Despite the court rejection of charges against the Baltimore Police Department in the Freddie Gray case, Loretta Lynch’s Justice Department is issuing a report today which accuses the police in Charm City of systemic bias and excessive force. The accusations also come with not very thinly veiled threats of retaliatory action from Washington if they don’t toe the line in the future. (AT&T News)
Baltimore police officers routinely discriminate against blacks, repeatedly use excessive force and are not adequately held accountable for misconduct, according to a harshly critical Justice Department report being presented Wednesday.
The report, the culmination of a yearlong investigation into one of the country’s largest police forces, also found that officers make large numbers of stops — mostly in poor, black neighborhoods — with dubious justification and unlawfully arrest citizens for speech deemed disrespectful. Physical force is used unnecessarily, including against the mentally disabled, and black pedestrians and drivers are disproportionately searched during stops, the report says.
In perhaps the most chilling section of the account, the Attorney General is said to be seeking a court-enforceable consent decree to force the police agency to commit to improving its procedures in order to avoid a lawsuit. It remains unclear precisely what that even means, but the general message is clear. Local policing, traditionally under the control of the state or municipal government, will be met with lawsuits brought against these same local entities if Washington doesn’t approve of their performance. What could possibly go wrong?
There are some troubling incidents brought up in the report which certainly merit investigation by the city. One example is a record of public strip searches performed on people who were not arrested or charged with anything. There’s clearly room for improvement in any department and such incidents should be examined by the city. But for the most part this is yet another report which relies on pigeonhole demographic metrics to find fault with standard police policy. They cite the number of stops and arrests “in poor, black neighborhoods” without noting the reality of police work in every part of the country. The fact is that there are some sections of each population center – particularly in the larger cities – which have higher incidents of crime. These tend to be the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods with fewer jobs and high population density. Unfortunately, these same areas tend to be heavier in minority populations, but that’s not because the residents are black or Hispanic. It’s a result of the stagnant localized depression along with the accompanying higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse and associated crimes which come hand in hand with these dismal conditions. Why do the police do so many stops in such areas? Because that’s where the crime is.
What’s left unasked and unanswered in all of these reports is the question of responsibility. Baltimore isn’t the first city to receive such scrutiny from the Justice Department. Similar investigations have been conducted in Chicago, Cleveland, Albuquerque and Ferguson, Missouri. What do all of these cities have in common? With the rare exception of Albuquerque, these are all liberal strongholds with Democratic mayors and majority control of their city councils. And this isn’t a recent phenomenon. These cities have largely been under liberal control for generations. Liberals control the leadership of the police departments and are responsible for their supervision and operation. How do such “bad policies” wind up being put in place if the “law and order party” (i.e. the Republicans) is always being blamed for such non-progressive ideology and practices? If conditions with the police in Baltimore specifically are so bad, perhaps the Attorney General should be talking to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake about fixing her own problems rather than spending all of her time on CNN in her role as a spokesperson for the DNC.
Either way, this is a dangerous overreach by the Justice Department. Policing is a state and local matter. If the White House wants improvements in policing they should be talking to the governors of the states who, in turn, could consult with the mayors of these cities. In the meantime, though, we’ll no doubt continue to see Washington using their control of state and municipal funding as well as the threat of crippling, expensive lawsuits as a stick to wave at the rest of the nation.