Mayor of Baltimore Asks Department of Justice for Civil Rights Investigation

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On May 6, 2015, the Mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, requested that the Department of Justice (DOJ) order an investigation of the Baltimore Police Department. She would like the DOJ to determine if there is a “pattern or practice” of widespread discrimination in the police department. The Mayor specifically stated that this type of investigation is required to make any necessary reforms to the Baltimore Police Department. A similar investigation took place after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last year.

The DOJ is already investigating the specific incident that has sparked debate in Baltimore—the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Freddie Gray died after a struggle with police on April 12, 2015. According to reports, Gray ran from police and, when restrained, police discovered a switchblade in Gray’s pocket. Gray passed from a severe spinal cord injury, but Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez told reporters that there was no indication of how the injury actually occurred. Mayor Rawlings-Blake stated that Gray asked for medical attention, and it was not provided right away. Six officers were suspended after his death.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake would like a much broader investigation than the DOJ is already conducting. The investigation would extend beyond this single incident and look for any patterns of discriminatory behavior or an unwritten practice that the police force has been instructed to engage in.

Department of Justice Investigation in Ferguson, Missouri
When the DOJ conducted a similar investigation in Ferguson, they found systematic discrimination against African Americans by both the police force and the municipal court system. They found that blacks are far more likely to be subjected to vehicle stops, citations, and arrests when compared to their proportion of the population (67% of the Ferguson population is black). African Americans were also more likely to be searched during a stop and cited for minor offenses. In addition, in 88% of the cases where the police used force, it was against a black person. Consider the following statistics from Ferguson between 2012 and 2014:

• 85% of people involved in vehicle stops were African American
• 90% of people who received citations were African Americans
• 93% of all people arrested were black
• 95% of those cited for jaywalking were African Americans (“manner of walking in roadway”)
• 94% of all “failure to comply” charges were against black people
• African Americans were 68% less likely to have their cases dismissed by a municipal judge

The investigation even found racists jokes in government e-mails from officials and members of the court.

Review in Baltimore
Baltimore Police Captain, Eric Kowalczky, stated that he is open to the investigation into Gray’s death, because he wants to know what happened as well. He has said that he wants the police department to be transparent, and they owe an explanation to Gray’s family and the people of Baltimore. However, he has not yet commented on the possibility of having the DOJ create a wide-ranging report in the same way that they did in Ferguson.

A DOJ representative confirmed that they had received Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s request for an investigation. The representative also stated that “the attorney general is actively considering that option in light of what she heard from law enforcement, city officials, and community, faith, and youth leaders in Baltimore.” Regardless of the DOJ response, Mayor Rawlings-Blake has stated that the Baltimore Police Department will have body cameras by the end.

photo credit: Operation Baltimore Rally (license)

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