“I had so many cases, so many things I was trying to research, so I could get justice. Because I knew the odds was against me; it’s little old me against a powerful system. So, all I would do is study law, read judge’s opinions to cases and I would just research the law every day,” said Ivan Potts, 31, as he described how he typically spent large swaths of his day, more than 588 of them locked up at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Justice or something resembling justice came on April 12, when Potts was released from Roxbury. The gun charges against him, which gave him a mandatory eight years in prison were dropped and the case dismissed, once it was discovered the three officers who arrested him on September 2, 2015; Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, Det. Maurice Ward and Det. Evodio Hendrix were part of the seven cops indicted on federal charges of racketeering in March of 2017. All seven of those officers remain locked up awaiting trial, while Potts endeavors to cobble his life back together after being wrongfully arrested and spending almost two years in prison.
“He’s (Potts) been staying at home with his kid, looking for work,” according to his attorney Todd Oppenheim. However, Potts is one of tens of thousands of mostly poor, mostly Black men and some women who struggle to recover after being arrested on dubious charges or in many cases, no charges at all. Many have been fighting to repair their lives for nearly 20 years since the nefarious, “zero tolerance,” policing policy, implemented in 1999 when Martin O’Malley was mayor of Baltimore.
My friend and colleague Stephen Janis (one half of, “The Mod Squad,” along with his partner at The Real News Network, Taya Graham), and I have written dozens of stories over the years about the ubiquitous and devastating aftermath of zero tolerance on the Black community.
“You had 10,000 people being arrested on a monthly basis, totally responding to the statistical need to incarcerate people. But, neighborhoods were pretty much under martial law,” Janis said recently during an interview. For several years in the early 2000’s Baltimore averaged more than 100,000 arrests per year, roughly one-sixth of the city’s population.
Zero tolerance, which was actually birthed in New York and co-opted by O’Malley, is derived from the “broken windows” theory of policing implemented in New York during William J. Bratton’s first term as police commissioner during the mid-1990’s. Its basic tenet is lock-up people in communities of color en masse, for small crimes like vandalism and public drinking, to create the appearance of lawfulness. The consensus by many criminologists is that zero tolerance failed miserably in Baltimore and has perhaps caused irreparable damage in many of the city’s mostly Black, mostly poor communities.
“You cannot win this war on crime without the support of the community and when they feel like you are an occupying force, they will never cooperate with you,” said Warren Brown, the formidable defense attorney back in July 2005, at the zenith of zero tolerance. Brown was specifically protesting so-called, “illegal arrests,” the rocket fuel of zero tolerance. Brown told me back then that police were making about 2,000 illegal arrests per month. “An illegal arrest is when there is either no probable cause for the arrest or the state has indicated they will not prosecute,” Brown said in 2005. Out of the hundreds of thousands arrested during the height of zero tolerance, tens of thousands were never charged. In fact, according to the DOJ, more than 11,000 people arrested in Baltimore City since 2010 have not been charged.
Although the zero tolerance policy was officially abandoned several years ago by the BCPD, the Department of Justice’s scathing patterns or practice report argues current supervisors trained under zero tolerance, “continue to encourage officers to prioritize short-term suppression.” At the very least the residue of zero tolerance continues to permeate communities where lives have been interrupted adversely, in many cases catastrophically, with lost jobs, ruptured families and crushed spirits.
The many beaten and killed by rogue cops is another conversation.
“They’re like a gang of their own, they’re like the police bandits. You’ve got your uniformed police, then you got your knockers…and they’re like desperados or something, with a badge riding around the neighborhood,” Potts said.
“And it’s like, their demeanor is like, `We’re doin’ the same thing ya’ll doin’…but we got badges and if you move the wrong way, we’ll bust you. It’s not systematically designed to help, it’s designed to stir the pot up, to stir the confusion up.”
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of AFRO First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday 5 p.m.-7 p.m. on WEAA, 88.9.