DOJ Report: Baltimore Police Systematically Violate Civil Rights, the Mayor is Culpable Too

Is it just politics?

Long before the Freddie Gray case or the Black Lives Matter movement the city of Baltimore’s Police Department had policies in place to target young black men. A report issued this week by the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division is the result of a 14 month investigation of Baltimore police procedures and interviews with more than 500 residents.

The problems detailed in the 163-page report are broad and deep. But they’re specific, too: a “pattern or practice” of discrimination is, of course, made of moments.

To be clear, the report emphasizes that this is not a case of a few bad apples. The problems are systemic — supervisors, policies, weak investigations and officer culture all play a role, the DOJ found.

The report, based on interviews with more than 500 people and a review of hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, is packed with statistics and analysis. Alongside the numbers, time and again, it highlights individual victims and specific acts of violence.

The report includes anecdotes like a black man arrested for just standing somewhere “without a valid reason,” officers being told to “make something up” if they had no legal reason to stop black youths, police inadequately investigating reports of sexual assault, and a commander issuing an order to “lock up all the black hoodies.”

For Baltimore residents, the report tells them nothing new. In 2010 the city settled a lawsuit filed by the NAACP and the ACLU in 2006 alleging widespread abuse and thousands of arrests without cause.

A lawsuit filed in 2006 on behalf of 14 people alleged that their arrests indicated a broad pattern of abuse in which thousands of people were routinely arrested without probable cause. The suit also alleged that the so-called “zero tolerance” system was endorsed and enforced by city officials under the tenure of then-mayor Martin O’Malley.

In a joint statement with the plaintiffs, the police department said it has agreed to institute policies that reject the “zero tolerance policing” and establish a range of appropriate officer responses to minor offenses. The department will issue written directives that spell out the elements of common minor offenses to ensure that officers are aware of the scope of their authority, and will train every officer on the new policies for offenses, the statement said.

Martin O'Malley - photo by Gage Skidmore
Martin O’Malley

Readers may remember that O’Malley was an also-ran in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary and was once publicly booed for saying “all lives matter.”

He later walked back his statement, but his policies as mayor came under scrutiny as a possible contributing cause to the Baltimore riots.

The former mayor and governor canceled paid speaking gigs in Europe to return home after the rioting on Monday. The attempt at damage control, which included an op-ed, failed to quell growing doubts about O’Malley’s rationale for seeking the presidency and spotlighted his controversial approach to policing during his eight years as mayor from 1999 to 2007.

“Returning to Baltimore was an odd move, especially considering there’s not much he can actually do about the unrest,” said a New Hampshire Democrat. “By coming back he also made it easier to link his own police policies as mayor to the current situation.”

“Any mention of Baltimore will now draw people’s attention to the events of the last few days — not any of the progress he claims to have made while mayor,” said an Iowa Democrat.

His law enforcement policies may have been the reason O’Malley’s presidential campaign never got out of the starting gate.

The DOJ report identifies many individual problems that paint a picture of a police department that has long been in dire need of reform.

Read the entire DOJ report here:

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

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