Ta-Nehesi Coates writes:
Now, tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and "nonviolent." These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it's worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?
As Coates points out, the circumstances of Freddie Gray's death aren't all that unusual in Baltimore. The Baltimore Sun did a series called "Undue Force" in September, which examined settlements paid out for police brutality:
Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.
Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.
And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims — if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him — a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.”
Such beatings, in which the victims are most often African-Americans, carry a hefty cost. They can poison relationships between police and the community, limiting cooperation in the fight against crime, the mayor and police officials say. They also divert money in the city budget — the $5.7 million in taxpayer funds paid out since January 2011 would cover the price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds. And that doesn’t count the $5.8 million spent by the city on legal fees to defend these claims brought against police.
[...] Asked about investigations into allegations of police brutality, Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein said his office has prosecuted 10 officers for assault and 10 others for less serious offenses since 2011. In some high-profile deaths, officers were not prosecuted because they had only seconds to make decisions, Bernstein said. That’s very different from cases where officers are more deliberate and assault handcuffed suspects, he added.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein says his office has been tough on police misconduct.
He said that improved training and recruitment, a better discipline process, and greater transparency would enhance the Police Department’s trust with the community.
“It’s a real issue for us in Baltimore,” Bernstein said.
Young, the City Council president, says many African-American residents have an uneasy relationship with the police force.
“Every black male or every African-American in this city are not criminals and shouldn’t be treated as such,” Young said. “I was stopped myself a couple times, and I am the president of City Council.”
He wants officers trained to communicate better with residents. He’s heard too many complaints about them not allowing people to talk to defend themselves.
“They violate your civil rights and tell you you can’t talk,” Young said.
He added: “[Residents] fear the police more than they fear the drug dealers on the corner.”