. The city of Chicago is now on the hook for $5.5 million as it has to pay 57 people who were found to be victims Commander Jon Burge who along with his ‘midnight crew’ gained notoriety for torturing criminal suspects between 1972 and 1991 in order to force confessions.
According to The Guardian newspaper in a separate investigation, “Internal documents from the Chicago police department show that officers used physical force on at least 14 men already in custody at the warehouse known as Homan Square.” There have been at least 7,351 people and more than 6,000 of them African American who “have been detained and interrogated at Homan Square without a public notice of their whereabouts or access to an attorney.”
Look at the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865 that abolished slavery “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…” This provision provided the space for convict leasing programs to take over where slavery left off. According to Douglas Blackmon in his book Slavery By Another Name, within 35 years of the 13th Amendment, “By 1900, the South’s judicial system had been wholly reconfigured to make one of its primary purposes the coercion of African Americans to comply with the social customs and the labor demands of Whites.” This is clear evidence of the historic nature of this problem.
In 1951 Civil Rights attorney William Patterson and activist and actor Ossie Davis took the U.S. before the U.N. charging the U.S. with genocide for crimes against the Negro people. They wanted to “expose the nature and depth of racism in the United States, and to arouse the moral conscience of progressive mankind against the inhuman treatment of black nationals by those in high places.” This depth of racism gets to the core of what America has always been.
Finally, the DOJ report fails to hold anyone accountable. Baltimore Mayor Rawlings-Blake in an August 10 press conference was asked who should be held responsible for the BPD being in this situation. She replied: “These problems are systemic. A system is not an individual. Doing the work of implementing meaningful reform is not aided by pointing fingers of blame. It is aided by rolling up your sleeves and doing the very tough work.”
No one is asking to point ‘fingers of blame.’ Blame can be arbitrary; accountability is fact based. Real people, individuals with names, committed these atrocities. “Supervisors issuing explicitly discriminatory orders…” Who were these supervisors? Are they still on the force? Why are they not being held accountable for the patterns or practices of conduct that violated the Constitution or federal law? It’s not about placing ‘blame’ as the mayor spun the question. It’s about accountability.
Is there light at the end of this tunnel? Yes there is. But with the most recent police shooting of Joseph Mann in Sacramento, Calif., homeless, mentally ill and apparently unarmed. The light at the end of the tunnel is from an oncoming train.