Blue Crack Addict
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Washington, DC
Local Time: 06:10 PM
so, instead of deciding if it's worse to riot after a 25-year old is killed while in police custody when all he did was run than it is to riot after a team does or does not win a hockey game, take a look at this in-depth interview with David Simon, creator of "The Wire."
it's mind blowing. he lays equal blame on the so-called War on Drugs *and* potential democrat presidential candidate Martin O'Malley.
it's long, but worth it.
The situation you described has been around for a while. Do you have a sense of why the Freddie Gray death has been such a catalyst for the response we’ve seen in the last 48 hours?
Because the documented litany of police violence is now out in the open. There’s an actual theme here that’s being made evident by the digital revolution. It used to be our word against yours. It used to be said — correctly — that the patrolman on the beat on any American police force was the last perfect tyranny. Absent a herd of reliable witnesses, there were things he could do to deny you your freedom or kick your ass that were between him, you, and the street. The smartphone with its small, digital camera, is a revolution in civil liberties.
And if there’s still some residual code, if there’s still some attempt at precision in the street-level enforcement, then maybe you duck most of the outrage. Maybe you’re just cutting the procedural corners with the known players on your post – assuming you actually know the corner players, that you know your business as a street cop. But at some point, when there was no code, no precision, then they didn’t know. Why would they? In these drug-saturated neighborhoods, they weren’t policing their post anymore, they weren’t policing real estate that they were protecting from crime. They weren’t nurturing informants, or learning how to properly investigate anything. There’s a real skill set to good police work. But no, they were just dragging the sidewalks, hunting stats, and these inner-city neighborhoods — which were indeed drug-saturated because that's the only industry left — become just hunting grounds. They weren’t protecting anything. They weren’t serving anyone. They were collecting bodies, treating corner folk and citizens alike as an Israeli patrol would treat the West Bank, or as the Afrikaners would have treated Soweto back in the day. They’re an army of occupation. And once it’s that, then everybody’s the enemy. The police aren’t looking to make friends, or informants, or learning how to write clean warrants or how to testify in court without perjuring themselves unnecessarily. There's no incentive to get better as investigators, as cops. There’s no reason to solve crime. In the years they were behaving this way, locking up the entire world, the clearance rate for murder dove by 30 percent. The clearance rate for aggravated assault — every felony arrest rate – took a significant hit. Think about that. If crime is going down, and crime is going down, and if we have less murders than ever before and we have more homicide detectives assigned, and better evidentiary technologies to employ how is the clearance rate for homicide now 48 percent when it used to be 70 percent, or 75 percent?
Because the drug war made cops lazy and less competent?
How do you reward cops? Two ways: promotion and cash. That's what rewards a cop. If you want to pay overtime pay for having police fill the jails with loitering arrests or simple drug possession or failure to yield, if you want to spend your municipal treasure rewarding that, well the cop who’s going to court 7 or 8 days a month — and court is always overtime pay — you're going to damn near double your salary every month. On the other hand, the guy who actually goes to his post and investigates who's burglarizing the homes, at the end of the month maybe he’s made one arrest. It may be the right arrest and one that makes his post safer, but he's going to court one day and he's out in two hours. So you fail to reward the cop who actually does police work. But worse, it’s time to make new sergeants or lieutenants, and so you look at the computer and say: Who's doing the most work? And they say, man, this guy had 80 arrests last month, and this other guy’s only got one. Who do you think gets made sergeant? And then who trains the next generation of cops in how not to do police work? I’ve just described for you the culture of the Baltimore police department amid the deluge of the drug war, where actual investigation goes unrewarded and where rounding up bodies for street dealing, drug possession, loitering such – the easiest and most self-evident arrests a cop can make – is nonetheless the path to enlightenment and promotion and some additional pay. That’s what the drug war built, and that’s what Martin O’Malley affirmed when he sent so much of inner city Baltimore into the police wagons on a regular basis.
The second thing Marty did, in order to be governor, involves the stats themselves. In the beginning, under Norris, he did get a better brand of police work and we can credit a legitimate 12 to 15 percent decline in homicides. Again, that was a restoration of an investigative deterrent in the early years of that administration. But it wasn’t enough to declare a Baltimore Miracle, by any means. What can you do? You can’t artificially lower the murder rate – how do you hide the bodies when it’s the state health department that controls the medical examiner’s office? But the other felony categories? Robbery, aggravated assault, rape? Christ, what they did with that stuff was jaw-dropping.
So they cooked the books.
Oh yeah. If you hit somebody with a bullet, that had to count. If they went to the hospital with a bullet in them, it probably had to count as an aggravated assault. But if someone just took a gun out and emptied the clip and didn't hit anything or they didn't know if you hit anything, suddenly that was a common assault or even an unfounded report. Armed robberies became larcenies if you only had a victim’s description of a gun, but not a recovered weapon. And it only gets worse as some district commanders began to curry favor with the mayoral aides who were sitting on the Comstat data. In the Southwest District, a victim would try to make an armed robbery complaint, saying , ‘I just got robbed, somebody pointed a gun at me,’ and what they would do is tell him, well, okay, we can take the report but the first thing we have to do is run you through the computer to see if there's any paper on you. Wait, you're doing a warrant check on me before I can report a robbery? Oh yeah, we gotta know who you are before we take a complaint. You and everyone you’re living with? What’s your address again? You still want to report that robbery?
They cooked their own books in remarkable ways. Guns disappeared from reports and armed robberies became larcenies. Deadly weapons were omitted from reports and aggravated assaults became common assaults. The Baltimore Sun did a fine job looking into the dramatic drop in rapes in the city. Turned out that regardless of how insistent the victims were that they had been raped, the incidents were being quietly unfounded. That tip of the iceberg was reported, but the rest of it, no. And yet there were many veteran commanders and supervisors who were disgusted, who would privately complain about what was happening. If you weren’t a journalist obliged to quote sources and instead, say, someone writing a fictional television drama, they’d share a beer and let you fill cocktail napkins with all the ways in which felonies disappeared in those years.
I mean, think about it. How does the homicide rate decline by 15 percent, while the agg assault rate falls by more than double that rate. Are all of Baltimore’s felons going to gun ranges in the county? Are they becoming better shots? Have the mortality rates for serious assault victims in Baltimore, Maryland suddenly doubled? Did they suddenly close the Hopkins and University emergency rooms and return trauma care to the dark ages? It makes no sense statistically until you realize that you can’t hide a murder, but you can make an attempted murder disappear in a heartbeat, no problem.
But these guys weren't satisfied with just juking their own stats. No, the O'Malley administration also went back to the last year of the previous mayoralty and performed its own retroactive assessment of those felony totals, and guess what? It was determined from this special review that the preceding administration had underreported its own crime rate, which O'Malley rectified by upgrading a good chunk of misdemeanors into felonies to fatten up the Baltimore crime rate that he was inheriting. Get it? How better than to later claim a 30 or 40 percent reduction in crime than by first juking up your inherited rate as high as she'll go. It really was that cynical an exercise.
So Martin O’Malley proclaims a Baltimore Miracle and moves to Annapolis. And tellingly, when his successor as mayor allows a new police commissioner to finally de-emphasize street sweeps and mass arrests and instead focus on gun crime, that’s when the murder rate really dives. That’s when violence really goes down. When a drug arrest or a street sweep is suddenly not the standard for police work, when violence itself is directly addressed, that’s when Baltimore makes some progress.
But nothing corrects the legacy of a police department in which the entire rank-and-file has been rewarded and affirmed for collecting bodies, for ignoring probable cause, for grabbing anyone they see for whatever reason. And so, fast forward to Sandtown and the Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray gives some Baltimore police the legal equivalent of looking at them a second or two too long. He runs, and so when he’s caught he takes an ass-kicking and then goes into the back of a wagon without so much as a nod to the Fourth Amendment.
So do you see how this ends or how it begins to turn around?
We end the drug war. I know I sound like a broken record, but we end the fucking drug war. The drug war gives everybody permission to do anything. It gives cops permission to stop anybody, to go in anyone’s pockets, to manufacture any lie when they get to district court. You sit in the district court in Baltimore and you hear, ‘Your Honor, he was walking out of the alley and I saw him lift up the glassine bag and tap it lightly.’ No fucking dope fiend in Baltimore has ever walked out of an alley displaying a glassine bag for all the world to see. But it keeps happening over and over in the Western District court. The drug war gives everybody permission. And if it were draconian and we were fixing anything that would be one thing, but it’s draconian and it's a disaster.
When you say, end the drug war, you mean basically decriminalize or stop enforcing?
Medicalize the problem, decriminalize — I don't need drugs to be declared legal, but if a Baltimore State’s Attorney told all his assistant state’s attorneys today, from this moment on, we are not signing overtime slips for court pay for possession, for simple loitering in a drug-free zone, for loitering, for failure to obey, we’re not signing slips for that: Nobody gets paid for that bullshit, go out and do real police work. If that were to happen, then all at once, the standards for what constitutes a worthy arrest in Baltimore would significantly improve. Take away the actual incentive to do bad or useless police work, which is what the drug war has become.
You didn't ask me about the rough rides, or as I used to hear in the western district, “the bounce.” It used to be reserved — as I say, when there was a code to this thing, as flawed as it might have been by standards of the normative world — by standards of Baltimore, there was a code to when you gave the guy the bounce or the rough ride. And it was this: He fought the police. Two things get your ass kicked faster than anything: one is making a cop run. If he catches you, you're 18 years old, you've got fucking Nikes, he’s got cop shoes, he's wearing a utility belt, if you fucking run and he catches you, you're gonna take some lumps. That’s always been part of the code. Rodney King could’ve quoted that much of it to you.
But the other thing that gets you beat is if you fight. So the rough ride was reserved for the guys who fought the police, who basically made — in the cop parlance — assholes of themselves. And yet, you look at the sheet for poor Mr. Gray, and you look at the nature of the arrest and you look at the number of police who made the arrest, you look at the nature of what they were charging him with — if anything, because again there’s a complete absence of probable cause — and you look at the fact that the guy hasn’t got much propensity for serious violence according to his sheet, and you say, How did this guy get a rough ride? How did that happen? Is this really the arrest that you were supposed to make today? And then, if you were supposed to make it, was this the guy that needed an ass-kicking on the street, or beyond that, a hard ride to the lockup?
I’m talking in the vernacular of cops, not my own — but even in the vernacular of what cops secretly think is fair, this is bullshit, this is a horror show. There doesn’t seem to be much code anymore – not that the code was always entirely clean or valid to anyone other than street cops, and maybe the hardcore corner players, but still it was something at least. “Too many officers who came up in a culture that taught them not the hard job of policing, but simply how to roam the city, jack everyone up, and call for the wagon.” I mean, I know there are still a good many Baltimore cops who know their jobs and do their jobs some real integrity and even precision. But if you look at why the city of Baltimore paid that $5.7 million for beating down people over the last few years, it’s clear that there are way too many others for whom no code exists. Anyone and everyone was a potential ass-whipping – even people that were never otherwise charged with any real crimes. It’s astonishing.