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After Freddie Gray, now what?

This is not the kind of post I wanted to write.  I would have preferred writing about neighborhoods, businesses, and activities that, in some way, impact real estate.  But given recent events I am impelled to deviate from that path.

On May 1, 2015, six police officers were charged, in varying degrees, with everything from false imprisonment, misconduct in office, second-degree assault to murder, in the death of Freddie Gray.  But there was another assailant who escaped charge:  Baltimore.  Freddie Gray may have died at the hands of police officers, but it’s Baltimore’s indifference that ultimately led to his death.

Police have forgotten what it means to police.  The mantra to “protect and serve” is only a quaint slogan that never applied to everyone.  Instead, policing in some neighborhoods has come to mean clearing the streets.  Often citizens are treated as though they are children who need to be taught a lesson.  This may not be the Baltimore City Police Department’s official policy, but it has become the reality.  Emblematic of this is FOP’s claim that the police officers did nothing wrong.  Seriously?  Even if Mr. Gray’s death had been an accident, clearly someone did something wrong.

DSC_1259Admittedly, police have a difficult and often dangerous job.  But unlike the veterans in some wars, not a single police officer was conscripted.  If you fear the residents of a neighborhood you are charged with protecting, you should find another line of work.  If you treat every person you encounter as criminal, you should re-evaluate your perspective and consider empathy – the things you have in common with those who cross your path.

I don’t believe police officers are inherently bad people; quite the contrary.  But I do believe that after awhile, some have become indifferent to the rule of law and acquiesced to a them-versus-us mentality.  On an individual level, some fail to see the efficacy of winning hearts and minds.  Ultimately, but not unexpectedly, the result is a riot or two.

Mobs don’t think, they react.  Last week’s rioters didn’t stop to think that they were destroying drugstores where some of their neighbors worked, many of whom can’t afford to miss a paycheck.  Rioters didn’t think that they burned down what was going to be senior citizen’s home.

DSC_1258This type of tragedy will undoubtedly be repeated when many, if not all, of the police officers are acquitted of the most serious charges.  I’m not saying this as a cynic, but as an attorney who practiced law for more than 20 years, and criminal law exclusively for more than seven.  Unless defendants turn on each other, proving the charges will be a Herculean task.  Someone did something but proving who did what will be the issue.  Once a verdict is near, the peace-makers will be in the streets calming and preparing the angry in an attempt to avoid the inevitable.  Elected officials will continue to lurch from one catastrophe to the next, providing canned analysis while cameras roll.

We often hear this or that will not be tolerated.  Violence in the Baltimore will not be tolerated.  Police brutality will not be tolerated.  Poverty will not be tolerated.  Drugs will not be tolerated.  Hearing something will not be tolerated is beginning to sicken me, because it certainly doesn’t mean that whatever won’t be tolerated won’t happen — again and again.  What happened to Mr. Gray is tragic, but what IS happening to many others in these city-abandoned neighborhoods is tragically systemic.

Baltimore has spent too much time talking about adding 10,000 families to the city while, for the most part, ignoring current residents in certain zip codes.  Besides, adding 10,000 families is not a plan; it’s an aspiration.  We can’t wait for 10,000 new families to save us because they may not come.  And if they do, they may not attend our schools, they may not be the economic recovery we hope for, and they simply may not stay.

Of course, jobs are the driving force in any economic recovery.  But where are these jobs coming from?  An undereducated populace, living in the most depressed areas of the city, are not likely to find jobs in the biotech industry or investment banking.  During the last mayoral race, one aspirant’s campaign slogan was “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.”  And since he didn’t articulate how he was going to produce these jobs, jobs, jobs, he wasn’t taken very seriously.  So we all know what the problem is, but I haven’t heard anyone explain how this problem can be solved.

Perhaps we need to rethink our educational curriculum.  The current one doesn’t seem to be working.  At a much younger age, kids should be given the real option of learning a trade rather than following, what for many is often unattainable and unrealistic path to higher education.  Master electricians and plumbers take home more than many attorneys, and with far less debt to shoulder.  As an adult, learning a trade in the building industry while simultaneously earning a wage could turn abandoned blocks into something worth holding up as an accomplishment.  We could create a fast-track permit process for designated areas that warrant priority.  The city could also double-down on the repair of a faltering and unreliable infrastructure.  The whole country should do that, anyway.  The post-World War II European Recovery Program, better known as the Marshall Plan only lasted three years.  Surely Baltimore can transform itself in that amount of time if there were a political will and a sense of urgency.  Of course, Baltimore can’t do it alone.  It would need both state and federal assistance.  But unsystematic partial measures are tantamount to throwing good money after bad.  Can we for once put politics aside and do something without thinking about how it will play in the next election?

The country is watching Baltimore so now is the time to do something bold.  Teaching police officers how to police DSC_1256appropriately is not nearly enough.  If it sounds like I’m impatient, you’re right.  If it sounds like I don’t fully understand the intricacies of government, right again.  But apparently, neither do many government officials.  I spent over 20 years in the military, and you either got things done or you were relieved of command.  It would be ridiculous to hold our elected officials responsible for every bad thing that happens.  But they SHOULD be held accountable for conditions that continue to plague this city during their watch.



  1. bill strother says:

    Well said, sir.
    I couldn’t agree more.


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