Thursday, August 11, 2016

DOJ Report: The Baltimore Police Rules Without Law

Rule of law is more than just a slogan. It represents the core of the government's contract with the people -- government does rule over us, but it does so bounded and restricted by law. Constitutional guarantees of things like probable cause and due process are not bonus objectives, to be pursued once we've got the fundamentals down. They are guarantees for a reason.

Radley Balko's summary of the DOJ's report on the Baltimore Police is simply stunning. It depicts a department that is, simply put, out of control -- or, even more worrisome, has built lawlessness into its practices and procedures in a very controlled and determined manner. I, too, had my jaw hit the floor when I saw this passage:
During a ride-along with Justice Department officials, a BPD sergeant instructed a patrol officer to stop a group of young African-American males on a street corner, question them, and order them to disperse. When the patrol officer protested that he had no valid reason to stop the group, the sergeant replied “Then make something up.”
During a ride-along! That is simply breath-taking. But it appears to reflect a system of policies which don't even pretend to play in the ambiguities of the law. Searches conducted without any probable cause. Arrests made without any legal violation. Complaints dismissed without any substantive inquiry. And it happens over and over again.

These wrongs are not evenly distributed, even in Baltimore. They are targeted like a laser at a Black community which is not served so much as it is overseen by those entrusted with the public trust. Balko writes words that are worth reflecting on for those of us for whom what is documented in this report is not in our experience:
I can’t imagine what it must be like to get stopped by the police 20 or more times every year — to be arrested and jailed for nothing at all, to be stripped nude and searched in public for a traffic offense, or to be told it’s basically illegal for me to merely exist in public. I can’t imagine trying to have a life under those conditions, to raise kids, to just function as a human being — much less rise above my surroundings.
These issues matter. They reflect a rot that runs deep. It won't be fixed overnight, but neither will it be fixed by ignoring the problem. You are not obligated to complete the work, the sages tell us, but neither are you free to desist from it.

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