The vi­o­lent legacy of Fred­die Gray

Two years on, and Bal­ti­more is still at the mercy of crim­i­nals

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

Heal­ing is prefer­able to hurt­ing but much harder to achieve. That’s the les­son in Bal­ti­more two years after the death of Fred­die Gray, whose death in po­lice cus­tody set off ri­ots and may­hem. Faced with a choice be­tween es­ca­lat­ing crime and ag­gres­sive polic­ing, the city has spurned the ad­vice of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and stuck with a strat­egy that prom­ises more pain and heart­break.

Last week U.S. District Judge James Bredar ap­proved a con­sent agree­ment be­tween the city and the Obama Jus­tice Depart­ment, giv­ing a fed­eral mon­i­tor wide-rang­ing su­per­vi­sion of the Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment. The agree­ment puts con­di­tions on how po­lice deal with crim­i­nal sus­pects and de­mands ad­di­tional train­ing for the han­dling of ju­ve­niles, po­lit­i­cal pro­test­ers and the men­tally ill. None of this sounds par­tic­u­larly oner­ous, but it re­quires cops to tip­toe on eggshells in deal­ing with those ea­ger to make trou­ble.

Jeff Ses­sions, the new U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral, says he has “grave con­cerns that some pro­vi­sions of this de­cree will re­duce the law­ful pow­ers of the po­lice depart­ment and re­sult in a less safe city.” Mr. Ses­sions opened a re­view of the con­sent de­crees gov­ern­ing polic­ing in the na­tion’s cities and asked Judge Bredar to de­lay im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Bal­ti­more agree­ment. The judge re­fused. “The case is no longer in a phase where any party is uni­lat­er­ally en­ti­tled to re­con­sider the terms of the set­tle­ment,” he said. “The par­ties are bound to each other by their prior agree­ment.”

Mr. Ses­sions is right to be con­cerned. Since the Gray ri­ots of April 2015, the sit­u­a­tion in Bal­ti­more has grown worse. Vi­o­lent crime was up 22 per­cent in 2016 and ar­rests down 45 per­cent. Homi­cides climbed 63 per­cent in 2015 and have re­mained con­sis­tently far above the old nor­mal. In con­trast, the FBI’s pre­lim­i­nary re­port for 2016 shows vi­o­lent crime up 5.3 per­cent na­tion­wide.

A case of po­lice bru­tal­ity was the ready as­sump­tion when the 25-year-old Fred­die Gray suf­fered a fa­tal neck in­jury while be­ing taken to a po­lice sta­tion after he was ar­rested for pos­ses­sion of an il­le­gal switch­blade. Ri­ot­ing, loot­ing and burn­ing in poverty-stricken precincts fol­lowed. It was one of sev­eral out­bursts of ur­ban vi­o­lence that gave mo­men­tum to the “Black Lives Mat­ter” move­ment that emerged after Barack Obama was elected the na­tion’s first black pres­i­dent.

Bal­ti­more’s elected lead­ers joined com­mu­nity ac­tivists in con­demn­ing the po­lice “for ter­ror­iz­ing cit­i­zens.” Six Bal­ti­more cops in­volved in the Gray ar­rest were them­selves ar­rested and charged with var­i­ous crimes. All were tried and ex­on­er­ated. The Obama Jus­tice Depart­ment opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the depart­ment, look­ing for a pat­tern of ex­ces­sive force against black res­i­dents. Men and women in blue be­came wary of a back­lash if they ap­peared too ea­ger to en­force the law.

In re­sponse to charges of over-ag­gres­sive polic­ing in cities such as Bal­ti­more and Ferguson, Mo., Pres­i­dent Obama’s at­tor­neys gen­eral opened in­ves­ti­ga­tions of po­lice prac­tices. Fif­teen ju­ris­dic­tions na­tion­wide are now su­per­vised by fed­eral mon­i­tors, mak­ing the po­lice more ac­count­able to Wash­ing­ton than to their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

Thugs lurk in the hid­ing places of Amer­ica’s in­ner cities, and the in­no­cent need fair and ag­gres­sive law en­force­ment. The death of Fred­die Gray was a tragedy, but more the re­sult of hap­pen­stance than mal­ice. Mount­ing crime in Bal­ti­more demon­strates the con­se­quences of pas­sive polic­ing. The peo­ple who live in “Charm City” de­serve bet­ter.

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