Baltimore Residents Weren’t Lying About The City’s Corrupt Police Force

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By Julia Craven

It’s a shame no one believed their truths about how law and order falls on the heads of black cit­i­zens


Baltimore told y’all.

They said it dur­ing West Wednesday ral­lies in mem­o­ry of Tyrone West, a black man who died dur­ing a 2013 traf­fic stop in Northeast Baltimore. They said it when vic­tims who had been paid to keep qui­et still chose to speak out about police vio­lence. They screamed it at the top of their lungs after unarmed Keith Davis Jr. was shot in the face by a city cop in June 2015. Maybe you heard when they burned police cars after Freddie Gray died in police cus­tody in 2015. Or maybe when they talked about their cer­tain­ty that no offi­cer would be pun­ished in Gray’s death.

On Monday, a fed­er­al jury actu­al­ly found two for­mer Baltimore police offi­cers guilty in a major cor­rup­tion case. Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, for­mer mem­bers of the city’s now-dis­band­ed Gun Trace Task Force, had been charged with rack­e­teer­ing and rob­bery.

Six oth­er offi­cers on that task force had already plead­ed guilty on sim­i­lar charges. Four of them had tes­ti­fied against Hersl and Taylor, prov­ing once again what many black folks in Baltimore had known for decades: The Baltimore Police Department is a dis­gust­ing­ly cor­rupt exam­ple of how law and order falls on the heads of black cit­i­zens.

Testimony in the cor­rup­tion case revealed that offi­cers would dri­ve their patrol cars toward groups of peo­ple, pro­vok­ing them to flee, in order to jus­ti­fy unwar­rant­ed search­es. They car­ried toy guns in case they killed an unarmed per­son and need­ed to plant some­thing. They plant­ed drugs. They tracked some of their tar­gets with ille­gal GPS track­ing devices. They robbed civil­ians. They sold drugs and guns. They put in for over­time hours even when they weren’t work­ing and pock­et­ed hun­dreds of thou­sands of tax­pay­er dol­lars. They levied “tax­es” on local drug deal­ers.

Yes, cops take mon­ey from drug deal­ers. Cops rape. Cops lie in their reports,” University of Baltimore pro­fes­sor and Baltimore native D. Watkins wrote last month for Salon. “Cops beat peo­ple. Cops sell drugs. Cops threat­en cit­i­zens. Cops intim­i­date oth­er cops. Cops are gang-affil­i­at­ed; they’ll snatch a blunt out of your hand and smoke it, hide extra guns in the dope house, aim their pis­tol at you for fun, plant drugs on you, make you sell drugs for them or with them, make you rob and steal, and then expect to be called ‘hero’ no mat­ter what they’ve done. Politicians from every side — from those as pro­gres­sive as Obama to those as racist as Trump — break their necks to co-sign their hero sta­tus.”

In light of the lat­est rev­e­la­tions, a Maryland state law­mak­er has even called for dis­band­ing the city’s police force, cit­ing the dis­so­lu­tion of the Camden, New Jersey, police depart­ment in 2013. “The deci­sion came in the wake of record high mur­der rates and an extreme­ly inef­fi­cient police bud­get ― both of which are prob­lems that Baltimore City cur­rent­ly faces. It was a bold, near­ly unprece­dent­ed deci­sion, but it worked,” said Del. Bilal Ali, who rep­re­sents part of Baltimore.

A 2016 Justice Department report described how offi­cers in the Baltimore Police Department rou­tine­ly abused res­i­dents’ civ­il rights, tar­get­ed black indi­vid­u­als, per­formed uncon­sti­tu­tion­al search­es, retal­i­at­ed against indi­vid­u­als and failed to hold cops account­able for mis­con­duct. The report said that the depart­ment was racist “at every stage of [its] enforce­ment actions” and that these prac­tices “erode[d] the com­mu­ni­ty trust that is crit­i­cal to effec­tive polic­ing.”

In 2016, the No Boundaries Commission and the West Baltimore Commission on Police Misconduct, two local advo­ca­cy groups, released their own report detail­ing the abuse inflict­ed on res­i­dents of the Sandtown-Winchester neigh­bor­hood by police. Fear of law enforcement’s retal­i­a­tion was so great that only 39 of the 450 res­i­dents who spoke with researchers were will­ing to be quot­ed, even under a pseu­do­nym.

It used to be that if you did some­thing ille­gal, they pat­ted you down, they arrest­ed you, and they locked you up,” one res­i­dent told researchers. “Now, they don’t even arrest you; they just take you in the alley and they beat you up. It doesn’t mat­ter what you do.”

Another res­i­dent said that one “offi­cer picked me up and slammed me on my face, took my back­pack off, and threw all my books out, and when they didn’t find any­thing kicked me in my stom­ach. I was just hap­py they didn’t lock me up and bounced.” (If this sounds crazy, please note that accord­ing to tes­ti­mo­ny in the cor­rup­tion case, Gun Trace Task Force super­vi­sor Sgt. Wayne Jenkins thought men over the age of 18 with book­bags looked sus­pi­cious.)

The report also took state­ments from peo­ple had wit­nessed offi­cers rob­bing drug deal­ers.

But it shouldn’t take a fed­er­al tri­al, a fed­er­al report, a new local report or real­ly any insti­tu­tion­al con­fir­ma­tion to con­vince peo­ple of the way that many police depart­ments ― includ­ing those out­side Baltimore ― take advan­tage of the most vul­ner­a­ble cit­i­zens. The peo­ple of Baltimore have been say­ing this stuff for decades. Yet it required a Justice Department inves­ti­ga­tion and a tri­al involv­ing almost cin­e­mat­ic inci­dents of cor­rup­tion for oth­er folks to believe them. That itself is part of the prob­lem.

Maybe, Watkins sug­gest­ed, Freddie Gray’s death might not have gone unpun­ished in a coun­try that whol­ly accept­ed the premise that cops are not always heroes, but often dam­aged indi­vid­u­als who read­i­ly harm black (and Latino, LGBTQ and oth­er mar­gin­al­ized) cit­i­zens.

How might a case like this have changed pub­lic per­cep­tion around Gray’s death?” Watkins wrote, refer­ring to the cor­rup­tion tri­al. “Even though they stopped Gray for no rea­son and then he died while in their cus­tody, peo­ple still saw them, at worst, as heroes who made a mis­take. Because if all cops are heroes, those cops couldn’t have done any­thing inten­tion­al­ly mali­cious to cause Freddie Gray’s death, right?”

They told y’all.
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