The Justice Department’s investigation into the Baltimore Police Department found a vital government institution in total disarray.
Based on the report, virtually no part of Baltimore’s police force worked as a modern police department should — from arrests to stops to use of force to basic training, oversight, accountability, and basically everything was deeply flawed. And the report concluded that police repeatedly violated basic constitutional rights, particularly those shielded by the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment.
What’s worse, it seems that black Americans suffered the brunt of these deeply flawed, harmful policing practices. The Justice Department pointed to data for police stops, which demonstrated that black residents were disproportionately stopped and detained by Baltimore police after accounting for the local population. This happened to black residents who were guilty of absolutely nothing, as far as police could tell:
African Americans accounted for 95 percent of the 410 individuals stopped at least ten times by BPD officers from 2010–2015. During this period, BPD stopped 34 African Americans at least 20 times and seven other African Americans at least 30 times. No person of any other race was stopped more than 12 times. One African-American man in his mid-fifties was stopped 30 times in less than four years. The only reasons provided for these stops were officers’ suspicion that the man was “loitering” or “trespassing,” or as part of a “CDS investigation.” On at least 15 occasions, officers detained the man while they checked to see if he had outstanding warrants. Despite these repeated intrusions, none of the 30 stops resulted in a citation or criminal charge.
Imagine getting stopped by police 30 times in less than four years and getting let go each time because you were never doing anything wrong. If you see that this is only happening to you and other black people — not people of any other race — what are you going to be left to think?
Then imagine trying to complain about these issues repeatedly to city officials and the police department, yet virtually no one listens. That’s essentially what the Justice Department found: As the report acknowledged, these issues have gone back to at least the late 1990s — when city officials instituted “zero tolerance” policies that hit black residents and their neighborhoods the hardest.
In this light, it’s little surprise that the city rose in total fury in response to the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, while in police custody. People weren’t just responding to one death that they saw as unfair, but longstanding systemic issues at a police department that harassed and terrorized them.