Baltimore Unrest Shows America’s Police State Has Failed To Learn From History

Shop fire in the Party Superstore, Lavender Hill, Clapham Junction, England, 8 August, 2011

Shop fire in the Party Superstore, Lavender Hill, Clapham Junction, England, 8 August, 2011

Baltimore, MD (TFC) – It is a story that has been played out too many times. The setting is different, but the plot is the same. An unarmed man dies in police custody, and a fed up public has responded with protests and vandalism. As the marches and protests continue under the watchful eyes of people who believe the story is about malcontents destroying their city; the psychological explanation of protests and the history of past acts of anger has been completely ignored.

On August 4, 2011, Mark Duggan was killed by police in Tottenham, North London, England. Police claimed Duggan was under suspicion of holding a weapon, and when they approached the minicab Duggan was in, they fired on him fatally hitting him in the chest and the shoulder. Duggan was unarmed; and although a gun was found in a sock 14 feet away, people hit the streets in protest. Various reports claimed Duggan was a gang member, a claim family and friends denied.

More than three years after Duggan’s death a report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission supported the police’s belief the gun found meters away from Duggan was tossed by the victim before the altercation; however, one anonymous officer’s recalling of the events changed, leaving even more questions unanswered.

In a study of the riots, The British Psychological Society released a paper where Dr. Clinton Stott claimed poor policing failed to be open to family and friends about Duggan’s death. In response to the riots, Dr. Stott wrote, “had the Metropolitan Police created dialogue immediately following the shooting incident it is very unlikely the protest crowd would have emerged on Saturday afternoon.”

In support of Stott’s belief that prior police actions contributed to the riots, Psychology Today wrote, “It usually takes an incident to get a riot started, such as an accident or the police attacking or killing an innocent bystander.”  Deep-seated resentments, repetitive frustrations and long standing disappointments galvanize people into action.

That was the case during the riots in 1967 Detroit. In response to the events, President Lyndon B. Johnson commissioned a report lead by Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner Jr. In the Kerner Commission Report, it was found, “violence did not erupt as a result of a single precipitating event, but was usually generated out of a series of tension-building incidents which occurred over a period of time.” The report also found the riots derived from the existence of two societies, one with liberty and justice, and one without. If all of this sounds familiar, these situations and causes played out in Ferguson, and are currently playing out in Baltimore.

After Michael Brown was gunned down, the DOJ found deeply rooted racism within the FPD; whether it was racist emails, or the disproportionate amount of African Americans being pulled over and fined for traffic violations, the people of Ferguson got fed up. In a city of 21,000, more than three-fourths of Ferguson residents currently have warrants for their arrest. The police department who searches desperately for revenue off the backs of the mostly African American citizenry, simply don’t care about having a good relationship with their community, and that is also the case in Baltimore.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rowlings-Blake

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rowlings-Blake

Between 2011 and 2014, the City of Baltimore had to dole out $5.7 million to individuals who filed complaints to the police department. Instead of using that cash to improve the community or pay off debt, it was wasted because of Mayor Stephanie Rowlings-Blake’s inability to curtail police violence.

The incidents are many, and the cases are sickening. At the age of 87, Venus Green called an ambulance  for her grandson who was shot. When police arrived, Green’s grandson was refused treatment.  As police questioned him, and according to Green, they accused her of shooting him. As she refused to let police into her home without a warrant, an officer began to beat her. Avoiding a jury trial, the City agreed to pay Green $95,000.

In September, the Baltimore Sun published a report that showcased the insane steps taken by the BPD in their interactions with the public. One man, Jerriel Lyles, was beaten by a plain clothes police officer after picking up fried chicken. As the Sun noted, “Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette.”

Those cases show why people are protesting.  It is no surprise to see buildings burn. As previous cases show, failure to cure injustice fans the flames of anger, which eventually will cause people to snap. Residents of Baltimore have suffered numerous injuries, such as broken bones, head injuries and have even died at the hands of police. The police force has been given impunity to commit lawlessness one victim at a time. Charges are rare, and if an officer actually does face a judge, the charges end up being dismissed.

Just a few months after the report shocked Baltimore, one man who witnessed brutality from the other side of the curtain sued the BPD and the police commissioner for failing to secure him a safe working environment. Former Baltimore detective Joseph Crystal reported an incident in 2012 to a prosecutor about a fellow cop assaulting a handcuffed suspect. For his troubles, Crystal claimed he found a rat on the windshield of his car he had parked in front of his house. In the lawsuit, Crystal further claimed he was denied calls for backup in pursuit of suspects, being told by another detective, “Nobody wants to ride with you.”

Mayor Rowlings- lake could have used Crystal’s case to attack police brutality and actually hold police accountable and improve the relationship between the police and the people of Baltimore, but she decided to completely neglect the people who voted for her. That was proven when the mayor vetoed a bill that would have placed body cameras on the police. Rowlings-Blake tried to downplay the veto by claiming, “My opposition to this bill should not be confused with opposition to body cameras. It is not the end that I object to but rather the means. … There will be body cameras in Baltimore City,” but that is one poor excuse.

Rowlings-Blake could have learned from history, and could have prevented the protests and the riots by demanding proper punishment of police through prosecuting, firing, and other ways to remove psychotic police officers, but she didn’t. She may not be throwing Molotov cocktails into buildings, but it is her lack of competence and compassion that acting as the fire in the bottle that has caused her city to burn.

What is the saddest part of all of this is that it is doubtful anything will be learned from Baltimore. The lesson was ignored in Ferguson.  The Kerner report has been forgotten.  Police continue to abuse their power every chance they get. The story of Baltimore is not about “thugs” finding any excuse to loot and destroy buildings, it is about the police state being allowed to abuse and demean the very people they are tasked to protect, and the political executives fiddle while their cities, or countries, burn.