"Reasonable Enough Suspicion": On Curtis Deal, killed by police on Tuesday

City Paper

The Baltimore police shot and killed somebody earlier this week: Curtis Deal, 18, who had a gun, and though he didn't fire it, he did aim it at an officer.

On Tuesday, not long after Deal's death, T.J. Smith, chief spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, explained how it all went down to reporters: Officers noticed a car driving erratically, so they followed with some help from Foxtrot overhead, and as they followed along, they spotted the door of the car open then close, open then close, and eventually Deal ran out of the car and took off, so police officers ran after him.

Deal and Det. David Kincaid Jr. met up a few streets over, at Frederick Avenue near South Monroe Street. Kincaid wore a body camera and it was on, and the footage released Thursday shows Kincaid running after Deal, with the two crossing paths near an alley and Kincaid, who already has his weapon drawn, meeting up with Deal, who twists back as he hits the street and moves his gun up toward Kincaid.

So Kincaid, "fear[ing] for his safety," fired, hitting Deal four times and killing him.

It is possible that you missed the fact that the Baltimore Police shot and killed somebody on Tuesday because national news is at a chaotic premium right now. Activist Kwame Rose and grassroots group Baltimore Bloc have been particularly dedicated to keeping the shooting in the public's awareness. Commissioner Kevin Davis has stuck to his loose transparency promises and released the body camera footage pretty quickly.

Meanwhile, there are lots of neighborhood murmurs that this is the kind of bullshit you expect from BPD flex squads or "knockers"—plainclothes cops in high-crime areas carrying out raids, pursuing suspects, and making arrests, often aggressively.

Before we knew Deal's name, we learned, via Smith on Tuesday, that Deal was just recently out of jail and had been there a whole lot in 2017, though precisely how Smith said it is worth quoting at length.

"The suspect has been arrested three times in the past month." Smith said. "This 18-year-old suspect has been arrested twice in the past month for a handgun and he was arrested once for another incident in the past month. Just got out of jail yesterday on felony gun and drug charges. That's really despicable because it's putting our officers and our citizens in harm's way seeing these people continuously possess these firearms and walk these streets and want to inflict harm on people. Unfortunately for him, he's deceased. Our officer's OK."

A look at Deal's record shows someone with a number of gun possession charges and drug charges—both possession of a narcotic with intent to distribute and some weed—since the beginning of 2017.

Pushed a little bit at Tuesday's presser, Smith was asked whether chasing someone who had not been formally pulled over is "in line" with the consent decree, a court-ordered demand for the BPD to reform, the result of August's damning Department of Justice report.

Smith didn't answer that question, he pivoted: "What's not in line is a person with a gun. A person who just got out of jail yesterday with a gun. So, the officers were doing their jobs out here. They had every right—again, a traffic stop wasn't initiated but a person getting out when they like observed what they know is the police behind them and them fleeing is a reason enough, is reasonable enough suspicion."

At the Thursday press conference presenting the body camera footage, Davis called Deal a "bad guy" multiple times and noted Deal was "known to run from police" and "known to be a violent guy." He suggested that Deal may be linked to a December 2016 murder. They pulled out all the stops to vilify a dead man, that they shot, who also inarguably aimed a gun at police. The subtext was clear though—the violent Deal is not a life we should necessarily consider—but it wasn't even subtext really, rather rhetorical piggybacking on what Smith had already established on Tuesday.

"We're tired of this. We have banner headlines of 40 homicides, how do you expect us to solve the problem of 40 homicides?" Smith said frustratedly, not far from the scene of the shooting. "We have to get these guys who are committing these crimes and us saying we're not going to go after somebody who is..."

Then he trailed off.

This is "war on terror"-style rhetoric tilted toward crime prevention where whatever needs to be done is done and you're a nuisance if you question it (this is also how the BPD handled the secret surveillance plane in Baltimore, they told us it wasn't secret and focused solely on crime being out of control).   

And like the war on terror, it hasn't exactly worked. WBAL's Jayne Miller posted a damning map that illustrates the location of Baltimore's homicides in 2016 (318 homicides) and 1998 (313 homicides). If you placed one of these maps over top the other, they'd match closely. "Since 1998, Baltimore has spent $6.8 bil on policing," Miller tweeted along with the map. "But pattern of violence unchanged."

On the same day the body camera footage tied to Deal's shooting was released, Donald Trump announced three executive orders that give police more authority and, in the process, pushed the myths that crime is up everywhere (it isn't, though it is in Baltimore) and that police officers in the country are maligned and under attack. Trump made no reference to the numerous police killings (last year 135 police officers were killed in the United States in total; so far in 2017, police have killed 138 people).

Since the election of Trump, it seems the focus has shifted from police killings of African-Americans to whatever violation of norms or ethics the administration commits on a given day. But the death of Deal shows how they are all of a piece, part of the same mentality, connecting the failed war on drugs to the failed war on terror.

On Tuesday, Smith said the police had "reasonable enough suspicion" to follow the car because of the "erratic" driving in a "zone" for "proactive policing," and also just a "sixth sense" that police have.

"Things are intuition," Smith said. "These officers are out here busting their butts every day in areas like this that." 

While it was made clear that once Deal ran they spotted the gun, which in effect made it their job to chase him, the interaction began before Deal ran, when the police followed the car he was in but never put on a siren or pulled the car over. The question most wanted to know on Thursday, even after seeing the footage of Deal aiming a gun at police, is what led to Kincaid and Deal meeting each other outside that alley, guns drawn, and why wasn't the car he was in pulled over and then, why was Deal chased?

The DOJ report on the BPD that highlights "a pattern of civil rights violations" emphasizes the problems with BPD and "foot pursuits."

In one section, an anecdote that is similar to Tuesday's incident: "An officer reportedly in an area 'known for violent crime and narcotics distribution' recognized an African-American man who had previously fled when the officer had attempted to conduct a field interview and again fled at the sight of the officer. The officer reportedly pursued the man because he believed he was 'involved in criminal activity' though he did not identify any specific crime he suspected. He also reportedly believed he 'may be armed with a concealed weapon' because of his 'actions, loose clothing and the surroundings.' Such generic and vague descriptions are insufficient to justify using serious force against a person."

In that DOJ example however, the man turned out not to be armed. Deal was armed.

But also from the DOJ report: "The need for the suspect’s immediate apprehension must be weighed against the risks to officers and the public caused by engaging in a foot pursuit. If officers know the identity of the suspect, his or her immediate apprehension is likely unnecessary without exigent circumstances. However, if circumstances require that the suspect be immediately apprehended, officers should contain the suspect and establish a perimeter rather than engaging in a foot pursuit, particularly if officers believe the suspect may be armed."

At Thursday's press conference, Davis said Tuesday's pursuit was a "far different scenario" than the foot pursuit concerns expressed in the DOJ report. "They see Curtis Deal, they know Curtis Deal," Davis said. "[And] they know he's a bad guy." In audio leading up to the shooting played at the body camera footage presser, police identify Deal by name multiple times.

What you see in just the past month or so of Curtis Deal's life is the chaos of the justice system and its grim, pointless "ends justify the means" approach.

The police follow a suspicious car in a high-crime area where cops are looking for crime and encouraged to be proactive.

It turns out Deal (who has been scooped up three times in the past month for having a gun or drugs, and because of these previous arrests for guns and drugs, he's someone to pursue to arrest for more guns and drugs) is in that car.

So Deal, gun in hand, flees, which he has done before, which the police know he has done before, which leads the police to chase him. This ultimately leads to Kincaid, a Baltimore police officer who feared for his life, shooting and killing Deal, who ran from police and also feared for his life.

It is a devastating loop of human fuck-ups, lunkheaded recidivism, Sisyphean police tactics, and systemic cruelty.

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