The Baltimore police department is in a little but of trouble. In shocking news this week, the Justice Department said its investigation into the group had turned up more troubling information than expected. In fact, despite how little press it's been getting, the Justice Department's Baltimore police report shouldn't be ignored, given the nature of the discoveries the Justice Department unearthed.
First, a little background: In the wake of the death of 25-year old Freddie Gray, who died after sustaining injuries while in police custody, charges were brought against six police officers involved in his arrest. Three of the charges were dropped, two officers were acquitted, and one resulted in a mistrial in late July. It felt like a defeat for anyone trying to change the system and support the Black Lives Matter movement.
But the Justice Department's report is a sort of victory when it comes to holding police departments accountable for their actions. The report concluded that there was racial bias within the department in Baltimore and that officers made traffic stops disproportionately in poor and black neighborhoods and that officers often arrested black people during these stops for simply talking back.
The Justice Department also concluded that, as in the case with Freddie Grey, officers often were not held accountable for their bad behavior. Put simply, the Justice Department just made what many Americans, and Baltimore residents, already knew in their hearts official: things are not right in Baltimore and something has to give.
Below are a few of the report's most damning findings:
Sexual Assault Is 'BS'
It's not just racism that's running rampant in the department. According to the Justice Department, which interviewed a victim advocate, a detective in the Sex Offense Unit said that "all [their] cases are bullsh-t." When a colleague asked him to be more realistic and tone it down, the same guy added, "OK, 90 percent."
According to the report officers expressed "open contempt" for victims and disbelieved women when they came in to report crimes. Let me repeat: in the Sex Offense Unit. One officer even allegedly called a victim a "conniving whore." Lovely, right?
According to CNN, the report found that officers routinely arrested people for cursing, even though they weren't "fighting words," which is illegal. They also found that officers used excessive force "in cases of protected speech," and interfered with anyone trying to record police activity, which is legal. Once, an officer allegedly took the phone of a man who was recording his friend's arrest and proceeded to delete everything — even pictures of the man's son. That is illegal.
Even scarier is to think that these stops could have escalated. If one of the officers was touchy about a good ol' "F off," why would an officer be calm when faced with something even worse?
Straight Up Racism
Here are just straight up facts that cannot be ignored or debated or pushed away, from the report:
- From 2010-2016, African Americans accounted for 95 percent of 400 individuals that were stopped at least ten times.
- African Americans accounted for 82 percent of all traffic stops, even though they make up just 60 percent of the driving age population.
- Baltimore police found contraband twice as often when searching white drivers who they stopped in comparison the African American stop. Pedestrian stops account for 50 percent more contraband finds.
On Wednesday, the Baltimore Police Department began to fire and reprimand and suspend officers and address the problem. Of course, that doesn't address the root of the problem, necessarily, but it's a start.
Given the staggering amount of documentation of police officers using excessive force across the country of late, the Baltimore police department shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise — but it should act as a reminder. And if nothing else, it should serve as a checklist of things to watch for, for police departments in other cities.