Let's say, hypothetically speaking, that you are one of Baltimore's aggravated street lunatics. You are carrying on, swearing, maybe gesticulating wildly, muttering or screaming, implicitly and/or explicitly threatening anybody who can see and hear you. As one does.
Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has a message for you.
"We can't just walk by that," Davis said in a press conference.
In most places this would be self-evident. But in Baltimore City, where street-screaming is usually tolerated and occasionally celebrated, Davis called the media to defend and explain the actions of an officer and a trainee who had, after some fisticuffs, arrested a man acting out in just this way.
James Young, 21, is charged with assault, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and failure to obey a lawful order. It's the kind of arrest that happens several times a night in Baltimore, more often on weekends. But this was noon on the first block of South Broadway.
Of course it was videoed. Of course it got nearly a million views by Friday. Of course the comments mainly celebrated the punch Young landed on the police trainee, a guy named Bagby, who went down.
"When a police officer nearly gets knocked out, and it's on video, and it goes viral across the country, we have to talk about it," Davis said.
So the commissioner talked about how, when he goes to community meetings, they mostly ask him to send more cops. He says cops can't just ignore "a man acting in a bizarre and disorderly way." He said the video inspires him to create more sophisticated training scenarios. He said, more or less, that annoying street lunatics must be confronted.
"The community does not expect us to walk by that. I think the officers showed remarkable restraint. I really do," Davis said. "This is where the art of policing is shown."
The art, in other words, of judging when an agitated person has become a disorderly person, subject to a criminal charge. The art of arresting a man who is trying to punch your lights out.
Davis repeatedly emphasized the scenario's rarity.
Like his predecessors, Davis said he's encouraged his officers to leave their cars and walk around, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells that unarmed Baltimore pedestrians encounter. That's what happened here. Trainee Bagby's (his first name is not in the report) and officer Christy Post's attention were drawn to Young, who was across the street, "yelling obscenities at them and drawing a crowd with his disorderly activity," Post wrote in her report.
In Baltimore, as in most cities, men like Young can be found in almost neighborhood. Drunk, high, mentally ill, or just mad as hell, they are tolerated to keep the peace—and this tends to diffuse rather than exacerbate such situations. But the police stopped—and engaged.
"Our police officers certainly did not expect that scenario to go that way," Davis said.
Ordered to calm down and/or move along, Young became even louder and more aggressive, threatening to kill Bagby. Not surprisingly, shouting at Young to calm down was ineffective. Post moved in to arrest Young and the fight was on, with Young punching at both cops, as the video shows. Young punched Bagby in the mouth, knocking him down, but Post followed the two of them to the ground and worked at getting Young off Bagby. In her report she says Young was trying to choke Bagby. Other officers arrived and pushed through the crowd to help arrest Young, who is innocent until proven guilty.
Online court records indicate that Young has faced criminal charges in Baltimore at least five times since 2012, ranging from armed carjacking (remanded to juvenile court), robbery and "assault on an elderly individual" (10-year sentence with all but two suspended), assault on a Department of Corrections employee (one year), malicious destruction (nolle prosequi), and the current charges.
As many commenters on World Star have opined, it seems that the police are always messing with him.
Reporters pressed Davis on the notion that police are reluctant to confront people like Young since the Freddie Gray unpleasantness. Davis denied this is the case, but allowed that the crowds of amped-up amateur videographers have changed the job somewhat. "This whole YouTube effect that has landed in the middle of American policing, it’s still so new, it’s a distraction," Davis said.
But life is for learning: "We'll show that video in our academy and our in-service training for months and months and months," Davis said.