Freddie Gray’s life was taken from him unjustly. As the year went on, more and more corruption was shown by Baltimore City Police, as Ericka Blount reports.
As eight police officers faced federal racketeering charges last month in Baltimore, Maryland accused of robbing residents who had not committed crimes, falsifying official incident reports and swearing out false affidavits, HBO released the documentary, Baltimore Rising, a film focusing on the youth-led rebellion following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody. Meanwhile, Baltimore police detective Sean Suiter was shot in his head and killed with his own gun in mid-afternoon on Nov. 15th. He was scheduled to testify against officers in the racketeering case the next day. Even with a $215,000 reward, no one came forward with information and there were no suspects.
The FBI has now taken over the case.
The question of whether Baltimore has to get worse before it gets better in regards to police corruption or if it is just simply getting worse, is on a lot of Baltimoreans minds nowadays.
In the aftermath of the police acquittals in the Freddie Gray trial, the DOJ submitted a scathing report on police practices in Baltimore City. In it, one 50-year-old black man was stopped 30 times unconstitutionally for five years. A black woman was stripped search during daylight hours on the sidewalk after police stopped her for a busted tail light. They performed an anal cavity search on her in clear view of citizens. Teenagers were stripped searched in broad daylight and were forced to undergo cavity searches. One police officer was so brazen as to perform unconstitutional acts during a ride-along with a federal agent investigating the police department.
Sheryll Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund expressed surprise and disgust and said that Baltimore’s DOJ report was the worst she had ever read.
The only ones that weren’t surprised were residents of Baltimore City who had complained to politicians and police and anyone who would listen about police brutality in Baltimore for decades. The DOJ report mandated federal oversight of the Baltimore police department.
Following Detective Suiter’s shooting, residents on the block in the Harlem Park neighborhood where it happened were on an apartheid-style lock-down where residents in the community were searched as they came home and were required to show identification to prove that they lived in the neighborhood. The hashtag #FreeWestBaltimore started.
There have been calls to have Police Commissioner Kevin Davis removed that have fallen on deaf ears.
It was late July in 2016, when Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, flanked by her staff and a supportive community of people in Freddie Gray’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood in Baltimore, announced that she would dismiss the remaining three cases against six police officers charged with causing injuries including a severed spine and crushed voice box that led to Gray’s in-custody death. Community members offered encouragement: “We’re with you! We got your back! You did the right thing!” as Mosby placed blame directly on the criminal justice system.
“After much thought and prayer it has become very clear to me that without being able to work with an independent investigative agency from the very start, without real substantive reform to the current criminal justice system, we could try this case a hundred times and cases just like it and we would still end up with the same results,” Mosby told the crowd.
Since then, the six police officers, Garrett Miller, Edward Nero, Caesar Goodson, William Porter, Sergeant Alicia White and Lt. Brian Rice have received back pay upwards of $80,000 each and all have returned to work after a series of administrative trials ran by police officers (which require less of a burden of proof than criminal trials. For instance, officers could have said that any of the officers were negligent for not seat-belting Gray) who found no wrongdoing on their part. Five of the six officers sued Mosby for defamation, something that is unprecedented when it comes to prosecutorial immunity. Three of the officers, Miller, Nero, and Rice, received standing ovations and were celebrated at a right-wing black-tie gala at the Media Research Center in New York.
The police investigator, Detective Dawnyell Taylor, was featured prominently and positively in HBO’s documentary Baltimore Rising, which focused on the youth led protests. Taylor was the investigator assigned with investigating the six police officers. In court, prosecutors alleged that Taylor sabotaged the entire investigation by not submitting evidence like text messages between officers on the day of his death that they subpoenaed.
In the HBO documentary, Taylor is shown as the news announces a not guilty verdict for Officer Caesar Goodson. Although her job was to investigate them and be seemingly impartial to the outcome, when the newscaster announces a not guilty verdict, she pumps her fist in the air and shouts: “Yes!” before smiling and saying, “Thank God.”
In the documentary, cameramen follow her around a beat as she says to the camera: “When you got young black men like this who are just walking around the street aimlessly they are doing one of two things, they are up to no good or they’re selling drugs.”
Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions the officers avoided federal charges. Sessions has called for a review of all federal consent decrees around the country, saying that they reduce the moral of officers, although Baltimore is moving ahead with their decree. New reforms like body cameras were integral in several recent police corruption cases where Baltimore City officers accidentally recorded themselves planting drugs at crime scenes.
Mosby, who has one of the best conviction rates of any prosecutor in the country, is up for re-election in 2018 as she continues to fight both criminals in the community and criminals on the police force who are paid to fight crime. Officer Wesley Cagle was convicted a few months after the trial of the six officers ended for shooting a man that was already on the ground and calling him a “piece of shit.”
Meanwhile residents, although resigned to the fact that the justice system will never work, refuse to remain silent.
Ericka Blount is a journalist, professor and author from Baltimore, Maryland. Her book ‘Love, Peace and Soul: Behind the Scenes of Soul Train’ is available on Amazon. Please follow her (and us!) on Twitter @ErickaBlount.