Baltimore police regularly engage in unconstitutional behavior and display a pattern of discrimination against African Americans, according to a new report released by the Justice Department.
The report, released today, examines the Baltimore Police Department’s relationship with the citizens of Baltimore County, and concludes that Baltimore PD routinely makes unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests and displays conduct, which the Justice Department claimed “raises serious concerns.”
The Justice Department began their investigation after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died in police custody due to injuries to his spinal cord.
This is not the first investigation launched by the Justice Department following the suspicious death of a black man in police custody: a similar report was released after a probe was launched into the police department of Ferguson, Missouri for the death of Michael Brown.
The Baltimore report, however, did not focus on Gray’s death, and instead examined the pervasive patterns and practices that make up the day-to-day operations of the police department. The Justice Department report was undertaken over more than a year, and carefully assembled interviews from police officers, attorneys, elected officials, and the public.
The report found that the unconstitutional actions of the Baltimore PD affect those in poor, black neighborhoods disproportionately. Not only that, the Justice Department also found that often, officers are not held accountable for their bad conduct.
Citing specific cases, the Justice Department report describes the relationship between police and the community as “broken.” Among the specifics reported is the story of one black man in his 50s who was stopped by police, as a pedestrian, 30 times in under four years. Many of the instances cited in the report were for “discretionary offenses,” meaning the Baltimore police arrested black individuals for things like “trespassing” or “failure to obey.”
One of the more egregious instances of bad conduct from the report is that a template for writing up trespass arrest reports contained the boilerplate language “A BLACK MALE” for a description of the arrestee, indicating an assumption that those arrested will be black.
The Justice Department also found that physical force is often used without provocation or necessity not only against blacks, but also against the mentally disabled. Baltimore PD also perform unconstitutional and public strip searches, and often use excessive force against civilians, including juveniles.
In the early 2000s, the Baltimore PD maintained a “zero tolerance” policy, allowing arrests for minor charges. Despite an official denunciation of the policy in 2010 (as a result of a settlement with the NAACP), The Justice Department report found that the Baltimore PD still acted unconstitutionally as a result of the “legacy of the zero tolerance era.”
The report concludes that Baltimore police are taught to use “aggressive tactics” and often retaliate against those where officers “did not like” what was said.
The report will form the basis of negotiations between the Justice Department and Baltimore police. Ultimately, the two organizations will enter into a consent decree under which the day-to-day practices of police would be subject to sweeping changes under the oversight of a federal judge.
Photo: Police watch on as a man participates in a protest in Union Square after Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. was acquitted of all charges for his involvement in the death of Freddie Gray in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., June 23, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly