BALTIMORE POLICE: SELF-PRESERVATION?

Critics of the increased number of homicides in the depressed areas of Baltimore since the arrest of the police officers involved in the April 19th Freddie Gray injury/death, are laying blame on a decreased presence of police there. Some think the police are engaged in a “self-preservation” mode, triggered by the ever vigilant presence of locals armed with phone cameras posed to memorialize the slightest indication of police misconduct, and by avoiding certain areas of the city. The lack of police presence is being directly linked to the increase in violence and murders in these high-crime localities. In a recent NY Times Article, one city leader has suggested that when the police do show up in these areas, they come in greater numbers:

“Officials from the western Baltimore neighborhoods hardest hit by the spate of murders — including City Councilman Nick J. Mosby, who is married to Ms. Mosby, the state’s attorney — say commanders have also doubled the number of officers per cruiser for safety reasons”.

“The visibility has significantly decreased,” Mr. Mosby said. While many people in his district want a larger police presence, he added, “you talk to others and they don’t even want to see a police officer.”

We do not see the use of cameras by bystanders as a problem in such matters; the recording of events that involve citizen/police contact benefits all parties involved. Recently, the public has been able to be witness to shootings, assault and other serious encounters between the police and citizens because of phone cameras, and these depictions have served to shed much light on what actually occurred. In other words, the police should not fear being videoed, such depictions help the police, and the public, from becoming victims of false accusations.

The real issue gets back to trust. Many people across the nation, and in particular, minorities living in depressed neighborhoods of our larger cities, have developed an intense and pervasive mistrust for the police. This is not something new, but the collateral damage issuing from such state of minds intensifies periodically throughout the brief history of the United States. In the 1960’s, many young people, of all races and genders, seriously mistrusted the police (“establishment”). Although there were riots, looting, killings and other forms of damage in the inner-cities of the nation, the low regard for police fell evenly through white and prominent communities as well. Moreover, the focus of the mistrust started from the top of government and filtered quickly to the police who were charged with the street enforcement of an orderly process. The police abused their position on many occasions; Kent State, Watts, Chicago (1968), come to mind. As time went by, the new focus on “self”, power and money slowly overcome righteous beliefs, and concerns about equality for all; of great significance, is the fact that the courts of the land started to provide greater protections for the accused, down-trodden, minorities and women. Many of the same participants in the protests of the 60’s and 70’s, soon became the beneficiaries of laws and government programs that somewhat allowed them to compete and live evenly with their fellow citizens. These years were followed by prosperity in many areas; the use of recreational drugs, and other forms of excitement and pleasure, brought on by increased opportunities and added wealth, quickly developed. Two serious problems emerged from the shift in life styles brought on by the changes in the law and public opinion: 1.The bulk of the inhabitants of the depressed areas of the major cities never truly became free from discrimination and were left out of the financial boom enjoyed by others; and 2. The makeup of the courts, selected by law-and-order politicians, started interpreting the laws differently from their predecessors, and begin issuing court opinions that were favorable towards the police, particularly in areas of arrests, civil rights scenarios and other matters most often associated with “street crime”. The mistrust of police by the inhabitants of depressed parts of our cities soared. Moreover, with lesser opportunities to participate in the financial upward tick, many in these areas resorted to illegally providing the residents of the wealthier suburbs with drugs and other products. This resulted in turn with more arrests in the inner-city along with the attachment of felony convictions that added more stigma to many young people.

With the wide-spread reportage of the usage of drugs in the U.S., and the collateral damage caused by it, the laws became rigid with harsher penalties.  Although the focus of the federal government somewhat shifted to the drug “kingpins”, and the importing of the product from other countries, the focus of local law enforcement in the large cities remained on the suppressed areas (ghettos). The presence of law enforcement in these communities intensified and they had the seemingly unfettered support of the general public and the courts. The mistrust between the police and the residents grew stronger even while the bulk of the residents abhorred the growing presence of gang members and their affiliates. It was clear during these early stages that most of the people living in these heavy crime areas were law abiding and did not like violence. The same is no doubt, true today. The people want a strong police presence in their communities because, more than most people, they are aware of the violence and harm that comes from drug sales, gangs and other forms of violence. They are just insisting on equal and fair protection from the law. The fate of the arrested police officers is yet to be determined- they may not be guilty of anything. The fate of the law-abiding residents in depressed areas should not rest on a police officer’s concern over being videoed, and the police should have no fears- unless they have something to hide.

Leave a Reply