When Freddie Gray died in Baltimore police custody last year the Justice Department launched an investigation into the police department’s practices, looking specifically for discriminatory practices.
Their report was released early Wednesday and it says what many of us could have already guessed, except their assertion of racism is backed up with numbers. Lots of numbers.
The Justice Department stated directly that Baltimore police exercised a pattern of racial discrimination for years.
In a city that is 63 percent black, 91 percent of people stopped for “failure to obey” or “trespassing” were black.
60 percent of the city’s drivers are black but 82 percent of traffic stops involved black drivers.
410 pedestrians were found to have been stopped at least 10 times in the five and a half years that the data covered, and 95 percent of those were black.
The report found that the police systematically and overwhelmingly target black, Latin@ and poor residents.
The consequence of this is a federally supervised department overhaul, revamping police training and practices at every level. The city’s mayor said the department would begin to implement changes quickly but that meaningful change will take time, commitment and trust.
Baltimore is not the only city under federal investigation and it is not the only one whose investigation was inspired by a high-profile death and ensuing protests. There are almost two dozen cities currently under investigation by the Justice Department.
Residents of Baltimore have mixed feelings about the findings; most of the city’s black residents have seen the pattern of racism their entire lives and have lived with the threat of jail-time or a citation for even the smallest things. “You’re just hoping you don’t get arrested for loitering…and you get 23 hours in Central Booking” Ray Kelly told the New York Times. Kelly has lived in Baltimore his entire life and has been stopped by police so many times he’s lost count.
Baltimore’s Police Commissioner stated that six officers have been fired from his department this year for committing “egregious violations.”
All six of the officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death were cleared of charges and all six reportedly remain employed with the Baltimore Police Department. There was even one report that the highest-ranking Baltimore officer in Gray’s case will likely receive $127k in back pay for the time he was on leave for his trial.
Gray was arrested on suspicion of possessing a switchblade, was handcuffed but not restrained in the back of the police van transporting him, and was given what officers call a “rough ride” meant to intimidate a suspect. Gray fell into a coma and died from injuries to his spinal cord. The Baltimore coroners’ office declared his death a homicide.