It’s been nearly sixteen months since the city of Baltimore seethed, trembled and then erupted in justifiable rage at the death of Freddie Gray. Freddie was a son, a brother, a friend, and just 25-years-old when he suffered a severed spine while in the custody of the Baltimore police. His death is a symptom of what many Baltimore residents have long known, and what a report from the Department of Justice has recently confirmed:
The civil rights of the African American residents of the city of Baltimore have been callously, routinely and systematically violated by those whose duty it is to serve and protect.
The report — the product of a year-long investigation looking into policing practices in the majority-black city — has uncovered a deeply concerning pattern of racially discriminatory abuses including disproportionate rates of traffic stops, searches, and arrests, and the use of excessive force against minors and those with mental health issues.
The trends exposed by Wednesday’s report, though highly troubling, are hardly surprising given similar findings in the 2015 Justice Department report on the Ferguson Police Department.
The Baltimore report, however, also included a scathing review of a police culture steeped in gender bias.
The 167-page document branded the department “grossly inadequate” in its deeply dismissive response to reports of sexual assault, finding detectives and prosecutors quick to disregard assault allegations and slow to follow up on leads or test evidence, often neglecting to interview suspects, review surveillance tape, forward DNA evidence to testing facilities, or even complete basic investigative paperwork.
The officer and County Attorney were both hostile to victims.
Baltimore officers were found to be openly hostile to prostitutes and transgender individuals and the overall ethos of victim blaming is punctuated by a few particularly shocking incidents, such as this e-mail exchange between a prosecutor and an officer:
I am not excited about charging it. This victim seems like a conniving whore.
Lmao! I feel the same.
The Justice Department investigators concluded that gender bias runs rampant through the department, writing:
In their interviews with women reporting sexual assault, BPD officers ask women questions such as ‘Why are you messing up that guy’s life?’
An unrelated investigation by The Baltimore Sun found that The Baltimore Police were discarding rape complaints at the highest rate in the country, and classified more than 30 percent of reported rapes as ‘unfounded,’ a rate five times the national average.
Rape kits were tested in just 15 percent of the sexual assault cases reported by adult victims and only 17 percent of sexual assault reports concluded in an arrest, while more than half remained ‘open’ indefinitely. Department of Justice investigators write:
This data suggests that BPD is keeping the majority of its rape cases in an ‘open’ status, thus drastically reducing the rate of its rape cases closed as ‘unfounded,’ and creating the illusion of having made meaningful reforms to its procedures for identifying and classifying sexual assault.
The investigation spanning the period from 2010 to 2016 provides a disturbing look into a deep-seated practice of discrimination and misconduct sanctioned by silence. Ultimately, the Department of Justice ascribed the Baltimore PD’s profoundly flawed culture of racial bias to ‘systemic deficiencies’ in training, policies, and accountability that ‘fail to equip officers with the tools they need to police effectively.’
The city of Baltimore and the Department of Justice have subsequently agreed to negotiate a consent decree as prescribed by the court in implementing reforms.
It’s been nearly sixteen months since the city of Baltimore seethed, trembled and then erupted in justifiable rage and righteous indignation at an unjust system. With the release of the Justice Department report, we now have long-sought confirmation of what the citizens of Baltimore reflexively knew and affirmation of the grand deception in what establishes victim and abuser.
The condemnation of systemic racism, discrimination and abuse at the hands of authority does not serve to condone the violence in Baltimore, but it is instructive in helping us understand from where it springs. In the subtle truth of Dr. Martin Luther King words, “A riot is the language of the unheard,” lies a plea to look beyond hostility to the passion of the citizens of Baltimore, and to acknowledge and appreciate their anger at the many preceding years and decades — nay centuries — of being “unheard.”
To enable the blue code of silence is to censor the unpleasant truths of racism.
People of Baltimore, we hear you now.
Freddie Gray did not die in vain.
Featured Image via pixaby