Culture

A Justice Department Report Finds Baltimore Police Practices Routinely Violate Civil Rights

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A new Department of Justice report finds that the Baltimore Police Department has practiced racially discriminatory policing policies, which include targeting black residents and using excessive force for illegally detaining residents. The report comes on the heels of a number of cities cracking down on police brutality and creating more transparency in their prospective departments. In particular, Baltimore has come under the spotlight for the death of Freddie Gray, which recently saw all charges dropped for the officers involved in his arrest.

The 163-page report, which paints a pretty damning picture of the Baltimore PD, found the city’s “zero tolerance enforcement” (that was enacted in 1999), created an atmosphere where excessive force was the norm and continued to be implemented after it was officially done away with in 2009. Under the zero tolerance policing policy, officers were reported to target predominantly poor black neighborhoods and would arrest anyone they saw as a threat. The Justice Department report, as reported by The Washington Post, found police would even stop people who were being “disrespectful” to them. And the department has been implicated for unconstitutional strip searches as well.

When former mayor Martin O’Malley instituted the zero tolerance policy in 1999, officers arrested on average 100,000 people per year. Although the city cut that average down to 40,000, much damage was done with the Justice Department saying the “relationship with certain Baltimore communities is broken.” Baltimore prodigal son and journalist David Simon chimed in to say the former mayor’s policies were to blame.

While the total number of arrests went down, the Justice Department found that officers continued to use excessive force and still targeted the same neighborhoods, with hundreds of African-Americans being stopped at least 10 times by officers. The report found these tactics were not working:

“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. These racial disparities, along with evidence suggesting intentional discrimination, erode the community trust that is critical to effective policing.”

On Wednesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said this was hard to hear, but she has fully cooperated and will try to implement change.

“But let me be clear: I never sugarcoat our problems nor will I run away from our most pressing challenges. I believe transparency is the only true foundation upon which we can rebuild community trust. We have not been standing still while this inquiry was underway.”

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said the report was not a whole reflection of the Baltimore police department, but admitted things need to be done to change the way officers conduct business:

“While the vast majority of Baltimore City police officers are good officers, we also know that there are bad officers and that the department has routinely failed to oversee, train, or hold bad actors accountable.”

The inquiry was announced one month after Freddie Gray died after a spinal cord injury while in police custody. The Justice Department stated that this timing was a coincidence, for they already started their investigation.

(Via The Washington Post & NPR & The Baltimore Sun)

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