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“Riots And Results”: The Next Time A Suspect Dies, People In The Community May Now Be More Likely To Take To The Streets

Yesterday, I wrote about how the explanation Baltimore police gave for the death of Freddie Gray was almost impossible to believe, and apparently, state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby felt the same way after her investigation, because she announced today that she is charging six officers with crimes ranging from negligence to second-degree murder (you can watch her statement here). In a post at the Plum Line this morning, I raised the question of whether you could argue that the violence that occurred in Baltimore on Monday led to this prosecution and therefore produced some of the accountability people in Baltimore want so desperately. Here’s a piece of that post:

The violence led to a huge increase in media attention, and even if much of that coverage was sensationalistic, there was also a lot of attention paid to the substantive issues involved. Those included the Baltimore police’s record in dealing with the public generally, and in particular the use of “rough rides” as a method of abusing suspects, which is a likely explanation for how Freddie Gray came to have his spine broken in the back of a police van.

All that national attention put every public official under pressure to not only bring calm but also to confront the issues that have the people of Baltimore so angry: The police commissioner, the mayor, the governor, and yes, the state’s attorney. While every official would like to believe that he or she would make all the same decisions regardless of whether there are people chanting in the streets and news cameras parked outside their office, they can’t possibly be immune.

I have to confess I’m not completely sure what the answer to the basic question is. I’m not at all comfortable endorsing violence as a political tactic, particularly since it not only claims innocent victims, it also tends to be less effective than nonviolent protest over the long run. But there’s no question that Monday’s rioting instantly made Baltimore and Freddie Gray a national issue.

On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that if the nonviolent protests had simply continued and grown, there would still have been a prosecution. Though I know very little about Mosby, she doesn’t seem like she’s being forced into this against her will. One important question is how the rest of the Baltimore officials who are also under a microscope respond. What kind of police reforms are they going to initiate, and how effective will they be? We probably won’t know the answers until long after the national media’s attention has shifted elsewhere.

There’s also the question of whether the events in Baltimore, including this prosecution, have any impact on what happens in police departments around the country, with regard to both police abuse and accountability for it. Suspects die in police custody all the time, after all, and prosecutions are pretty rare. Changing both of those things will take a long time, but the next time a suspect dies, the people in the community where it happened may now be more likely to take the streets, and the prosecutors are going to be asked why they aren’t issuing an indictment like the prosecutor in Baltimore did.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, May 1, 2015

May 2, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore, Baltimore Police Dept, Police Brutality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Deflecting From The Full Truth”: Prisoner Was Wrong; Freddie Gray Didn’t Kill Himself

Before the second prisoner was even in the police van, Freddie Gray asked the police for medical assistance.

So you have to wonder why on earth a man who had just asked for help would then try to hurt himself—as the second prisoner supposedly concluded after he was picked up at the next stop a few minutes later.

The opinion of the second prisoner is reportedly contained in a search-warrant application prepared by a police investigator and now leaked to The Washington Post.

Somebody leaked the sealed document for a reason, just as the police were preparing to turn over the results of their investigation to the Baltimore state’s attorney. There is nothing to stop the Baltimore Police Department from also publicly disclosing its major findings, as it largely did after its initial investigation soon after Gray’s death. The only significant detail the BPD added on Thursday while announcing its probe was complete was that private security video indicated the van had made an additional, previously unreported stop.

But what the police have already disclosed is enough to suggest why the second prisoner might have believed Gray was trying to hurt himself—and why he was almost certainly mistaken

After the stop where he asked for medical assistance and medical assistance was denied to him, Gray seems to have resumed signaling his need for help by the only means available—by banging on the inside of the van.

Gray may even have imagined that the police were heeding him when the van stopped again a few minutes later.

Imagine his desperation when he realized that the van had stopped only to pick up another prisoner. Gray’s resumed banging must have been all the more insistent, all the more frantic.

As reported by The Washington Post, the second prisoner came to the conclusion that Gray was trying to hurt himself without ever actually seeing him, the two of them having been separated by a metal partition.

The second prisoner could only have based his opinion on the sounds of Gray banging against the inside of the van.

And the banging must have been pretty frantic indeed for it to seem that Gray was trying to hurt himself.

More likely, what sounded to the prisoner like an effort to self-inflict injury was a renewed plea for assistance.

Gray had learned at the time of his arrest that the police seemed deaf to his cries of pain.

All Gray could do once he was locked inside the van was bang on the interior. And that banging prompted the police to make three prior stops.

At the first, the police found Gray to be “irate” and “combative.” They then placed him in leg irons.

Gray also could have simply been frantic, and he had kept banging loud enough for the police to stop a second time five minutes later, and call for a cop to check on him in the back.

The purpose of that banging seems to have been made clear when Gray asked for medical assistance.

The police response was apparently limited to lifting him off the floor of the van where he had apparently fallen and returning him to the bench.

The van then rode on with Gray continuing to signal his distress, along that way making a third stop for reason the BPD has not disclosed or simply not yet determined. He most likely thought that his banging was prompting a fourth stop when the van again pulled over, and that medical assistance might be near.

But all that happened was another prisoner was loaded aboard, unseen and unseeing behind the metal partition. Gray was now apparently so desperate in his banging for help that he led the other prisoner to believe he was trying to injure himself.

Just six blocks later, the van arrived at the police station. The banging ceased, but not because Gray believed that he was getting help. It stopped because he was unconscious.

Medical assistance finally came in the person of paramedics who transported him to a shock trauma hospital, where he later died.

Now it is up to the authorities to tell us what they know before leakers manage to deflect us from the full truth.

At least we already know enough to reach a conclusion: If it sounded like Gray sought to injure himself in that van, it was after he had been making those very same sounds to signal he needed help.

The banging that second prisoner heard was the banging of a man who was just six blocks away from being beyond all help.

 

By: Michael Daly, The Daily Beast, April 30, 2015

May 1, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore, Baltimore Police Dept, Police Brutality | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Baltimore Burned”: There Are Crucial Underlying Inequities That Demand Attention

Conservatives have sometimes been too quick to excuse police violence. And liberals have sometimes been too quick to excuse rioter violence.

It’s outrageous when officers use excessive force against young, unarmed African-American men, who are 21 times as likely to be shot dead by the police as young white men. It’s also outrageous when rioters loot shops or attack officers.

So bravo to Toya Graham, the Baltimore mom captured on video grabbing her teenage son from the streets and frog-marching him home. The boy wilted: It must be humiliating to be a “badass” rioter one moment and then to be savagely scolded in front of your peers and sent to your room.

“That’s my only son, and at the end of the day I don’t want him to be a Freddie Gray,” Graham later told CBS News. It was of course Gray’s death, after an injury at the hands of the police, that set off the rioting.

On social media, there were plenty of people making excuses for rioters — a common refrain was “nothing else works to get attention.” But to their great credit, African-American leaders provided firm moral guidance and emphasized that street violence was unconscionable.

President Obama set just the right tone.

“When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot. They’re not protesting. They’re not making a statement. They’re stealing,” Obama said. “When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson. And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities.”

Or as Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks basketball star who grew up in Baltimore and has invested in a youth center there, put it: “We need to protect our city, not destroy it.”

Yet as Obama, Anthony and other leaders also noted, there are crucial underlying inequities that demand attention. The rioting distracts from those inequities, which are the far larger burden on America’s cities.

That also represents a failure on our part in the American news media. We focus television cameras on the drama of a burning CVS store but ignore the systemic catastrophe of broken schools, joblessness, fatherless kids, heroin, oppressive policing — and, maybe the worst kind of poverty of all, hopelessness.

The injustices suffered by Freddie Gray began early. As a little boy he suffered lead poisoning (as do 535,000 American children ages 1 to 5), which has been linked to lifelong mental impairments and higher crime rates.

In Gray’s neighborhood, one-third of adults lack a high school degree. A majority of those aged 16 to 64 are unemployed.

And Baltimore’s African-American residents have often encountered not only crime and insecurity but also law enforcement that is unjust and racist. Michael A. Fletcher, an African-American reporter who lived for many years in the city, wrote in The Washington Post that when his wife’s car was stolen, a Baltimore policeman bluntly explained the department’s strategy for recovering vehicles: “If we see a group of young black guys in a car, we pull them over.”

Likewise, the Baltimore jail was notorious for corruption and gang rule. A federal investigation found that one gang leader in the jail fathered five children by four female guards.

Wretched conditions are found to some degree in parts of many cities, and Shirley Franklin, the former mayor of Atlanta, told me that when we tolerate them, we tolerate a combustible mix.

“It’s not just about the police use of force,” she said. “It’s about a system that is not addressing young people’s needs. They’re frankly lashing out, and the police force issue is just a catalyst for their expression of frustration at being left out.”

Whites sometimes comment snidely on a “culture of grievance” among blacks. Really? When tycoons like Stephen Schwarzman squawked that the elimination of tax loopholes was like Hitler’s invasion of Poland, now that’s a culture of grievance.

If wealthy white parents found their children damaged by lead poisoning, consigned to dismal schools, denied any opportunity to get ahead, more likely to end up in prison than college, harassed and occasionally killed by the police — why, then we’d hear roars of grievance. And they’d be right to roar: Parents of any color should protest, peacefully but loudly, about such injustices.

We’ve had months of police incidents touching on a delicate subtext of race, but it’s not clear that we’re learning lessons. Once again, I suggest that it’s time for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to step back and explore racial inequity in America.

The real crisis isn’t one night of young men in the street rioting. It’s something perhaps even more inexcusable — our own complacency at the systematic long-term denial of equal opportunity to people based on their skin color and ZIP code.

 

By: Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, April 29, 2015

April 30, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore, Police Abuse, Racial Justice | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Police Morale Can Wait”: How The Baltimore Riots Should Reshape Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s Agenda

Out of the many invisible and all-powerful forces that govern our universe, the cruelest must be Time. Whether you’re asking it to slow down for selfish reasons or to speed up for someone else, it doesn’t make a difference. Time is relentless and uncaring; it does not listen and it will not stop.

But even though it is ultimately an egalitarian ruler, wreaking havoc on the old, young, good and bad alike, Time seems to hold a special grudge against Loretta Lynch, the woman who, after an unprecedented delay, was finally sworn in on Monday as the 83rd attorney general in the history of the United States.

The first indication that Time has it in for Lynch was also the most obvious: the Senate’s 167-day-long dawdle. But while it was obviously wrong to make the first African-American woman ever nominated for the post wait so absurdly long to be confirmed (only two of Lynch’s 82 predecessors waited longer), I’m hesitant to throw the fault entirely on Time’s shoulders. The attack was launched by Republicans, after all; Time was merely their weapon.

But the second piece of evidence that Time may be holding a particular grudge against the attorney general was more palpable: the riots that convulsed Baltimore this weekend and paralyzed the city on Monday. Because although Lynch obviously had nothing to do with the disorder, the riots’ fires show with blinding clarity that Lynch’s first goal — which is “improving police morale,” according to the Times — is entirely premature. The wanton destruction of property cannot be legitimated; but simply criticizing anarchy and praising law enforcement won’t bring the mayhem to an end. And it won’t provide justice.

In many ways, the chaos in Baltimore is just the latest iteration of one of America’s saddest and longest-running stories. It is another example of what Martin Luther King once called “the language of the unheard.” King was speaking then of the riots that traumatized much of the country during the summer of 1966. But the social ills he described as kindling for the riot’s fire — poverty, police brutality and malign neglect — are, despite the nearly 49 years that followed, still powerful forces in America today.

For this particular moment, though, it’s Baltimore Police Department’s documented history of lawless violence that’s been identified as the riots’ inspiration. Protestors and rioters — who, it’s worth noting, are usually not the same — cite as their catalyst the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man and Baltimorean. On April 12, Gray was arrested by officers from the BPD. When police detained Gray and put him in a van for transportation, he was walking; by the time the trip was over, he had a broken neck. He died on April 19th.

No one yet knows for sure exactly what happened to Gray during that trip and in that van. There are reports that he was taken out at one point and beaten, but an autopsy showed no injuries except for those to his spinal cord and neck. The BPD has already admitted that its officers did not provide Gray with the necessary medical care. But the main question — Why was he able to run from the police in the morning, but struggling to breathe by nightfall? — has gone unanswered, though an increasing number suspect the widespread, grotesque practice of giving “a rough ride” is to blame.

Yet the fact that such a thing could happen, and only become a major story after the activism of peaceful protesters (and the destructive hijacking of violent rioters), is exactly the problem. The fact that the BPD’s reputation is such that many Baltimoreans heard Gray’s story with weary outrage rather than shock or indignation is exactly the problem. The fact that the BPD rank-and-file evidently feels so comfortable with extralegal brutality, and are so accustomed to wielding it, that demands for accountability has left them panicking — that, too, is exactly the problem.

I’m quite certain that, at least to some extent, Attorney General Lynch would agree. But that’s why it’s so unfortunate that news of her interest in “finding common ground between law enforcement and minority communities” came when it did. Because once the last stone is thrown, the fires are put out, and the state of emergency in Maryland is lifted, what Baltimore and the countless places in the U.S. like it will need is not another conversation. And finding “common ground” won’t be what America needs from its attorney general or its Department of Justice.

What will be needed instead is for the authorities in Baltimore, Maryland and D.C. to stop pandering to the police unions who demand carte blanche in the field and an endless line of officials singing about their valor. What will be needed instead are signs that the authorities take fears of the rise of the “warrior cop” and police militarization seriously, and that they will no longer see the deaths of people like Gray as “tragic.” Because they’re not cosmic acts of injustice; they’re crimes. To suspend (with pay) the officers who may be responsible is not enough — and Lynch needs to make clear that she understands that, and that her predecessor’s groundbreaking report on Ferguson, Missouri, was no aberration.

What will be needed, in short, is for the people most apt to use “the language of the unheard” to feel that someone who matters is finally listening. And that those in public office prove with actions that they believe it when they say an African-American life is worth no less than a cop’s. Now is not the time for Lynch to focus on making law enforcement happy. Now is the time for her to promote equal justice. Improving police morale can wait.

 

By: Elias Isquith, Salon, April 28, 2015

April 29, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore, Baltimore Police Dept, Police Brutality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Slow Rolling Crisis”: ‘Don’t Just Pay Attention To These Communities When A CVS Burns’

As violence erupted in Baltimore last night, President Obama spoke directly with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and the White House issued a statement stressing “the administration’s commitment to provide assistance as needed.”

Today, however, the president had quite a bit more to say on the subject.

President Obama said there was “no excuse” for the violent rioting Monday on the streets of Baltimore, which saw looting and fires break out after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of a severe spinal injury while in police custody a little over a week ago. At the same time, the president put the crisis in Maryland’s largest city into a national context, focusing on unemployment, poverty and the education gap that plagues some communities of color.

“We can’t just leave this to the police,” Obama said Tuesday in a White House press conference with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “There are some police departments that have to do some searching. There are some communities that have to do some soul searching. But our country needs to do some soul searching. This is not new. It’s been going on for decades.”

Obama, speaking without prepared remarks on the subject, acknowledged that he feels “pretty strongly” about the subject. It showed.

For those who can’t watch clips online, the president’s remarks are worth reading in detail. Note, for example, the way in which the president focuses initially on specific developments in Baltimore before transitioning to a much broader context:

First, obviously, our thoughts continue to be with the family of Freddie Gray. Understandably, they want answers.

And DOJ has opened an investigation. It is working with local law enforcement to find out exactly what happened, and I think there should be full transparency and accountability.

Second, my thoughts are with the police officers who were injured in last night’s disturbances. It underscores that that’s a tough job, and we have to keep that in mind. And my hope is that they can heal and get back to work as soon as possible.

Point number three, there’s no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive. When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting, they’re not making a statement, they’re stealing.

When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson. And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities that rob jobs and opportunity from people in that area.

So it is entirely appropriate that the mayor of Baltimore, who I spoke to yesterday, and the governor, who I spoke to yesterday, work to stop that kind of senseless violence and destruction. That is not a protest, that is not a statement, it’s people – a handful of people taking advantage of the situation for their own purposes, and they need to be treated as criminals.

Point number four, the violence that happened yesterday distracted from the fact that you had seen multiple days of peaceful protests that were focused on entirely legitimate concerns of these communities in Baltimore led by clergy and community leaders, and they were constructive and they were thoughtful. And frankly, didn’t get that much attention. And one burning building will be looped on television over and over and over again, and the thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way, I think, have been lost in the discussion.

The overwhelming majority of the community in Baltimore, I think, have handled this appropriately, expressing real concern and outrage over the possibility that our laws were not applied evenly in the case of Mr. Gray and that accountability needs to exist.

I think we have to give them credit. My understanding is you’ve got some of the same organizers now going back into these communities to try to clean up in the aftermath of a handful of protesters – a handful of criminals and thugs who tore up the place.

What they were doing – what those community leaders and clergy and others were doing, that is a statement. That’s the kind of organizing that needs to take place if we’re going to tackle this problem. And they deserve credit for it and we should be lifting them up.

Point number five, and I’ve got six, because this is important. Since Ferguson and the task force that we put together, we have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals, primarily African American, often poor, in ways that raise troubling questions. And it comes up, it seems like, once a week now or once every couple of weeks.

And so I think it’s pretty understandable why the leaders of civil rights organizations, but more importantly moms and dads across the country might start saying this is a crisis. What I’d say is this has been a slow-rolling crisis. This has been going on for a long time. This is not new. And we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.

The good news is that perhaps there’s some newfound awareness because of social media and video cameras and so forth that there are – are problems and challenges when it comes to how policing and our laws are applied in certain communities, and we have to pay attention to it and respond.

What’s also good news is the task force that was made up of law enforcement and community activists that we brought together here in the White House had come up with very constructive, concrete proposals that if adopted by local communities and by states and by counties, by law enforcement generally, would make a difference. Wouldn’t solve every problem, but would make a concrete difference in rebuilding trust and making sure that the overwhelming majority of effective, honest and fair law enforcement officers, that they’re able to do their job better because it will weed out or retrain or put a stop to those handful who may be not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

Now, the challenge for us as the federal government is is that we don’t run these police forces. I can’t federalize every police force in the country and force them to retrain. But what I can do is to start working with them collaboratively so that they can begin this process of change themselves. And we – coming out of the task force that we put together, we’re now working with local communities. The Department of Justice has just announced a grant program for those jurisdiction that want to purchase body cameras. We are gonna be issuing grants for those jurisdictions that are prepared to start trying to implement some of the new training and data collection and other things that can make a difference. And we’re gonna keep on working with those local jurisdictions so that they can begin to make the changes that are necessary.

I think it’s gonna be important for organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police and other police unions and organizations to acknowledge that this is not good for police. We have to own up to the fact that occasionally there are gonna be problems here, just as there are in every other occupation.

There are – there are some bad politicians, who are corrupt. And there are folks in the business community or on Wall Street who don’t do the right thing. Well, there are some police who aren’t doing the right thing. And rather than close ranks, you know, what we’ve seen is a number of thoughtful police chiefs and commissioners and others recognize, they’ve got to get their arms around this thing and work together with the community to solve the problem.

And we’re committed to facilitating that process. So the heads of our COPS (ph) agency that helps with community policing, they’re already out in Baltimore. Our head – assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division is already out in Baltimore.

But we’re gonna be working systematically with every city and jurisdiction around the country to try to help them implement some solutions that we know work.

And I’ll make my final point – I’m sorry, Mr. Prime Minister, but this is a pretty important issue for us – we can’t just leave this to the police. I think there are police departments that have to do some soul searching. I think there are some communities that have to do some soul searching.

But I think we, as a country, have to do some soul searching. This is not new. It’s been going on for decades. And without making any excuses for criminal activities that take place in these communities, what we also know is that if you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty. They’ve got parents, often, because of substance abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education themselves, can’t do right by their kids.

If it’s more likely that those kids end up in jail or dead than that they go to college. In communities where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men. Communities where there’s no investment and manufacturing’s been stripped away. And drugs have flooded the community, and the drug industry ends up being the primary employer for a whole lot of folks.

In those environments, if we think that we’re just gonna send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there, without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we’re not gonna solve this problem. And we’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets. And everybody will feign concern until it goes away and then we go about our business as usual.

If we are serious about solving this problem, then we’re going to not only have to help the police, we’re going to have to think about what can we do, the rest of us, to make sure that we’re providing early education to these kids; to make sure that we’re reforming our criminal justice system so it’s not just a pipeline from schools to prisons, so that we’re not rendering men in these communities unemployable because of a felony record for a non-violent drug offense; that we’re making investments so that they can get the training they need to find jobs.

That’s hard, that requires more than just the occasional news report or task force, and there’s a bunch of my agenda that would make a difference right now in that. Now, I’m under no illusion that out of this Congress we’re going to get massive investments in urban communities, and so we’ll try to find areas where we can make a difference around school reform and around job training and around some investments in infrastructure in these communities and trying to attract new businesses in.

But if we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could. It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant, and that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns and we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. We’re paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids and we think they’re important and they shouldn’t be living in poverty and violence.

That’s how I feel. I think they’re a lot of good-meaning people around the country that feel that way.

But that kind of political mobilization, I think we haven’t seen in quite some time. And what I’ve tried to do is to promote those ideas that would make a difference, but I think we all understand that the politics of that are tough, because it’s too easy to ignore those problems or to treat them just as a law-and-order issue as opposed to a broader social issue.

That was a really long answer, but I felt pretty strongly about it.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 28, 2015

April 29, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore, Police Abuse, President Obama | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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