I spoke to some black folks who have been thinking about police-community relations for years, and they told me the investigation’s findings didn’t particularly shock them.
The investigation was spurred by the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year old black man whose spine was severed in the back of a police van last April. In its 164-page report, the DOJ wrote that “BPD makes stops, searches and arrests without the required justification; uses enforcement strategies that unlawfully subject African Americans to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests; uses excessive force; and retaliates against individuals for their constitutionally-protected expression.”
The Justice Department attributed these violations to systemic, longstanding problems within the police department, and said the violations have worsened distrust of police officers in Baltimore, “particularly in the African-American community.”
The report’s findings were far-reaching. Between 2010 and 2015, BPD recorded over 300,000 pedestrian stops (a number the DOJ believes vastly underrepresents actual stops.) Those stops often lacked reasonable suspicion, and were mostly confined to black neighborhoods — 44 percent occurred in two low-income black neighborhoods that make up 11 percent of Baltimore’s population.
In the same time period, the report found that BPD made “warrantless arrests without probable cause,” stopped black residents three times as often as white, and arrested black folks on drug charges at five times the rate of white folks, despite comparable levels of possession. They were also found to have used unreasonable force against juveniles and people who presented “little or no threat to officers or others.”
According to the investigation, the BPD has also failed to respond adequately to reports of sexual assault, resulting “in part, from underlying gender bias.” It reported BPD detectives asked questions like, “Why are you messing that guy’s life up?” when interviewing women who reported sexual assault.
The Baltimore Sun talked to …