CONTACT: Evan Serpick, Open Society Institute-Baltimore
Recent police murders of Black Americans George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery continue a long and shameful tradition in U.S. history, dating back to slave patrols, which morphed into police units after the Civil War. This dark history encompasses the killing of Freddie Gray, who died at the hands of Baltimore police five years ago last month, and countless others, including many whose names have been lost to history.
These killings and so many others committed by police are rooted in anti-Blackness and until we address that scourge, they will continue. We applaud Minneapolis City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins, who called on state and local officials to declare racism a public health emergency. We call on officials in Baltimore and the state of Maryland to adopt a similar lens to address police violence.
Across the country, Black people, including Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and the young people from DewMore Baltimore, who led a massive, citywide march through the city on Monday, reciting poetry along the way, have poured out their anguish at these latest in a seemingly endless series of lynchings. In the heart-breaking video of police killing George Floyd, a witness asks three police officers standing nearby, “You gonna let him kill that man in front of you?” As Sherrilyn Ifill, director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and a former OSI-Baltimore Board Member tweeted, we should ask ourselves this question every day.
From Minneapolis to Baltimore, proponents of the status quo have blocked efforts to reform police departments at every turn. When Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey banned “Warrior-style” trainings for the city’s police force, Police Union President Lt. Bob Kroll pushed back offering to provide the $55,000 training for free for any police officers who wanted it.
In Baltimore, after the killing of Freddie Gray, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake invited the US Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the Baltimore Police Department. The DOJ found that the BPD routinely violated the Constitution in ways that disproportionately affect Black people. This led the city and DoJ to sign the Consent Decree in 2017, legally mandating reforms. From the beginning, Baltimore’s police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, opposed the Consent Decree and implementation has been slow at best. Perhaps most alarming, three years after the Consent Decree, fewer than half of Black Baltimore residents who responded to OSI’s Blueprint for Baltimore survey even know about it.
The time for inaction has passed. We call on the city, the BPD, the Consent Decree Monitoring Team, and Judge William Bredar, who oversees its implementation, to vastly step up the implementation of reforms with the urgency they demand. Obstacles and slow-rolling cannot be tolerated. Lives are, quite literally, at stake.
OSI-Baltimore has supported efforts to reform the BPD and will continue to do so with renewed urgency. At the direction of communities most impacted by police violence, we have also pivoted to support efforts to keep communities safe without engaging with law enforcement, like the Safe Streets program, which Blueprint survey participants identified as their preferred strategy to reduce violence. Thirty-two percent of those surveyed favored expanding Safe Streets, while only 11 percent favored hiring more police officers.
Asked what they would like to see the Mayor prioritize in the city’s operating budget, 34 percent of respondents to the Blueprint survey said “Youth Programs,” the most common response, while only 11 percent said “Policing.” We urge Baltimore City leadership to reduce funding to the Baltimore Police Department, currently more that $500 million per year—almost half of the city’s total discretionary budget—to be more in line with the priorities of Baltimore residents.
OSI will continue to support community and public health responses to violence, including Safe Streets and further integration of restorative practices in Baltimore City Schools and the community at large, and trauma-informed care practices citywide. We encourage the Mayor to prioritize such initiatives as well.
OSI-Baltimore staff join the Baltimore community in collective pain and outrage. We encourage all residents to take care of yourselves, your families, and your neighbors in these difficult times, as Baltimoreans always have. We know that dismantling the systems of anti-Blackness will be a long and difficult task, but we stand in solidarity with all of those working to achieve that goal.