The indictment of six Baltimore police officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray was greeted with cheers from many in Baltimore and a collective sigh of relief from much of the country. At the same time, fully 96 percent of Americans expect additional racial disturbances this summer, according to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.
For better or worse, the polls are probably right. Although the indictments may quell the anger in Baltimore, the underlying dynamics that fuel the cycle of police violence and community outrage in so many American cities will not change in the absence of deep reforms. Neither indictments nor body cameras will be enough.
What are those underlying dynamics?
They’re the same as those identified nearly 50 years ago by the Kerner Commission following the deadly urban riots that rocked Detroit, Newark and other cities in the summer of 1967.
As in Baltimore and Ferguson, many of the riots examined in 1967 were triggered by aggressive policing in African-American neighborhoods shaped by racism, extreme poverty and deprivation. Faced with demands for increased protection in areas struggling with crime, police had adopted tactics that created tension and hostility.
The same dynamic exists today. As FBI Director James B. Comey acknowledged in February, many police officers, whether white or black, develop biases about African Americans when working in black communities with high crime rates. Law enforcement, at times during our history, he said, has been “brutally unfair to disfavored groups.”
Spurred by the outcry over the events in Ferguson, Baltimore, and elsewhere, we’re seeing momentum for change. Policing practices are being scrutinized as they haven’t been for at least two decades. The New York Times recently reported that a “small but vocal set of law enforcement officials,” as well as several big city police departments, are beginning to rethink long-held ideas about when to use force and when to avoid it. Baltimore’s mayor has asked the Justice Department to help the city reform its police practices.
by Jamie Kizzire
A prisoner at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility (EMCF) told the counselor that his heart was hurting and that he didn’t have a reason to live. He was also having hallucinations.
As the counselor met with the prisoner in December 2013, he noticed that the man was attempting to cut himself with a small, dull object. There was also a long rope around the prisoner’s neck. The counselor reached a conclusion: This prisoner is not in distress.
The counselor then simply walked away.
The prisoner would not see a mental health professional for nine more days. An expert reviewing the case for the Southern Poverty Law Center would later describe the incident as “beyond any deliberate indifference I have seen in my entire career; it is the definition of intentional patient abandonment.”
The prisoner eventually resorted to a tactic that others at this privately operated, for-profit prison use to get help: He set fire to his cell. Two days later, he was found dead in his cell – the apparent result of a heart condition the staff at the Meridian, Mississippi, prison rarely took seriously.