There was a protest this weekend to mark the anniversary of the death of Mike Brown at the hands of then-police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. A small group, organized by the People's Power Assembly and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, gathered at Penn and North on a bright warm Saturday. About a half an hour in, as speakers took turns at the mic, Interim Commissioner Kevin Davis walked up with a couple other cops. I wasn't really watching the speaker at that point— I think it was someone from the endlessly annoying (in a bad way) anti-imperialist group FIST—and I walked up and introduced myself and shook his hand, just as I'd done with Commissioner Anthony Batts at the protests last fall when Wilson wasn't indicted from Brown's death.
Back then, I thought Batts did a good job keeping control of the force and refraining from the riot gear we were seeing everywhere else in the country. That idea died when Batts' own force became the subject of protests when Freddie Gray died in their custody. The riot gear was out—even if it was insufficient, as they later reported. It sure seemed like a fuck-load at the time.
It's obvious that the department really screwed up on Monday, April 27, the day of Freddie Gray's funeral—they were already out in riot gear when the public transportation forced the kids off at Mondawmin Mall. And then they held off as people destroyed the CVS, lines of cops standing there hundreds of yards away, watching.
But Batts' firing feels like a coup by Gene Ryan, the president of the FOP 3, which released its own report on police leadership on July 8, just before $RB canned the commissioner. So I wouldn't expect a more aware or progressive command to follow Batts. It feels like they'll probably be looking for someone to bust heads.
That wasn't the case on Saturday. Davis, who was himself involved in civil rights complaints in P.G. County 16 years ago, said he was out to "acknowledge these people." He stood and listened to the speakers looking flat and placid—even as the white woman from FIST referred to "our pigs in blue."
The next day, however, the cops were out in full force with SWAT and riot gear, closing off Druid Hill because of the dirt-biking crowds. As Justin Fenton tweeted, "Well it certainly looks like BPD got the gear they were seeking in April."
In fact, Noah Scialom, a City Paper photographer who was himself arrested and given a rough ride by the cops when they raided the DIY space the Coward Shoe a couple of years back, took a photo of one officer pointing his firearm at the crowd.
During the days of the uprising the city made 546 arrests. The city is currently spending a great deal of time and money prosecuting these people. The case I saw, where Morgan Lee Malachi was being tried for refusal to obey a lawful order and disorderly conduct, must have cost the State's Attorney's Office a considerable amount of time and labor. The prosecution had four witnesses, all police, and extensive video evidence. That shit ain't cheap. And Malachi was found not guilty.
I was once convicted of refusal to obey after occupying Sen. Pete Domenici's office in New Mexico in the '90s and it is really not a big fucking charge. Given the circumstances here in Baltimore now, by which I mean the highest murder rate for a month in the history of the city, maybe they could just drop charges like this. People are all into Marilyn Mosby and shit, but it is still her office that is spending your money prosecuting these bullshit cases.
But the department has insisted that it will continue to seek to arrest and prosecute anyone who broke the law during the uprising. But because it is spending so much time analyzing video, will the department try to figure out which specific officers threw rocks at protesters, which officers hit civilians with billy clubs, or which officers targeted the press? How about the guy with the mustache who pointed his pistol at people yesterday? Will you prosecute him? Discipline him? (At press time, the officer was placed on administrative duty pending an investigation—that's a good start.)
The department has still not responded to any of my requests regarding Tyree Woodson, the man who is supposed to have shot himself with his pants down in the bathroom after he had been in police custody for hours. Even if he shot himself, which officers were responsible for allowing him in with a gun? (They finally did give Fenton some info about it—which is how we know he died with his pants down.) Are not those officers a greater threat to the safety of their colleagues than someone who maybe didn't leave an area when ordered to do so? Might they acknowledge that it seems awful fishy, this whole story about the dude shooting himself? Sure, I mean it could conceivably be true, but we'd be more likely to believe the department if they came out and said, "we know this looks awful fishy—we're really looking into it."
If Davis wants to make a show of good faith to the city, he could actually enact the transparency Batts talked about. But as an interim commissioner it would be even more likely that there would be FOP pressure to can him. Whoever is in control of the department will be pulled between those poles—the public and the force. And unfortunately at least one side of that equation still seems to see itself as at war with the other.