Baltimore: Cops and Robbers

Blacks, Whites, Boys in Blue, and the Unsolved Mystery of Freddie Gray


I’ve lived, my entire life, in one of the most violent cities of America–Chicago (known by some as “Chi-raq” because of the high number of shootings). I’ve experienced racial profiling: I’ve been harassed by police officers who insisted that my car was stolen–that my white friend and I were looking for drugs whenever we visited my relatives who lived in blighted parts of the city. And while I have many friends who are police officers, these events shape the way I view police–with gratitude and respect for the difficult job they do, simultaneously understanding what mayhem arises when the power of life and death rests in the hands of fallen man.

When I drive past police cars, I sit a little straighter, keep my hands at 10 and 2 and watch the cruiser in my rear view mirror until it’s out of my sight. I surely share a fear that many black men do: that having an encounter with a police officer on a power trip is a likely enough possibility–one with deadly consequences. Unlike being faced with a similar encounter with any other person employed in virtually any other line of work, I can’t win. I can’t defend myself. I can’t protect my dignity without fear of facing grave consequences. Even with the proliferation of cell phone videos and social media, my side of the story may never be heard. I can be brutalized unjustly while my family and friends sustain the unhealable scars. My only recourse is to wait until the negative interaction ends, and then complain to the cop’s supervisor (colleagues) in mostly futile hopes that some future citizen will be spared whatever ordeal I have experienced.

“Behavior that might land some defendants in jail, such as beating or even shooting another person, are not just permitted for police officers but are assumed to be part of their work,” writes Michael Wines in the New York Times.

That’s no way to live in America, and my sense is that police officers, by and large, do not want citizens to feel that way about them.

Slowly–hesitatingly–police departments across the country are starting to do the right thing in wearing body cameras. This partial solution, still in its nascent stages, may change things for the better, but is only a small step in the right direction. Had the Baltimore police officers charged in Freddie Gray’s murder been wearing body cameras, the devices likely would not shed much  more light on the mysterious events leading to Gray’s death. Still, though, body cameras would have served Officer Darren Wilson quite well, and more quickly dispelled the myth that Michael Brown raised his hands in surrender when Officer Wilson shot him.

Another legislative change that can improve the relationship between police and citizens would allow citizens to record arrests from their cell phones and other devices given that they are not interfering with police activity. Youtube and Liveleak show scores of videos in which police officers discourage filming, sometimes threatening force against the recorders, or arguing erroneously that the filming violates the law in states and localities in which the filming is actually lawful. Without these videos, like that capturing Officer Michael Slager shooting Walter Scott in the back, the public loses some context that undergirds black fear of police officers. Furthermore, these recordings, coupled with those produced by department body cameras, may serve to exonerate police actions.

The most important change necessary to alleviate tension between police and certain communities may elude legislators and policy makers. This change in the “code of silence,”  which finds police officers refusing to report bad behaviors committed by fellow officers, would reinforce the desired impression that police forces support the most important aspect of American law–its universal application. The “code of silence” among police officers frustrates the efforts of our legal system to punish wrongdoers similarly to the way “no snitching” hampers justice for victims in troubled communities. The “code of silence” would have protected Chicago Police Officer, Anthony Abbate, a 12-year police veteran who savagely beat a petite female bartender, Karina Obrycka, in 2007–if not for the bar’s security camera that captured the attack. Obrycka reported receiving death threats from Chicago police officers, urging her (unsuccessfully) to drop her charges. This culture of corruption and intimidation sows fear in the minds of citizens, relegating our police forces to tax-supported street gangs. Failure to dispatch with that reputation; and reluctance, by police forces, to adopt common sense solutions aimed at increasing transparency and accountability; threaten the legitimacy of the entire justice system. In many communities, especially communities of color, skepticism about the justice system’s fairness abounds.

Deservedly or not, police departments throughout the country face increased scrutiny while high-profile cases of unarmed black men shot by police officers mount up. Rather than allowing these challenges to further tarnish the front line of our legal system, police departments should proactively address public concerns about their transparency and tactics, show a sign of good faith with the communities they serve and distance themselves from the few incidents of a few departments that may cast a pall over all law enforcement.

Enter Baltimore, Freddie Gray, and the ensuing riots.


Some Baltimore residents argue that Freddie Gray’s arrest (perhaps an unlawful one) and death at the hands of six Baltimore police officers represented the tipping point in an increasingly tense situation between citizens and the police. In 2010, a jury acquitted a Baltimore police officer for shooting an unarmed fleeing man in the back. In 2011, a judge in Baltimore acquitted three officers charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment after driving two teenagers miles from their homes and leaving them in a different county without socks and shoes. Last fall, the Baltimore Sun released the results of an investigation that showed that over the last 4 years, Baltimore paid about $5.7 million to more than 100 people who won court settlements related to police brutality and civil rights abuses.  Today, allegations that police severed Gray’s spine, killing him, when they placed him face down in a transport van and drove recklessly–a tactic known as a “rough ride”–confound Baltimore’s police department as they deal with the resulting indictments, riots and violence.

While the rioters’ rage may be understandable, the riots themselves are not.Of course, not everyone agrees with my claim.  Salon’s Benji Hart argues that the looting and violence is a legitimate black political tactic, and that calling the rioters uncivilized is racist. I hold that arguing that blacks should uniquely be expected and encouraged to victimize others out of frustration, dehumanizes blacks–reducing us to opportunistic thugs, ticking time bombs, using perceived injustices as reason enough act antisocially. One might ask what it means to hold such a flippant, ugly, view of blacks, while not expecting whites to riot after the 2012 elections, for example.There is no logical link between Gray’s death and looting.

Jason Riley writes a brave and important piece arguing that protesters and apologists excused the violent riots in Ferguson because the racial makeup of Ferguson’s city government contained too few blacks. By contrast:

“Broad diversity is not a problem in Baltimore, where 63% of residents and 40% of police officers are black. The current police commissioner is also black, and he isn’t the first one. The mayor is black, as was her predecessor and as is a majority of the city council.”

Unsurprisingly, the riots’ biggest supporters are liberals. Michael Eric Dyson, writing in the New York Times, lays the groundwork for why Baltimore offers such a rich environment for rioting:

“The unemployment rate in the community where Mr. Gray lived is over 50 percent; the high school student absence rate hovers at 49.3 percent; and life expectancy tops out at 68.8 years…these statistics are a small glimpse of the radical inequality that blankets poor black Baltimore. it’s no wonder that black Baltimore erupted in social fury.”

These statistics interest me because so often, liberalism plays a sick joke on Americans who fall for it: liberal policies loot the wealthy (local businesses, big box stores, citizens, etc.) to give to the poor, but when they rule cities, as they have ruled Baltimore for years, the poor live in appalling privation. As a result, according to liberals, citizens of liberal cities resort to stealing from the wealthy (local businesses, big box stores, citizens, etc.) to do what liberal policies failed to do in the first place–equalize the rich and the poor. In other words, liberalism’s thieving policies fail to benefit its constituents, and actually beget more thieving.

Of course, I recognize that the Baltimore riots stem from more than just liberal ideas and policies. Distrust of police forces, and of the justice system it serves, stems from some real grievances that police departments must address. The answer is never to compound the injustice, either by rioting, looting, or convicting officers on flimsy charges. The answer is for police departments to get serious about transparency, kill the “culture of silence” that protects racist emails and violent cops like Abbate, and begin to take seriously the effect bad practices can have on eroding the rule of law. Citizens, of every race, must protest injustice without victimizing others. Excusing further victimization as somehow intrinsic to blackness or sound black political action fuels the suspicions that blacks are latent criminals deserving of disproportional scrutiny.

6 comments

  1. Great response! I couldn’t have written a better letter to Ms. Cohen. I loved what you said about how the two party system isn’t divided along issue lines but “divided between two competing philosophies of rights and the proper role of the State.” These different approaches is one of the reasons why the different parties come up with different stances on the issues.

    And I also agree about the two party system. I would add that if we had a multiple party system, that would result in potentially hundreds of political parties like in Europe. (Actually even more so due to the diverse interests of a large country such as the U.S.) And as Prager noted, this is one of the reasons why the Nazis and Mussolini’s fascist party was able to rise in a multi-party system in Europe. Having so many parties forces the different political parties to form coalitions and strike deals with each other. And so a minority party such as the Nazis were able to lead a coalition into a majority and then into absolute power. This is much more difficult to do in a two party system where they would have to take over the leadership one party.

    I had one more thing regarding Ms. Cohen’s original article; and that is regarding this question of the moderates being left out because the parties have become so polarizing. In my opinion, I never found such statements very compelling.

    My first point is that the political spectrum involving liberal and conservative does demonstrate two distinct, valid, and measurable system of ideology or a way of thinking. This is why most people who subscribe to the leftist way of thinking does tend to have liberal stances on most issues and the same with conservatives. Now most liberals do have some conservative views and vice versa. But in my opinion the more a conservative person learns about an issue, the more that conservative person will change whatever few liberal stances they have back to conservative stances etc. And so a “moderate” is really a rarity in my opinion and often inconsistent in their thinking. The reality is that the two ideologies of liberal and conservative are diametrically opposed to each other. And so I think the two party system forces the voter to choose a side/system of thinking rather than trying to sit on the fence. Thus the two party system serves our country well.

    Second, there is this presumption that being moderate is a good thing and everyone else (like us) must be the extremists. Well the truth lies in either the liberal way of thinking or the conservative way of thinking. In my opinion, it is the so-called moderates that have not fully thought out their stances. Why would someone think that on one issue, their right comes from the state while on another issue, their right comes from God? And so I’m rarely impressed by those who say that they are a moderate. The truth lies in either conservative stances in issues or the liberal stances on issues. Moderate means the person has a conservative stance on a significant number of issues and liberal stance on a similar number of issues which usually means that the person is often intellectually inconsistent. After a further examination of the issues, the person will fall more towards left or right. What do you think about this? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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    1. I’m sorry, I know I’m commenting on my own comment here, but I forgot to add one more thing. One example about this I-will-look-down-at-you-if-you-are-not-a-moderate unspoken faulty belief is the following: I was once speaking to a colleague prosecutor about various political issues who was on the left. He was mostly on the left but was conservative on the issues regarding crime such as the death penalty and the police etc. But he was extremely left on everything else to the point of being virtually a socialist. And so he actually considered himself to be a moderate if not on the center-right. Since I did not have any issues where I took a liberal stances (except maybe the illegal immigration that we’ve spoken about or PEPFAR), he said “See, you’re just an extremist and a partisan servant of the GOP. They are your religion and you just mindlessly take conservative positions.” This was his way of putting me down and invalidating all my positions because I didn’t have any liberal positions. According to him, HE was the moderate sensible one because he was not engulfed completely by leftism. This is nonsense. The end goal should not be to be a moderate because that status contains some inherent noble value. The end goal should be the truth and facts.

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  2. Sorry, I forgot to title my above comments properly. My comments above were in response to your article regarding Julia Cohen’s article from 4-22-15.

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  3. America Untethered (4-24-15)

    This is a very important piece who’ve written. People forget about the power and the lasting benefit or danger of the Supreme Court. In that sense, this is one of the few areas where we are still benefitting from the great Ronald Reagan and the two Bush presidents. Although they are long gone out of office (in the case of Reagan, passed away), their impact is still relevant today as if they are still in office through the Supreme Court. Too many people take this for granted.

    In regard to the explanation of “what happened?” in terms of America turning more left, I would add the obvious incredible influences of the education system, Hollywood, the journalism media, and the leftists who inject their views into areas that have nothing to do with politics. This stuff is so powerful, it reaches the masses on a scale that is difficult for us conservatives to battle on just the campaign trail.

    As a former liberal, I can say that hearing those sneaked-in liberal messages in TV shows & movies or events had a huge influence on me. Because I didn’t realize how inappropriate this was nor the leftism-as-religion notion, I thought “Wow, why would the filmmaker tout this liberal message in this movie that has nothing to do with politics unless this was such a truthful and important message? This liberal position I just saw in this movie must be so important and true.” We have no such equivalent on the conservative side.

    Our only hope is to influence popular culture and the mainstream as much as we can. (Make good Christian/conservative movies such as the Kendrick brothers or Eastwood, we need more Fox News or the taking over of such a network, more conservatives going into teaching & being on school boards etc) I look forward to your comments if any.

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  4. Men & Women Seek Truth (4-27-15)

    I would say this is one of the more important articles you’ve written along with the abortion series. This is an evergreen article where the truth you wrote will be timeless and relevant no mater how much later one reads your article. I especially appreciate the research and reading you put into this critical subject. At some point, this is something I’ll be sharing widely with people. You’re right, this is one of the consequences of post-modernism. We see this in art, music, morality, current political philosophy, and even in this area. Post-modernism often go hand-in-hand with nihilism/Nietzsche approach to life. It’s counter & opposite is Christianity with its absolute morality for all. Isn’t it funny how everything always comes back to God and Jesus? This is more relevant today than ever before. I look forward to more articles like this.

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  5. Baltimore: Cops & Robbers (5-4-15)

    I agree with everything you’re written here. You’ve encapsulated my views perfectly. I would only add the following to everything that you’ve written. All of this anti-police stuff recently is to further a certain narrative that benefits the media’s ratings, the race hustlers, and the leftist view in order to depict America as a racist nation. And so they keep covering all this stuff which magnifies the issues you correctly talk about such as the police code of silence, the few but visible cases of brutality, and a lack of transparency. However in my experience, all of that is in the minority. Now that doesn’t mean I want to minimize them. Everything you said is true and the police need to correct all of the things you mentioned and I support that 100%. What I am saying here does not negate anything that you said at all. But all of this is not the norm is my point.

    As a prosecutor in the city of Chicago and the entire County of Cook for a good 16 years, I have seen a lot. I have worked with the police countless times and I have worked a rotational assignment where I am working with the police at the police stations as well as out in the streets, crime scenes, witness houses, and in the inner city neighborhoods. Due to the nature of the assignment, I have been around the police station and police officers/detectives at all hours including straight through the night when I was working nights shifts as we are all required to do. I saw the police during the most stressful times, right after they were involved in shootings where their haunted faces and blood on their uniforms were fresh. I have seen them at their most tired and cranky. I have been around them when they were truly acting as themselves, not on their best behavior because I was around.

    And I can honestly say that in all of those years, I saw remarkably little if not almost zero corruption or bad behavior. I braced myself and knew what I would do if I saw any such behavior. But I didn’t. I saw incompetence, arrogance, laziness, bureaucracy, and dumbness here and there. But you’ll have that anywhere; it’s not exclusive to the police. In terms of corruption, funny business, lack of transparency, racism, etc. I saw virtually none. And there were lots of times when I could have seen it and I didn’t because most cops are not like that.

    What I have seen is the amount of abuse, name calling, and crap that police endure through the legal process and on the streets. The defense attorneys and leftist judges who regularly accuse honest, courageous police officers of planting evidence and excessive force when there is no evidence to even suggest it is incredible. Even certain (not all) of the victims and witnesses (most of whom were black) would join in which was doubly appalling since the police risk their lives to save them and their neighborhood. Myself and all the other prosecutors were regularly called racist, Nazi, stormtrooper, fascist, accused of hiding evidence when really they just misplaced their file, committing misconduct, and threatened with lawsuits on a regular basis. The legal system is such that these defendants now just regularly file lawsuits because they treat it like a lottery ticket. There are so many false and meritless claims, the city attorney almost has no choice but to settle these out. And these defendants are happy to receive a $500 or $700 settlement here and there. That’s free money for them for having filed a 1983 civil rights claim with no cost to them. When you add these up, of course they will add up to the $5.7 million figure you cite. That may be the only figure I would dispute in your article since if you could take a look at those lawsuits (and there’s no way you could), their claims are so patently ridiculous on their face, I don’t think they are probably evidence of police misconduct.

    Although I have not been in Chicago for almost 3 years now, this stuff happens at my new location as well. It’s everywhere. Just this year, I had a defense attorney who hired an investigator for a pedophile client of his. This investigator went to the house of this confused, vulnerable young underage girl who was a victim of sexual assault. He then posed as a police officer, confused her and got her to recant her story, and when her mother tried to put a stop to this, he threatened her and the victim not to testify in court. Upon further investigation, this investigator has done this to at least 7 other young girls of sexual assault before that we know about. I prosecuted him and was able to put him in jail after an unbelievable fight of a trial where the defense attorney accused me of hiding the evidence and of being corrupt to the jury. Where’s was the press regarding this case that took 3 years to complete? The press did not show up once even though we notified them countless times. This is because defense misconduct doesn’t fit their narrative.

    I had a drug dealer case where the police saw the defendant make 3 separate drug transactions. When the police arrested him, the defense attorney said at the trial how that neighborhood is a predominantly black neighborhood. And since we all know that the police is racist, they just grabbed the wrong black defendant since to the police, any black man will do according to this defense attorney. This was so disgusting to those police officers who worked so hard and took so many tedious steps to make sure this is the right guy (at least two observing officers who never lost sight of this defendant, pre-marked currency, and the same description that the buy officer gave, multiple visual check by the buy officer etc). And the identifying officer was black! But the white defense attorney still claimed racism. (????!!!!????) Where was the media during this disgusting false claim of racism that undermines real racism?

    I have seen these defendants at the police station yell obscenities about the officer’s kids & family while getting arrested, disrespect and scream constant claims of racism, f- this and f-you and police corruption etc. And yet in the majority of the cases, the officers didn’t react. They took all that abuse stoically and with dignity. I got red in the face when I heard many of the things these defendants would regularly scream out. When I asked the officers how they don’t at least verbally tell them to f- off or anything, they all say they they are used to it. And these are just the verbal cases. I can’t tell you hiw many cases I saw of biting officers, kicking, scratching, punching, and spitting in the officer’s faces. Again I rooted for a brief and just beat down of those defendants without injury to keep them in control and the officers just hold them down only. When you see the savage, scary, monster-like screaming and twisted yelling faces of these defendants while they are doing stuff like this, how much they try to hurt another human being, you realize why they are in handcuffs and are grateful that they are. There’s plenty of police station videos showing these reprehensible acts by defendants. I never see this on the news.

    I was also resularly accused of lying when I interviewed defendants, not giving Miranda rights (even though I did every time), of threatening them, kicking them, and in one case, using karate on them. (For those who don’t know, I’m Asian.) I had a female prosecutor one time who got a confession from a male defendant and the defendant later in court said how she squeezed her breasts at him and sexually got him so excited (because she was attractive) that she coerced a confession out of him that way. These obvious false claims are made by these defendants EVERY DAY. And these are the same defendants who are protesting and rioting. There is no moral equivalence here.

    It’s really difficult to emphasize that this happens to police EVERY DAY. I mean no kidding. just go the court house and sit and listen to what’s happening. These immoral, false accusations happen on an EVERY DAY scale. And out of the thousands of cases, the police do an honorable job some + 90% of the time. Of course the smallest minority of these cases have now gotten national attention but that is the aberration.

    As I said, nothing I am saying underscores anything you said. I just wanted to set the scene correctly since the media narrative makes it sound like these bad issues the police has to resolve is the norm. I have seen so many heroic police who work hard, risk their lives, walk through literally blood and puke in order to save victims, who are overwhelmingly black. The police work hard to save these ghetto, inner city neighborhoods and many dedicate all their life and energy to improving these neighborhoods. I have seen them buy the victims lunch out of their own pockets. I have seen COUNTLESS black victims and witnesses thank and hug police officers for having saved them and by putting the defendant away with tears. This happens EVERY DAY.

    This is the most frustrating thing about this entire issue. I know I have a unique perspective on this due to what I have seen. It’s more crushing to see this narrative play out as if police has been doing this regularly and now all this is being reported. No, these are cherry picked across a large country to fit their narrative.

    None of this is to de-legitimize any of your points. Everything you said was true. But the real code of silence is on the Chicago streets. Every time a shooting happens, people in the neighborhood know who did it. But due to the code of silence, a huge number of murderers in Chicago get away with it. That code of silence, the culture of no snitch needs to stop. If every one spoke up and most of the murderers got arrested, the murder rate in Chicago will drop dramatically. You can legalize all the AK-47’s and machine guns all you want in Chicago. But that won’t drop the murder rates. (this is the one point I do disagree with on many gun rights advocates) Sorry for the long response. This one is messy and long, but I couldn’t help but have some of the truth be known.

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