Bringing the Crisis to a Head in Baltimore

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Bringing the Crisis to a Head in Baltimore

"These Aren't 'Riots.' You Are Watching an Unjust System Be Dismantled," reads a sign at a May 2, 2015 protest in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo: Susan Melkisethian/cc/flickr)

The only thing that can work to fundamentally change the system for Black people – whether in the 21st century or the Sixties – is mass organization for popular empowerment.”

It’s been nine months since the Black youth of Ferguson, Missouri, set history in motion with their demand for justice for Michael Brown, yet the “movement” has maintained its momentum while the forces of Tom Foolery and collaboration are on the defensive. In Baltimore, the young Black State’s Attorney gave the people what they had so loudly demanded, but didn’t expect to get: serious charges against the six cops directly involved in Freddie Gray’s death, with one officer facing up to 30 years in prison for 2nd degree “depraved heart” murder – a potential template for future “depraved indifference” charges against killer cops. Thirty-five year-old Marilyn Mosby became an instant icon for millions when she concluded her announcement of the charges with a salute to Black youth: "You’re at the forefront of this cause, and as young people, our time is now."

It was not Allen Bullock’s time. The 18 year-old succumbed to pressures from his family to turn himself in to police, and was promptly locked up in lieu of $500,000 bail on charges of rioting and destruction of property – substantially higher than the $350,000 bail set for the four officers charged with manslaughter and murder of Freddie Gray, and twice as high as the two cops facing misdemeanor counts in Gray’s death. Maryland’s top public defender appealed to private lawyers to represent the hundreds arrested during last week’s rebellion, and pleaded for affordable bail. “This is a poor community. Putting high bonds on those who cannot afford even nominal bonds sends the wrong message—that if you have money you get released—and may fan the flames of frustration,” said Paul DeWolfe. But judges continued to set high bail, including $100,000 for a man accused of stealing 130 bottles of vodka. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who had earlier lamented that her city was being “destroyed by thugs,” and then later apologized for her remarks, reiterated Wednesday morning that more arrests would be forthcoming as police poured over video evidence.

Thirty-five year-old Marilyn Mosby became an instant icon.”

Over one hundred people that had been arrested during were released with no charges, prompting deputy public defender Natalie Finegar to tell the Los Angeles Times, “It looks like a lot of folks were just flat-out illegally detained, from our perspective.” Which only goes to show that the U.S. criminal justice system responds to protests against over-policing and disregard of Black rights – with more of the same.

On Sunday, Mayor Rawlings-Blake lifted the five-day curfew – a collective punishment that was selectively imposed on Black and poor sections of the city – and Maryland’s governor announced the start of withdrawal of thousands National Guard troops.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Mosby, who won office vowing to reign in police misconduct and to set an example for swift prosecution of offenders in blue, will have to fight to assemble a jury willing to convict police officers of – anything. The cops’ lawyers will surely demand a change in venue from 63 percent Black Baltimore and the heavily Black surrounding county, to a much whiter locale. Although Maryland is the fourth Blackest state in the nation, at about 29 percent, there are still “Simi Valley”-type venues out there that can be counted on to exonerate killer cops under any circumstances. If a change of venue is granted, then the odds of convicting a cop for killing a citizen of any race in the U.S. will remain unchanged at 1,000 to 1, as tabulated by a landmark Washington Post-Bowling Green State University study.

The cops’ lawyers will surely demand a change in venue.”

Mosby’s use of Maryland’s “depraved heart” statute – the equivalent of “depraved indifference” in other states or “reckless disregard” for constitutional rights in federal case law – to charge one of the cops with 2nd degree murder, is a challenge to the prosecutorial chorus, including former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, that maintains it is near impossible to prove a case of murder against cops because of how “the law” is written. Mosby is apparently aware of the Michigan Branch of the ACLU’s efforts to show that U.S. court rulings provide ample room for prosecution of killer cops. For example, a 1997 U.S. appellate court ruling held that: “It is enough...if it can be proved – by circumstantial evidence or otherwise – that a defendant exhibited reckless disregard for a constitutional or federal right.” (See, “It’s Not the Law, But Prosecutors, That Give Immunity to Killer Cops,” BAR, Dec 12, 2014.)

Under Eric Holder, according to the New York Times, the U.S. Justice Department has “has supported police officers every timean excessive-force case has made its way to arguments.” Which means, like every attorney general before him, Holder has used the weight of his department to relentlessly shape the case law of the nation’s highest court in favor of impunity for killer cops. HE is part of the problem, yet is allowed to tour Black communities and churches pretending to be a friend on the inside of the system. (Loretta Lynch will doubtless be no different.)

Mayor Rawlings-Blake went to that poisoned well this Wednesday morning, asking the Justice Department to conduct a “pattern and practice” investigation into systemic racial bias and excessive force in the Baltimore Police Department, which the mayor said has a “fractured” relationship with the community. It’s an empty gesture, designed to show “the process” is working.

There was clearly more than simple “looting” going on in the pattern of confrontation with police.”

The only thing that can work to fundamentally change the system for Black people – whether in the 21st century or the Sixties – is mass organization for popular empowerment. In a society where police practice systemic violence, the resistance will inevitably include violence, as well. Baltimore saw both ingredients at work, over the past couple of weeks – and it scared the powers-that-be to their bones. Whatever this “movement” will ultimately be called, it announced its active presence in a major American city at the beginning of the hot season. There was clearly more than simple “looting” going on in the pattern of confrontation with police – which means, important things are happening in the street. When high school kids rush out of school to join the battle against the cops, we know that important things are happening in their peer groups. And the summer has not yet begun.

The “peaceful” protesters and the bad “thugs” – who might be the same person at different times of day – created a small taste of the crisis that must come to all of the Baltimores of the United States, if Black people are to control or replace the local police and sever every fatal connection to the Mass Black Incarceration State that has been imposed over the past 45 years. It is only at the point of crisis that those in power will even consider bowing to Black demands for transformational change. In the process of consciously bringing about this crisis, we will be compelled to deal with those Blacks that collaborate with corporate and white power, and to create an environment that is, shall we say, not conducive to their presence in the community.

Glen Ford

Back Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

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