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DOJ Issues Scathing Report on Baltimore Police, Cites Discriminatory and Unlawful Practices Against African-Americans

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The Department of Justice released a scathing report Wednesday blasting the Baltimore Police Department for unlawful police tactics that violated the civil rights of city residents — particularly residents of color.

According to the report, Baltimore police officers consistently discriminated against Blacks and used excessive force. However, these officers were rarely held accountable for their misconduct.

The DOJ’s year-long investigation into the police department also found that officers made a large number of stops in poor, predominately Black communities. Residents of these communities were often unlawfully arrested for speech that was deemed “disrespectful” to officers. Unnecessary physical force against the mentally disabled and a disproportionate number of pedestrian and traffic stops involving African-Americans were also discovered.

The Associated Press reports that a federal investigation was launched into the Baltimore Police Department following the June 2015 death of Freddie Gray. Gray, 25, suffered fatal spinal cord injuries while riding unbuckled and handcuffed in the back of a police van. Six officers, three Black and three white, were charged in his death. The tragedy sparked national outrage, bringing renewed attention to the issues of racial discrimination, unlawful police practices, and rising tensions between police officers and communities of color.

While the DOJ’s report didn’t focus on Gray’s death specifically, it did highlight a slew of other unlawful practices carried out by Baltimore police. These included use of excessive force and discriminatory traffic and pedestrian stops. For instance, the report found that officers routinely used excessive force in situations that didn’t call for aggressive measures, oftentimes against individuals with mental disabilities, juveniles and victims in crisis. Residents were also retaliated against for “disrespectful” language and exercising their right to free speech, according to the report.

Due to “a lack of training and improper tactics,” police wound up in “unnecessarily violent confrontations with these vulnerable individuals,” it stated.

The investigation also revealed that Black residents accounted for nearly 84 percent of stops, though they make up just 63 percent of the city’s population. African-American residents were 23 percent more likely to be searched during traffic stops, even though police found contraband twice as often when searching white motorists.

Walking while Black seemed to be a punishable offense as well. According to the report, Black pedestrians were 37 percent more likely to be searched by Baltimore police citywide. In this case, officers found contraband 50 percent more often when patting down white pedestrians.

The classifications of citizen complaints against officers who used racial slurs were also highlighted in the report. The DOJ found 60 complaints accusing officers of using the “N-word.” However, “all of these complaints were misclassified as a lesser offense,” the report stated.

Per the Baltimore Sun, federal investigators concluded that 1990s-era policies that encouraged aggressive policing ultimately contributed to the discriminatory practices of the Baltimore police. The city’s “zero tolerance” policing is also to blame, according to the reports. Such tactics have only further eroded the trust between communities of color and the police.

In addition, the report also ripped into police leaders for failing to equip and adequately train officers on how to police the city, both safely and effectively.

“The agency fails to provide officers with sufficient policy guidelines and training, fails to collect and analyze data regarding officers activities; and fails to hold officers accountable for misconduct,” the report read.

However, Justice Department investigators have since received cooperation from the Baltimore Police Department, and there was a “widespread agreement that BPD needs reform,” ABC News reports. The DOJ is seeking a court-enforceable agreement, requiring the police agency to make reforms or face a federal lawsuit.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said her office is looking forward to reviewing the DOJ report, but expects that it will only “confirm what many in our city already know or have experienced firsthand.”

“While the vast majority of Baltimore City Police officers are good officers, we also know that there are bad officers and that the department has routinely failed to oversee, train, or hold bad actors accountable,” Mosby said.

The state’s attorney quickly brought charges against the six officers involved in Gray’s death. However, none of them were convicted; one case ended in a mistrial, three resulted in acquittals, and charges were recently dropped against the remaining officers.

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