BALTIMORE, Maryland (MEDIA GENERAL) – As the city of Baltimore works to recover from Monday’s riots, some protesters hope to clarify the message being lost in the “acts of violence.” That message being Baltimore has a police brutality problem, and it didn’t start with Freddie Gray.
Chaos broke out Monday following a memorial service for Gray, as looters raided stores, torched cars and police vehicles and harassed police officers, injuring 15 cops. Gray died April 19, one week after suffering a spinal cord injury while in police custody. He was arrested after running from a cop in a “high-crime area,” a designation that makes it legal for police to detain a person based solely on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Though Gray has a criminal history, it appears he was doing nothing illegal to instigate his April 12 arrest.
Baltimore’s mayor, among others, spoke out against the riots Monday night.
“Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs who – in a very senseless way – are trying to tear down what so many have fought for,” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Monday night.
Gray’s family pleaded for peace Monday night.
“I want y’all to get justice for my son, but don’t do it like this here,” said Gloria Darden, Gray’s mother. “I don’t think that’s for Freddie. I think the violence is wrong.”
The aftermath of Gray’s arrest and death center on the relationship between police and the people of Baltimore. According to the protesters’ actions Monday, that relationship is tumultuous, at best, highlighted by remarks made last week by Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge No. 3.
Ryan angered many protesters after describing recent protests as a “lynch mob.”
“The images seen on television look and sound much like a lynch mob in that they are calling for the immediate imprisonment of these officers without them ever receiving the due process that is the Constitutional right of every citizen, including law enforcement officers,” Ryan said Wednesday, April 22.
After his statement, a reporter asked Ryan whether he was concerned about the tone of his remarks, ignoring the racial connotations of the phrase “lynch mob.”
While Ryan later admitted he probably should have used a different phrase, he stood by his comments. Ryan responded to the reporter, “No, because I was quite offended by some of the things that were being said yesterday.”
The Baltimore Sun published an investigative study in 2014 that illustrated a history of police violence throughout the city. The city of Baltimore paid approximately $5.7 million between 2011 and 2014 for more than 100 lawsuits of unnecessary police violence. The Sun’s investigation, published September 28, 2014, states the city faced 317 lawsuits over police conduct since 2011 and has budgeted an additional $4.2 million for legal fees and lawsuits.
The Sun’s story shows the mistrust evident in the city’s relationship with police from all sides.
Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez, who joined the agency in January 2013, addressed police accountability after taking the job, noting the BPD had a reputation for police violence.
“I can’t speak to what was done before, but I can certainly tell you that’s what’s being done now, and we won’t deviate from that,” Rodriguez said on closely tracking allegations against officers. “We will not let officers get away with any wrongdoing. It will not be tolerated.”
Robert F. Cherry, former president of Baltimore’s Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said, “Our officers are not brutal. The trial attorneys and criminal elements want to take advantage of the courts.”
The Sun’s investigation, meanwhile, highlighted several stories of police brutality, including a non-violent 87-year-old woman who suffered a broken shoulder after calling for an ambulance to help her grandson who had been shot. According to the woman’s lawsuit, after the cop demanded to enter her home, the officer shoved the woman against a wall, knocking her to the floor.
“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up,” the officer said.
The woman’s statement continued: “He pulled me up, pushed me in the dining room over the couch, put his knees in my back, twisted my arms and wrist and put handcuffs on my hands and threw me face down on the couch.”
The woman sued the officers and received $95,000 in an April 2012 settlement.
Jerriel Lyles, who was assaulted by two police officers inside a restaurant in 2009, was awarded $200,000 – the maximum amount a municipality can pay out according to a Maryland state law. Lyles was punched in the face by an officer, resulting in a broken nose. Three weeks after submitting a complaint about the assault, Lyles was stopped outside his apartment by two other officers, this time being ordered to drop his pants and underwear and subjected to a full cavity search.
Lyles told jurors during his trial he didn’t believe the second stop was a “coincidence.”
“I’m afraid of the police,” Lyles said after his victory in court. “I want to speak out, but it could be dangerous. These people are dangerous.”