The Baltimore Police Department’s “pattern of civil rights violations” has officially been uncovered and acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, left, listens as Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake speaks during a news conference at City Hall in response to a Justice Department report, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016 in Baltimore. The Justice Department and Baltimore police agreed to negotiate court-enforceable reforms after a scathing federal report released Wednesday criticized officers for using excessive force and routinely discriminating against blacks. (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, left, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke after the release of a Justice Department report criticized officers for using excessive force and routinely discriminating against Blacks. (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

A DOJ report released Aug. 9 said that Baltimore police routinely use excessive force while unconstitutionally stopping, searching, and arresting African-Americans.

In addition to racial discrimination, the report also found that “individuals with mental health disabilities or in crisis” are being met with excessive force, and that sexual assault cases are being mishandled- possibly due to gender bias. Police have also been retaliating against Baltimoreans for engaging in activities protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Few were baffled by the findings.

“I was not overly shocked or surprised,” said Councilwoman Helen Holton (District 8), who called the report an echo of the many “comments and concerns that citizens have expressed over the years.”

“I think it’s an opportunity for us to be better than we’ve been- not to look back and lay blame,” Holton told the AFRO. “It’s an opportunity to look forward at how we create a better environment and fairness in the equity of policing.”

Data collected from 2010 to 2016 was used to create the report, which categorically lists the ways police have targeted Charm City’s Black population; creating a picture reminiscent of the Jim Crow Era.

Whether traveling by car or foot, Black Baltimoreans were stopped, searched, and arrested illegally at disproportionate rates.

The report found that Baltimore police routinely “invert the constitutional notice,” by asking citizens to “justify” their presence” – instead of them saying why they have stopped the citizen.

In some cases citizens were assaulted for refusing to move from their own front steps when ordered or for talking to police in a manner they deemed “disrespectful.” Others were hit with a blast from a Taser for moving when they were commanded to “stop.”

According to the report, 86 percent of all crimes are charged to African-American citizens that make up 63 percent of the city’s population. Black people were “91 percent of the 1,800 people charged solely with ‘failure to obey’ or ‘trespassing’; 89 percent of the 1,350 charges for making a false statement to an officer; and 84 percent of the 6,500 people arrested for ‘disorderly conduct.’”

Forty-four percent of more than 300,000 pedestrian stops were for Black Baltimoreans “in two small, predominantly African-American districts that contain only 11 percent of the City’s population,” said the report.

Hundreds of people were stopped more than 10 times during the selected time period. “Seven African-American men were stopped more than 30 times during this period.”

Most telling from the data is the fact that excessively searching for criminals in the Black community has yielded less than satisfactory results.

According to the report, “BPD stopped African-American residents three times as often as White residents” even though “only 3.7 percent of pedestrian stops resulted in officers issuing a citation or making an arrest.”

“Indeed, BPD officers found contraband twice as often when searching White individuals compared to African Americans during vehicle stops and 50 percent more often during pedestrian stops,” read the report.

Councilman Carl Stokes (District 12) told the AFRO there is “no breaking news” in the DOJ’s findings.

“My community knows about it and all of Black Baltimore knows about it,” he said.

“We know that hundreds of thousands of young Black males have been arrested for no good reason. They are held and given jail time and criminal records that causes them to have difficulty in getting jobs, going to college, and in housing searches. We know that.

“These subgroups of officers have brutalized people and then put the city in a position to pay these victims. We often pay two and three times for the same officers doing the same acts of brutality.”

Moving forward, Stokes said he is looking for reform in how police brutality and settlements with victims are handled.

“We need to stop sealing records when there is a settlement,” he said. “We should open the records and take officers to court when we have a strong case against them.”

“We’re past dialogue for people whose lives have been damaged by police brutality and systematic racism. I want to see a mayor and a police commissioner with the political will to dramatically change our police department.

“That means, within a month, get rid of those people that we know have been shown as ‘racist’ from their actions and mindsets. People inside the department know it, we just have to have people with the courage to do that.”

The City and the DOJ will work together with the community in the coming months to agree on waves of reform that will address the violations named in the report.

“The findings are challenging to hear, but let me clear- I never sugarcoat our problems, nor will I run away from our most pressing challenges,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at a press conference. “The report identifies specific but the transparency in the report offers a crucial foundation if we are going to move forward. Transparency is the only foundation upon which we can rebuild community trust.

Rawlings requested the DOJ inquiry last May and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the report is meant to help officers- not indict those trying to make Baltimore better.

 

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer