Thursday, September 01, 2016

Freddie Gray: Killing Unpunished

Written by  Jim Becker
Andre Powell Andre Powell

What does the failure to achieve justice or accountability mean for Baltimore’s minority communities?

Last week, the U.S. Justice Department released a scathing report on the widespread unlawful enforcement activities of the Baltimore Police Department. The investigation found a police culture that was caught in the zero-tolerance mentality of the later 1990s, despite the official abandonment of this approach to policing by the leadership under the past three commissioners. Officers on the street were constantly encouraged to rack up numbers– the more stops, street searches, and arrests the better. Police disproportionately targeted people of color, which has had a poisonous effect on the relationship between law enforcement and poor communities, particularly poor black communities.

The arrest of Freddie Gray might well be Exhibit One for this approach to policing. The Justice Department investigation also peeled away the thin veneer of a post-racial America to reveal deep-seated, perhaps subconscious, racism in the police force that makes every encounter between a police officer and an African American, especially an African-American man, unpredictable, often humiliating, and potentially dangerous. The investigation was so disturbing that it is hard to imagine what it will take to reform the force. And, all of this is playing out against the backdrop of Baltimore’s killing fields where murders happen almost daily! We have asked some leaders and members of the LGBTQ communities to let us know their thoughts on the death of Freddie Gray and the prosecution of the six police officers involved with his arrest. Here are their responses.

ANDRE POWELL was an early member of the Baltimore Gay Alliance as a youth and a founding member of the GLCCB. He is a black LGBT liberationist socialist and trade union activist in Baltimore for the past 41 years. He is running a write-in campaign for mayor of Baltimore in this year’s election.

The failure of the criminal convictions of these officers is not unique to Baltimore. It reinforces the difficulty seen around the country in simply getting officers to trial in the first place. The police have become an occupying force in urban poor black communities and they represent the status quo, not the everyday working people.

The LGBTQ communities nationwide can be a teacher to the Black Lives Matter Movement. We have been there. After all both movements started as a response to continued police oppression. Let us not forget Stonewall was a rebellion that sparked a political movement in 1969. With continued organizing over several decades look what we’ve achieved – a much greater path to liberation than we’d ever imagined in those early years. In fact the BLM movement was started by black lesbians. I look forward to its growing success just like our LGBTQ movement. We are natural allies.

Regarding the federal findings Andre said, “The U.S. Justice Department report confirms what anti-police brutality activists in Baltimore have been saying for years. My group – the Peoples Power Assembly – has held four or five different Peoples’ Tribunal Speakouts throughout Baltimore City for the past three years. The attendance reaches up to 120 people who gave testimony of the continued harassment and frequently being stopped by police as they were simply walking down the street. The amount of disrespect they received at the hands of the police was astounding. We also have heard many complaints from the transgender community who still face harassment from police for simply being on the block in which they live.

It is much more than a handful of rogue cops. When citizens complain politicians and higher ups turn a deaf ear. Hence when it hits the fan we get rebellions.

LOUIS HUGHES is a founding member of the Baltimore Gay Alliance and the GLCCB and served on the boards of both organizations. He has been an LGBT and community activist for over 40 years and was honored as an LGBT elder on “National Honor Your LGBT Elders” Day, May 17th, by SAGEGAP of Chase Brexton Health.

[Marilyn Mosby] made history in charging the officers. I am very proud of this young Afro-American woman. The system is weak on police convictions. The police blue wall of silence obstructed the warrants of cell phone evidence and intentionally blocked training records release in time and other acts of cover up. I am proud of the BCPD’s LGBT liaison, Sgt. Bailey, and the progress of the new part of the force. We have had a good relationship with the BCPD across the decades. I am glad to be a part of two trainings of the force 1988 and 2016. The whole community not just a few Anglo-Saxon male LGBT community members working with the BCPD across this decade.

Expanding on his comments about the “blue wall of silence” Louis said, “These request for information for the trial were intentionally delayed so the defense would say that the evidence was turned over to the defense late. The truth is the evidence for training and the warrants for cellphones were all allowed to expire or given to the state prosecutor’s office late.”

WAYNE CURTIS is a well-known Baltimore real estate agent and Baltimore OUTloud columnist.

While the initial arrest does raise questions of racial and class bias in how the city is patrolled and how the police treat people in custody, the fact that the defendants were of multiple races, the first jury was made up of multiple races, and the judge was African-American says to me that the judicial system did as well as it could to give a fair hearing to both sides. In my opinion, the unsuccessful prosecutions – from the way they were first announced to the way the investigations were conducted and concluded – were meant to further a political career rather than to find justice.

Shouting from the courthouse steps, a naive and inexperienced prosecutor over-promised and under-delivered. Nothing good can come from that combination.

RABBI JOHN FRANKEN serves at the Bolton Street Synagogue

The Entire Freddie Gray episode illustrates the deep chasm that was etched into our landscape over the course of many decades. One part of our populace justifiably complains of ill-treatment, abuse, and prejudice while another part is frightened by the violence, destruction, and lawlessness that took place in the name of of those grievances.

There are no easy fixes. Each of us must contribute to the unity, well-being, and peace of our city by creating conditions for all of its citizens to thrive.

At the same time, for crime to decline to New York levels (a tall order nowadays), our police must feel supported even as they are held accountable for their behavior. In this respect, the rush of some elected officials to prosecute and pay a seven-figure settlement before ascertaining the facts and properly applying the law was counterproductive and a breach of the public trust.


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