The Real Baltimore – Police Accountability in the Age of Trump

Jerri-Lynn here: This wide-ranging discussion on The Real News Network’s program addresses the dire state of policing in the city of Baltimore on the cusp of the Trump administration. Can the status quo deteriorate further? We’ll only have to wait and see.

I retained the original headline for this post, but concede it’s a bit misleading, since the discussion is more backward than forward looking. Many of the problems currently seen in the Baltimore Police Department have developed over a long period of time– often while Democrats have been in charge– either of city or state government– or in the case of the scathing report by the Department of Justice (DoJ) discussed extensively below and issued in April 2016, of the executive branch of the federal judgement. For interested readers, I include a link to that DoJ report .

TAYA GRAHAM: Good afternoon. My name is Taya Graham, and welcome to The Real Baltimore.

The repercussions of the election of Donald Trump are being felt across the country. From the US response to the threat of global warming, to ensuring employees receive a living wage, his Cabinet appointments and barrage of tweets have staked out extreme positions on a myriad of issues. But how will some of these policies be felt in Baltimore? More specifically, how will the Trump Administration handle the city’s ongoing problem of unconstitutional police practices, which were outlined in a scathing Justice Department report released earlier this year?

The questions have huge implications because efforts to reform the Baltimore Police Department locally have been met with obstacles and roadblocks, and with Trump’s pick of ultra-conservative Senator Jeff Sessions, many fear that the entrenched problems with policing will continue. That includes the roughly 1,000 people killed by police this year alone, and the country’s record-setting prison population of roughly 2 million. And since President-elect Trump has promised law and order, there are concerns his appointees will do little to curb the ongoing violation of people’s rights by policing in Baltimore and beyond.

To help me sort out what might happen, and what can be done, I’m joined by four guests from The Real News who know quite a bit about the subject matter of police reform and federal interventions.

Paul Jay is a senior editor of The Real News Network. Eddie Conway is an executive producer and host of Rattling the Bars. Eze Jackson is a producer and host of The Whole Bushel. And Stephen Janis is a senior investigative reporter with our Baltimore bureau.

Thank you so much for joining me today.

EZE JACKSON: Thank you.

TAYA GRAHAM: Now, Paul, I’d like to direct the first question to you. President-elect Donald Trump has essentially embraced stop-and-frisk, which is an unconstitutional practice, and Senator Jeff Sessions has said he’s going to be a law-and-order Attorney General. Do you think this change will embolden police to continue their unconstitutional practices?

PAUL JAY: I think, first of all, let’s ask the question, why did the DOJ do such a scathing report, as you mentioned in your opening, about the Baltimore police force? Now, this is the same Department of Justice that pursues the war on drugs. This is the same Department of Justice that’s involved in mass incarceration. So, why is one of the principal institutions under the Obama Administration, that’s very involved in mass incarceration and such, why are they interested in a scathing report on the Baltimore Police Department?

Because, I think, when you get these two different sections of politics in Washington — one which wants to call themselves liberals and the other one wants to call themselves conservatives — but the liberals don’t want things to go too far. They don’t want to see a repeat of the uprisings that took place in 1968. They don’t want to see more Freddie Grey-type Baltimore uprisings, or Ferguson. So they want to mitigate when police departments go too far, they want to rein back the worst of the abuse. They don’t want to deal with the day-to-day violation of people’s constitutional rights, because even though they say in their report, “It happens every day”, but you look at the recommendations, they’re not going to do anything about it. But they don’t want to go so far that people get so enraged that it becomes uncontrollable for them. That’s the liberal response.

The conservative response — and Trump is taking that to the extreme with people like Sessions – is, “No, we don’t have to do anything to mitigate. We need to come back even harder.” So at the Republican Convention, they get Sheriff David Clarke from Milwaukee County and he’s essentially calling the leaders of Black Lives Matter…

TAYA GRAHAM: Terrorists.

PAUL JAY: …terrorists, and tries to link them to police shootings. They want to tell the police department, “No, all this stuff of holding you guys back? No, we want you being the hammer, because we don’t want rebellion, and the way we deal with rebellion is you crush it.”

So, I doubt… we’re not going to see DOJ reports like this at least for the next four years — and it’s better to have had that DOJ report than not, because even though the recommendations are weak, it’s good that the criticism got out in the open. And the criticism was very… it surprised me it was so clear on this, that police violate constitutional rights and they break the law in the way they police in Baltimore. Well, we’re not going to see that again. We’re going to see more of that kind of violation of rights.

TAYA GRAHAM: I see–

EDDIE CONWAY: (indistinct)

TAYA GRAHAM: Oh, please, go ahead.

EDDIE CONWAY: I was just going to add, I think that the other part of this is that the federal government serves as a pressure release valve also to pacify the communities. I think they have had these kind of Consent Decrees throughout history and all over the country, and it’s been small gains in communities, but basically the community has been pacified, has been rocked back to sleep to allow business as usual. Because there’s only so much you can do when you’re trying to police the population that’s unemployed, that’s marginalized, that’s oppressed. There’s only so much you can do to keep the law enforcement in check, because they have a big job that they have to do — and they can only do it by using really serious, strong measures against the population.
Well, what the DOC lets the population think that, well, okay, if they’re out of hand, something’s going to be done about it, and nothing really ever is done about it in my opinion.

STEPHEN JANIS: I was going to say, speaking of Paul’s point and your point, I thought it was very interesting, as someone who’s covered Baltimore for years and covered policing, is that that report was unbelievably scathing, but at the same time, not a single person was fired, not a single person walked out of the police headquarters, as we said before, with their belongings in a box. There was no political reaction whatsoever. Remember, we asked the mayor, “Who’s responsible?” And the mayor said, “The system.”
So, you know, I think it is a situation where, you know what Paul says is kind of correct — it’s sort of a pacification, it’s sort of a way of saying, “Look, we looked at this,” but when you look for real change, you haven’t seen much. And you don’t see resources being allocated for the police department to put into education or anything really specifically being addressed until, of course, we see the Consent Decree, but it is sort of seen to be papered at this point.

TAYA GRAHAM: So does that mean we’re better off without a Consent Decree, because it seems like it’s giving people false hope. And Senator Jeff Sessions said in 2008 that he thought Consent Decrees were undemocratic.

PAUL JAY: Well, let me just throw something in fast for people that aren’t following the Baltimore story. Explain what the Consent Decree is. I’m interviewing you for a second here. Because some people may not know. Yeah.

TAYA GRAHAM: Okay. Well, right now, Catherine Pugh has nine of the 21 points…

PAUL JAY: The new Mayor of Baltimore.

TAYA GRAHAM: Our new mayor has 9 out of 21 points laid down, and what a Consent Decree does it’s put in front of a federal judge and it is the specificity of the recommendations in the Department of Justice report — and essentially the city is going to be held to account. There’s going to be an independent monitor to make sure that the Baltimore City Police Department complies with those points, specifically. And that’s what a Consent Decree is.

STEPHEN JANIS: Of course, we don’t know what’s in this Consent Decree at this point, because we asked the mayor, we’ve asked over and over again, and that would be the question, but we do know that the Justice Department analyzed, and it was interesting, past Consent Decrees and saw very few substitute changes. And one thing that was central was, of the 25 Consent Decrees, cost to the community, $600 million over a period of time to implement them, which of course we know Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has asked for $30 million to implement this Consent Decree. We also asked our current Mayor Catherine Pugh if she was going to ask for money to pay for it and she said… she didn’t give us really specific, but you can see one thing is true is these Consent Decrees are very costly.

TAYA GRAHAM: Well, I think it’s also been said that these Consent Decrees aren’t very effective, as well. I mean, I think the Washington Post did a survey of Consent Decrees and the results were mixed, at best.

EDDIE CONWAY: Do you know, and towards Stephen’s point, it’s more money for training, it’s more money for instructors, there’s more money to spruce up the paperwork for the law enforcement agents, and so they get a bigger part of the budget. And the people that are actually impacted, their lives don’t change. I mean, the thing on 95, say, for instance, that for the state police stopping travelers coming up and down 95. So, I mean, you know, the solution was, well, keep a record of who you stop. You know? And that doesn’t change anything. People are still being stopped and put on the side of the highways. So all these decrees are paperwork. I’m not saying we don’t need ’em, but unless there’s some enforcement behind them…

EZE JACKSON: I mean, it’s another pacifier, I think. I think it’s important to have something that we can hold the police accountable to, that we, as the people, can always go back and check and if we do, make sure that they’re holding their end of the bargain. But it’s just another pacifier to a system that I think needs to be changed. The whole thing needs to be just restructured — and that’s not going to happen. The Consent Decree, I think in a way, it’s good. Like I say, it’s a checkpoint, but I don’t see it really making any effective change until, like you say, get rid of the whole crew that’s in there now, fire everybody, and start over. I think that’s the only logical way to really see some real change, because you got an officer that’s been on the force 15, 20 years, doing the same thing, a Consent Decree is not going to stop him from continuing to do what he’s been doing his whole career.

TAYA GRAHAM: That’s a good point.

PAUL JAY: I thought the police union made a good point about something. You know, when Freddie Grey was killed, and then the police union immediately jumped to defend the officers involved, without even knowing what the evidence was, at first I’d reacted against the union’s role. But I came to know better what their point was — at least some of them — which was that it’s the command, it’s the people running the police department that are giving orders, telling police to do unconstitutional… to violate people’s constitutional rights, to break federal law.

And I thought… that’s why I say there’s kind of two parts to this DOJ report on Baltimore. The critique is actually very good. I was surprised it was as good as it was. I was expecting just more talk about training. They really went after stuff in the description of the problem.

One of the stories they tell near the end of the report, a woman officer is ordered to go clear a corner, be part of several officers to clear a corner — and that is a euphemism for, “You go pick people up and you arrest them for nothing and you bring them back to the station.” It’s not about telling people to move on. It’s about arresting people without probable cause.

And she refuses to do it, according to this… in the DOJ report. Well, she’s punished for that. She loses overtime — and this is all documented in the DOJ report. And she goes and complains to the supervisor of the guy who docked her, wouldn’t give her the overtime, and he says, “Well,” it’s actually quoted in there, it says, “Well, you deserved it, ’cause you didn’t make your stats this month.” Well, we know that that means: “You didn’t arrest enough people.” No one cares for what. I mean, that’s part of the problem with Baltimore. It’s not about are you lowering crime in some way, it’s just are you arresting enough people?

So, the report’s description of the problem, we keep using the word “scathing” when we talk about it, because it was. It was really good.

But what it didn’t say, that it’s clearly implied — it doesn’t come out and say — if you’re violating people’s constitutional rights, you, the police, if you’re breaking federal law, that means you’re committing crimes. It means you, the Baltimore police, are criminals.

There’s nothing in that report that then says, “Arrest these people.” It’s not just about training and more data collection. Arrest these people. If they’re violating law, you know, charge them with forcible confinement, which Mosby originally charged these Freddie Grey cops and then drops.

But the fact that it took place was a good thing. I mean, yes, it’s to pacify. Still, it was a good thing to get it documented just how bad things are. But the recommendations are just the same old, same old.

EDDIE CONWAY: But then what? Okay, so you document it. People look at it, they read it. They say, “Oh, this is really bad.” And it’s business as usual and nothing changes. I’m not sure, how does that help people in the communities that’s being constantly having their rights violated?

PAUL JAY: Only if people get organized.

EDDIE CONWAY: Right.

PAUL JAY: The solutions are not going to come from the elites. There’s no question about that. And the fundamental problem is the reason there’s a police culture like that is because people that own stuff want to hold onto it. And people make money out of chronic poverty. And so, the solutions are not going to come from the DOJ or the solutions aren’t going to come from any of these things. But I think it’s actually good for the people’s movement, you could say, to be able to say, “Look, even the DOJ says you guys are criminals. And now we’re going to demand accountability.” Then you get into another conversation about how people get organized. I’m in no way suggesting because they describe the problem well, it’s the solution. In fact, I agree with you, because when you go to what their recommendations are — more training, more data collection — like, they could have at least said, because it comes right out of their own description of the problem, they could’ve at least said, “Commanders who give people orders to break the law, those commanders should be arrested.” That would’ve been nice. But they don’t say that.

TAYA GRAHAM: I understand that you want command-level officers to be held accountable for the instructions they give to patrol officers. The question is: what should this Consent Decree actually look like?

EZE JACKSON: I think it should look like some kind of an attempt to bring police and community relationships together in a way that it should represent the people, you know, and what they want. Right now, like Paul was just talking about the culture, and police officers being told to arrest people who aren’t committing crime is not helping to lower the murder rate or car-jackings or break-ins, anything — it’s not helping because people, and specifically in a city like Baltimore, people don’t want to cooperate with the police. They don’t want to help, because, “I help you with this case now, and then next week you’ll lock me up for standing out in front of a corner store. You’re not my friend. You’re not here to protect me.”

So I think it needs to represent this strong desire from the people, and right now we’re getting a lot of political games being played with it. You know, “Well, we can’t ask for this, and we can’t put this in there, we can’t do that.” Everybody… people in power are going out of their way to protect the police, when in all actuality it’s the community that needs protection, you know, not just from the criminals in their area, but also from the police.

TAYA GRAHAM: Right.

STEPHEN JANIS: I think there should be a continuum of the transparency, and I know transparency is sort of a feeble word, but the continuum of revelations. Because I was thinking yesterday, we were reviewing statements of probable cause left over from the zero tolerance era, where they were arresting people for literally nothing, you know, like, drinking a beer…

TAYA GRAHAM: Or expectorating on the ground…

STEPHEN JANIS: …or just expectorating, and they were continually writing up these statements of probable cause. They were completely illegal. You could just read them and you could see they were illegal and they were cutting and pasting and misspelling. Let’s say the Department of Justice continues to audit the statement of probable causes of police officers and they continue to be published in some way, or some way continue to… and quarterly report. I think that would be really, really powerful, because that’s kind of what they did. Because what they did is they revealed, as the story that Paul recounted is extremely powerful, because it shows a mechanism. And if they could continue to do that and have some sort of mechanism where the community… they are truly accountable to the community, not to the politicians that Paul mentions who really drive all this, which is what … in Baltimore, right? The homicide rate is in numbers that are politically quite important, so they take these policies and they order the commanders to do what you were talking about.

So I think if they could have a mechanism for transparency to continue to reveal these kind of stories, I think you’d see some change.

EZE JACKSON: I agree with Stephen, because right now, the way it’s set up, there’s nothing… if you get arrested, there’s nothing in place that stops a police officer from writing a report however he wants to write it. There’s nothing — you could sit in your cell and look at your papers, and go, “Wow, this is all wrong,” and there’s nobody there to fact-check it, or to help. You know what I mean? To make sure that people aren’t unjustly being arrested and having charges put on them, which happens a lot in this city.

You know, you can’t solve a case, you arrest somebody. You thrown that charge on them. Who’s going to stop them?

TAYA GRAHAM: Right.

EDDIE CONWAY: You know, one other thing is I agree that the transparency needs to be continued and it’s good that those crimes have been documented. But there needs to be a penalty phase in this thing. Somebody needs to be held accountable when they violate those things, including people’s constitutional rights. It’s got to be in there. If that’s not in there, it’s just smoke and mirrors.

EZE JACKSON: Now, you think about it, any other company, any other organization, any other group, to have these kind of findings in this DOJ report come up, everybody’s gone. Everybody’s fired. It’s not even a question.

TAYA GRAHAM: Absolutely.

EZE JACKSON: Everybody is let go. The Police Department is the only department that gets these special privileges and it’s kind of like right in front of our face just blatant disregard for the people and the community.

TAYA GRAHAM: That’s such a good point.

PAUL JAY: I think a couple of things — the Consent Decree should’ve called for community control of the police. I don’t have allusions that the DOJ would do that, but if you’re asking what would be effective — and real community control of the police as we’ve been saying on The Real News, means the power to hire and fire the police chief, the power to actually hire and fire individual policemen, the power to recommend criminal charges to the Attorney General, State’s Attorney — has to have real power. And how you create that is a matter of discussion and debate — is it elected, how does the community want to exercise that control? It’s really the community needs to be asked and worked out.

But to play on Eddie’s point, to be effective, they’re committing crimes, they should be charged, and we know the existing political structure, the city council, the mayor, and from within the police department, they’re not going to go there. So there needs to be a civilian body that can, at the very least, hire and fire, and recommend criminal charges.

And the second thing I think the Consent Decree should have, going back to this woman cop that gets disciplined, is some kind of whistleblower… the cops… you know, there are some cops that don’t want to do this stuff. And they’re afraid of repercussions, anywhere from a dead bird on their car to somebody not showing up as backup in a dangerous situation. Somebody blows the whistle, the community needs to embrace that person and defend them, and there should be something in that Consent Decree that protects them and allows them to come forward.

TAYA GRAHAM: Now, I’ve heard people say, “I don’t care if my civil rights are violated, I don’t care if your civil rights are violated, as long as my community doesn’t have crime in it, as long as my family isn’t a victim of crime or violence.” Do you think there is any situation where unconstitutional policing is considered justified?

STEPHEN JANIS: Well, you reveal the complexity of this problem because many of the people you talk to in the community as a reporter are more concerned about crime in their neighborhoods, or more concerned about people breaking into their cars or stealing from them, and that fear fuels a lot of the problems that you talk about. Because we do put policing in a special, I guess, social place because of it, because so much of the rhetoric around it is defined by fear. And thus, fear becomes sort of a currency for policing. And I do think Baltimore, when they elected Martin O’Malley in 1999 on the basis of doing zero tolerance … as Paul said, it has to be a certain level of political consciousness to be able to overcome that, to be able to change that discussion and say, “Well, we’re not going to solve it by being more fearsome or more vengeful than the crime itself that’s occurring.” But I think it’s a really good point that has to be considered, because many people will allow police to go to extreme lengths just to feel like they’re suddenly safe.

EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah, but you know what? That’s rhetoric more so than…

STEPHEN JANIS: Right.

EDDIE CONWAY: …into the reality, because as soon as the police violate their civil rights, throw them down on the ground, or accost their son or daughter, that whole attitude changes. Easy to say when you’re talking about, “We don’t care what you do to people,” but when it starts impacting you it’s, like, “Wait a minute. Y’all can’t do that to Johnny.”

STEPHEN JANIS: Well, that’s the converse of your whole thing. It’s true. And that’s why Baltimore has been stuck in this situation because people don’t understand until it affects them, how the implications of allowing an institution as powerful as a police department to operate with impunity. That is what happens. But that’s why fear is such a great way to motivate — that’s what Martin O’Malley used was fear, right? “I’m going to reduce the homicide rate.” But all he was doing was playing on people’s fears, and then suddenly 100,000 people were arrested. So you’re absolutely right.

PAUL JAY: People are suffering twice — one, people are suffering from unemployment, low wages, the poverty, and then people living in these areas are the ones that suffer the consequences of traumatized kids that grow up to commit violent crimes, people that have, because they have no jobs, get involved in the only thing there is, which is the drug business, which is inherently violent, and then… So you suffer twice. You live in these deprived conditions, and then because of the crime it comes and gets you. So it’s a problem because you have a right, one, to say, “I don’t want these economic social conditions anymore,” but, two, “I have a right to have some safety. I should be able to walk to the corner store and not get mugged. But I don’t want policing that’s abusive, that’s racist, and treats us like animals.”

So, there is a legitimate short-term demand of people that you need some policing. You can’t have mayhem outside your door. But that policing can’t be bloody abusive, and you damned well better deal with the conditions that are creating this crime in the first place, which is the poverty and the low wages.

TAYA GRAHAM: Well, I think you get to the crux of the matter there which is that there are issues and social ills like poverty and homelessness and drug addiction and lead poisoning and mental health issues, and a lot of times police officers are the front line. Do you think there’s any way that there can be effective policing when we have such intractable problems in Baltimore City?

EZE JACKSON: I think… and I was talking to some friends about this over the weekend, a friend was describing the situation to me where a police officer was clearly stressed out from something previous that had happened. I think one of the effective ways — and we don’t hear this talked about a lot — is I don’t think there’s enough therapy and work being done with our police officers and their mental health. To have to work in some of these conditions, we forget that they are also people. And so, without that proper therapy, without the proper time off — you know what I mean? — to spend with your family and come back and regroup, you are violating people’s rights automatically. Why? Because you’re working under a system that’’s going to protect you to do so.

So you might not, in your heart, want to beat this kid up on the street in front of everybody, but because of everything else you’ve been under, everything else you’ve dealt with that week, you end up lashing out and doing it, because you’re a human being. I remember calling a police officer to my house to fill out a report about a car accident, and in the discussion, you know, he was not being very helpful, and when I expressed frustration about him not being helpful, he reached for his gun. But on that day, in West Baltimore, there had already been several shootings. You know what I mean? It was a crazy day in West Baltimore. The weather had just broke, and I said to him, I said, “You know, I can see that you’re dealing with a lot. I’m just going to call another officer.” And he calmed down and, two weeks later, came and apologized to me. But it was at that moment that I realized these are also people that are working under really, really crazy…

TAYA GRAHAM: Really stressful conditions.

EZE JACKSON: …situations and I think we can have effective policing — I think that’s one of the ways that that can help, if we really put a focus on what is the mental health of these police officers? Are you really just sending anybody, and paying them $30,000 a year to patrol a neighborhood, and not making sure that they’re properly equipped to do so? And that’s what’s happening.

EDDIE CONWAY: Do you know, I want to chime in on that, though, because what we have, internationally, when there’s a war somewhere, soldiers go in-country. They’re only allowed to stay so long…

TAYA GRAHAM: That’s right.

EDDIE CONWAY: …in a combat zone, a combat area.

TAYA GRAHAM: They have a limited tour.

EDDIE CONWAY: Because in anything over a year or two years, it’s detrimental — and even if you’re the nicest person in the world, under that stress of constant combat, you change. Out of fear, your partner being lost, you being lost, and so on. That same situation applies to police in some communities, and the way those communities are policed is in a combat manner. And it creates that same stress — and so no amount of healthcare or mental illness training or therapy or anything else. No, there’s got to be shorter spans of that interaction, and there’s got to be more rotation and replacement, and it’s a lot of other things. But you can’t leave a soldier in combat for two years and don’t expect him to go off at some point.

TAYA GRAHAM: That’s a really good point.

PAUL JAY: I think we’ve got to change the mission of the police force. We live in a class society. Nobody wants to say it, but in all these elections, there’s a middle class, but there’s never — other than Bernie Sanders, who talked about a billionaire class — nobody ever talks about elites. The mission of this police force is to defend private property. It’s really serious… obvious, I should say, and the more private property you’ve got, the more you get defended. The mission of the Baltimore police force is contain crime, that’s the consequence of poverty, in poor neighborhoods. Don’t let it spill out into the Roland Parks and the–

TAYA GRAHAM: Well, wait, Paul. I’ve got to challenge you on this, because you’re saying it’s about class, but Vanita Gupta of the Department of Justice, she said it was about race. As a matter of fact, one of the first things she said was that the unconstitutional practices are unconstitutional because it’s based on race. That’s what it’s about: race. People are arresting black people unjustly in Baltimore.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, but you can’t… you’re starting a whole ‘nother show here. Racism is one of the ideologies that defends private property and capitalism.

TAYA GRAHAM: Okay.

PAUL JAY: You have to dehumanize people you exploit, and the more you want to exploit them, the more you dehumanize them.

TAYA GRAHAM: But there are poor… there are poor white people in Hampton, poor white people in Remington, and they are not being arrested in the same way.

PAUL JAY: But I’ll take you… I can take you to cities where there’s almost no people of color. I can take you to Toronto where I’m from, and the areas of poor white are getting — not as abusive as Baltimore — but far more abused poor whites than rich whites, there’s no comparison.

Of course, racism is pervasive here. You can’t… there’s no disconnect between class and race. The racism is how the wealthy whites, and in a way even wealthy blacks, and there are some, and there’s certainly a whole black political class…

TAYA GRAHAM: Very true.

PAUL JAY: …you know, who look at poor people in general and, even more, poor people of color, as subhuman. So it’s okay to pay them $7.25 an hour. You know, it’s okay that the mayhem that goes on in poor neighborhoods — and one shouldn’t exaggerate that too much, because most people living in poorer neighborhoods go to work every morning, and they’re the ones suffering the consequences of this.

But what I’m saying is, by changing the mission of the police force, you have to say that the police officers are there to make neighborhoods livable, and to prevent this sort of… the consequences of these bad social conditions, unlivable social conditions. They have to be dealt with in some way that people can live their life. And then you also have to deal with the unlivable social conditions. It comes down to who has political power. It comes down to who controls city government, and will come down to who controls Annapolis. Real police reform will come because you start changing who’s got power, how wealth is distributed — and it’s not going to happen all in one go. But if people don’t get organized to deal with power at the level of the city, the level of the state, and in some way federally, too, but the city is the one that has the most power over the policing.

If you don’t take control of the city government, then we can keep talking about Consent Decrees — in real life you’ll have a nice classroom, and they’re going to teach all about racial sensitivity, understanding racism, and they’ll learn all the verbiage, except when they get out in the car, they’re going to do the same stuff they always do. Because the mission hasn’t changed: contain the crime in poor neighborhoods. And if you have a city government and a state that says, “We’re not going to tell cops to do anything about the war on drugs anymore — in fact, quite the contrary. We’re going to start pushing for legalization,” and take that off the table, the war on drugs. I mean, that would be the fastest way to alleviate this.

You can’t do that unless you have control of government. And people have understandably given up and are cynical about the possibility of having government actually play that role — and it’s partly because the Democratic Party is in control here, and it’s easier to fight to the Republicans in some way — but because it’s a black city council, and it’s Democrat, it’s not a straightforward confrontation.

But there needs to be a takeover of popular people’s forces in this town, and then you start telling the police what to do, and then you start doing what Eze says: Fire the bloody people who don’t want to go along with the change of culture. But you’ve got to deal with the political side of this.

TAYA GRAHAM: Thank you. And I want to say thank you so much for being part of this discussion here today, and I want to thank you for joining me at The Real Baltimore.

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13 comments

  1. Doug

    Excellent conversation that points to many complexities in the situation. Still, curious how these folks could slip into such a fundamental misunderstanding/misperception when they said this:

    EZE JACKSON: Now, you think about it, any other company, any other organization, any other group, to have these kind of findings in this DOJ report come up, everybody’s gone. Everybody’s fired. It’s not even a question.

    TAYA GRAHAM: Absolutely.

  2. The Trumpening

    One phenomenon not mentioned in this piece is the sharply rising murder rate in Baltimore which some label as the Ferguson Effect; namely police officers stepping back and letting the locals, to some extent, do as they wish:

    2011—197 murders
    2012 – 217
    2013 – 235
    2014 — 211
    2015 – 344
    2016 – 317

    If we cynically analyze the situation from Trump’s point of view, urban areas are no-go zones for Republicans so his strategic interest will be to sow disaccord between the wealthy goodwhites who wish to colonize and gentrify rough urban areas (Brooklyn is the best example) and the poorblacks they wish to ethnically cleanse. The only thing standing between these two groups is badwhite cops. If you think about it, being a cop is the ultimate badwhite dream given the inordinate amounts of time handling firearms and driving fast cars this job entails, combined with the good pay and benefits with no college degree required, and the chance to exert their authority over minorities.

    The best Machiavellian move Trump could make is encouraging badwhites to withdraw from urban police forces. With new manufacturing jobs or giving them priority for some Federal agencies, Trump could drain the badwhite urban police swamp. In addition he could crack down on the urban police wealth extraction operations from poorblacks whose primary goal is to keep goodwhite taxes lower. Also all these arrests and imprisonments of poorblacks cost money and why should non-urban taxpayers pay for what are essentially urban problems? Also Trump should concentrate Section-8 housing into wealthy goodwhite urban areas. Just to be clear, Trump would not be making these moves to be good, he would be making these changes to expose goodwhite hypocrisy.

    Removing the badwhite cop boogeyman will set poorblacks and goodwhites against each other. Who knows where it will end, probably neither of these groups will ever vote Trump, but if Trump stays above it all, and sarcastically mimics goodwhite platitudes while urban whites start acting out by either electing tough guy mayors or start fleeing to the suburbs then Trump will at least split this key Democratic demographic alliance. As the urban murder rates tick up, goodwhites will be forced into ever more desperate ways to blame it all on Trump (or Putin).

    1. cnchal

      You are deluded about the good pay and benefits for Baltimore police officers.

      EZE JACKSON: …situations and I think we can have effective policing — I think that’s one of the ways that that can help, if we really put a focus on what is the mental health of these police officers? Are you really just sending anybody, and paying them $30,000 a year to patrol a neighborhood, and not making sure that they’re properly equipped to do so? And that’s what’s happening.

      That is why overtime is a club that senior officers can use to beat junior officers into submitting to their demands to “clear the corner” and if you don’t become a law breaking officer and object, you don’t get overtime. Being an honest cop costs them money, that’s how sad the profession has become.

      From my perspective, being a cop is the worst jawb in the world. Shit rolls down from the top and spews up from the bottom.

  3. dbk

    One of the offspring has been working in Baltimore for four years, and I’ve been 5-6 times.

    I don’t know what the solution is, one hates to say “I give up”. When I’m there, I sense the complicity all whites share in what Baltimore – a once-proud, working-class manufacturing city and port – has become. It makes me angry and yet sad at the same time.

    Of possible interest: Michael A. Wood, a former Baltimore police officer who resigned and is now campaigning for empathy, of all things (that’s pretty forward-looking):

    Five or six years ago when I was first viewing “The Wire”, a friend who’d just seen the series advised me to “look for the stats, see how they’re used, they’re all that matters.”

    It’s wrong -unethical, somehow- to give up, to stop trying, but sometimes when I’m there it just seems like Baltimore is where the rubber hit the road too hard: a form of racism/poverty perhaps ineradicable under the unflinching regime of offshoring, outsourcing, automation, and free trade the neo-liberal world order imposes.

    Finally, a word in support of RNN: in these days of confusion about what is, and isn’t, faux news (I for one am very confused), one can go to RNN and get the straight skinny – no fanfare, no drama, just the hard, cold facts. The audience is trusted to draw their own conclusions.

  4. Katharine

    Who did this transcript? It’s Hampden, not Hampton! If that was RNN’s error, they’re undermining their credibility: do they live here or not?

    This interview, for all its good points, shows no awareness of the living city. It seems to assume that Baltimore is just a passive object to be manipulated by others. I’ve got news for you, hon: it doesn’t work that way.

    I am sorry the discussion focuses so much on the past, though granted that was what the DOJ report covered. It should be noted, however, that the present police commissioner appears to have a better attitude than his predecessors and to be trying to change the culture of the department. More funding would certainly help, and the point about the mental health of officers is important. Comments from the F.O.P. frequently sound as if they feel beset, and it would be unfair to assume that is all a matter of denying responsibility. If we want them to change the way they work, it’s plain common sense to ask what would make it easier for them to do so.

    It should be noted that we have a new mayor and it is too soon to tell how she will deal with this matter. Perhaps more important, we have eight new members on the city council, just over half the total, and the best of the old are still with us. There may be some creative thinking ahead that will surprise us, witness the first official act of the new session, a resolution introduced by a new member condemning the hatefulness generated during the presidential campaign and affirming higher standards for Baltimore.

    Moreover we have activists who have been on this issue for a long time, most notably Doc Cheatham but also Kim Trueheart, and some newer ones, including Kwame Rose and the very interesting Joshua Harris, who ran for mayor as a Green and got about 10% of the vote. He now says he is not running for anything but is organizing, and is asking people to tell him their concerns for their communities and the city. There are probably others currently under my radar.

    For discussions of Baltimore that recognize and involve Baltimoreans, I recommend the Marc Steiner Show, .

    1. Anne

      As someone who works in the Inner Harbor and lives north of the city, I had similar feelings to the ones you expressed.

      One thing completely missing from the discussion was the power of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR), for which reform has been attempted on more than one occasion. It doesn’t get all the blame, of course, but it may be a primary reason why so many police officers do not suffer the consequences of their actions, and that in turn, contributes to a toxic and angry us v. them atmosphere.

      I agree that the current police commissioner appears to have a real desire to improve the relationship between the community and law enforcement, and I’m hoping new mayor Catherine Pugh will be less defensive than former mayor Rawlings-Blake, and come at the problems in ways that further improvement rather than impede it. Rawlings-Blake did the City no favors by having such an adversarial relationship with the Republican governor; I may not like Pugh cozying up to Larry Hogan, but it may be what’s needed to keep Baltimore well-funded for the challenges it continues to face.

  5. pat

    First, end the drug and fire 80% of all the cops across the country.They never should have been hired in the first place. It’s a screening problem not a training problem. Then, make it illegal to be a cop if you are former military. Nothing improves until the richest country in the history of the world takes care of it’s citizens like a modern country should. Since when is it ok to have “working poor”? That’s an oxymoron for chryst sakes! We could start by acknowledging the fact this country was built on the near extermination of the indigenous people and the worst form of slavery ever known. BTW, if our media was doing their job Trump would be an asterisk in presidential campaign history and Sanders would be president elect.

  6. Katharine

    Recent news on this subject:

    >Jill Carter resigns seat in House of Delegates, joins Pugh administration

    In a letter dated Dec. 23, Carter told House Speaker Michael E. Busch her resignation will take effect Monday. Pugh announced Friday that she has appointed Carter as director of the city’s Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement.

    Carter, 52, has represented Baltimore’s 41st District in the House since 2003. In her new position starting Tuesday, Carter will oversee investigations of police brutality, wage theft and a host of alleged civil rights violations.

    “Civil rights has been my passion for my entire life,” said Carter, a Democrat. “I see tremendous opportunity. The Office of Civil Rights has been under the radar. My vision is to open it up for the people.”

    The civilian review board investigates alleged misconduct in the city police department, the school system’s police force, the city sheriff’s office, the environmental police and other agencies.

    The worst I know of her is that she sometimes let her emails back up so much the inbox wouldn’t accept new ones, but if she has a good secretary in the new position that problem might not exist. She does appear committed to social justice. It remains to be seen how effective she can be in making the board more useful than it has been. The council needs to change its status and give it more power, a move resisted by the F.O.P.

  7. George Phillies

    Saying that the police force lets people murder each other “the Ferguson Effect” is highly implausible.For the most part, excluding people shot dead by the police force, by the time the Police get there, with the best intent in the world, it is too late.

    The more serious issue, which is now not a beautiful red sky with the sunrise but a small cloud yet distant on the horizon, is that the people who are being mistreated by their police forces are not stupid. At some point they will even acquire leadership who tell them that these consent decrees are pacifiers and lollipops, meant to silence babies and suckers. They will also get leaders who point out that Ghandhi’s actual position on non-violence was that it was the right tool against British liberals, not that it was intrinsically good, and they the local circumstances are different. At that point you will start seeing what has already started, namely the conservative Second Amendment solution, except practiced by folks that conservatives tend not to care about so much. We already saw the first bits of this in Dallas and the East Coast and (though deniably) in Ferguson.

    We could not defeat fourth generation asymmetric warfare in Iraq, except by buying off a large piece of it. If we get to that stage in the USA, there will be a key difference: the folks supplying the second generation response, and the politicians ordering the second generation response, will not be safe behind an extra continent and a large ocean. They will be on the front line, and they will be targets. This outcome is not good.

  8. Tvc15

    Thanks for the link to the DOJ report. I probably won’t read the 164 pages, but the executive summary was rather indicting as they mentioned. Unfortunately, as Eddie Conway said, nothing will change and the community has been rocked back to sleep…business as usual. Sad.

  9. pictboy3

    I think all the concern over the DOJ is misplaced. Constitutionally, there is very little that the feds can do about local police practices unless they can really prove an intent to undermine people’s civil rights.

    This is a local issue, and the organizing should be done at a state/city level to get better policies in place.

  10. Oregoncharles

    Jumping in a little late –
    I’m actually surprised there aren’t more reprisal killings of police. Given the level of stonewalling and pretense fro the authorities, which will only increase, I think reprisal killings will increase, too. So far, they’ve been by unstable people, which is inevitable. One of these times, they’ll be more competent; that’s when the brown stuff hits the fan.

    The most interesting case was Freyn in Pennsylvania, not only because he’s white, but because he stayed on the loose for a while and wasn’t killed. It’s been at least a year, and no trial as far as I can tell. He wrote a statement but unwisely sent it to the police, not the media. The police are sitting on it, of course, but it would come out at a trial. I think they’re afraid to try him because of what would come out. The PA state police have some dirt on their record.

    I’m especially alarmed because this comes at the same time as other indicators of possible civil war.

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