IMAGE: CNS photo/Bryan Woolston, Reuters
(CNS) — The same day a federal Department of Justice report
cataloging systemic abuses by Baltimore’s police was issued, Archbishop William E. Lori
of Baltimore called that report “sobering and distressing.”
report is an affirmation of those in our community who have long criticized the
policing strategies and practices of the (police) department,” the archbishop
said Aug. 10 in a statement, “and a repudiation of those whose actions have undermined
both public trust as well as the inherent dignity of those they have sworn to
serve and protect.”
Baltimore, the police’s “pattern of
making unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests arises from its
longstanding reliance on ‘zero tolerance’ street enforcement, which encourages
officers to make large numbers of stops, searches and arrests for minor, highly
discretionary offenses,” the report said.
“These practices led to repeated
violations of the constitutional and statutory rights, further eroding the community’s
trust in the police,” it added.
The Justice Department reviewed five-and-a-half years of
police records before making its determinations.
The report also revealed racial
bias on the part of Baltimore police.
In a city that is 63 percent
black, African-Americans made up 95 percent of those stopped at least 10 times without arrests or citations — one man in his 50s was stopped 30 times — and 91
percent of those arrested whose only charge was “failure to obey” or
“I encourage people to
read the report, reflect on the findings and consider the role that each of us
should play in bringing about much needed change,” Archbishop Lori said.
The investigation was prompted
by the April 2015 death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray from spinal injuries he
sustained riding in the back of a police van after being arrested for possession
of what officers said was an illegal switchblade. They suspected Gray was watching out for a drug transaction.
Although Gray’s death was ruled
a homicide by the city’s medical examiner’s office and six Baltimore police
were charged in connection with Gray’s death, one mistrial and a series of
acquittals led prosecutors to forgo the trials of the remaining officers.
Protest marches in Baltimore
turned violent before and after Gray’s funeral, with dozens of police injured
and even more protestors arrested. The city of Baltimore paid $6.4 million to
Gray’s family to avoid a lawsuit.
Fourteen U.S. cities are
currently operating under consent decrees with the Justice Department to reform
their police practices. Baltimore has not entered into a consent decree, but is
expected to do so, although a few elected officials have wondered how to pay
for the reforms.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
had asked the Justice Department to conduct its investigation after the
rioting that followed Gray’s death. In response to the report she said the findings
“are challenging to hear,” but are a crucial step in reforming the department.
Archbishop Lori said, “it is clear from the
report that nothing short of a change in the culture within the (police) department
will result in the kind of reform that is necessary to ensure the fair and
equitable treatment of every citizen of Baltimore.”
added, “While this report rightly warrants a collective call for change, we
cannot ignore the good and just service of the vast majority of policemen and
women who put their lives on the line every day as they carry out their duties
with respect for their office and those they serve.”
Lori said, “I pray the reaction to this report will not obscure their selfless
service and will inspire others to follow them and to join efforts to address
this resounding call for urgent change.”
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