The Washington Post front page reported, on Wednesday, August 10, 2016, that the U.S. Department of Justice published its report on the conduct of the Baltimore Police Department, at whose hands Freddie Gray lost his life. The report was a well deserved, scorching exposure of what the African American community in that city and elsewhere, has suffered, and continues to suffer at the hands of police officers.
The catalog of police abuses reported was broad, pervasive, continuous and obviously discriminatory over a long period of time, and for any student of history, abuses almost indistinguishable from the police in Nazi Germany. The report also noted what steps have been initiated, and the additional steps to be taken to implement reform, one of which included a proposal for a possible federal monitor — a probation officer for the Baltimore Police Department. Further steps included the usual “more and better training” of police officers, but saying nothing about supervisors whose monitoring of subordinate officers was found grossly insufficient.
Most significantly, the Justice Department report noted several practices taken from the model of soon departing New York police Commissioner Bill Bratton (see my blog post of 8-15-16) that were discriminatory plainly illegal and encouraged as a crime suppression technique which only accomplished increasing the jail population with little impact on reducing crime. Some practices described on which some arrests were based, did not even rise to the level of being farfetched; one of which was the stopping of a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt by an officer who “thought it could be possible that the individual could be out seeking a victim of opportunity”. The cop who so wrote can’t be retrained or simply taken off the street; he needs to be summarily fired as being too warped and dangerous to carry a badge and a firearm.
Conspicuous by its absence in the Post column is anything I saw in the proposals for reform that includes the notion of publicizing the firing of offending officers or criminally prosecuting them when and where indicated. Nor is there any mention of ending the practice of in-house, secret internal police investigations of bad cops. This form of secrecy is why this absurd, ridiculously outrageous stuff has persisted for so long. When the secrecy ends and these police practices are exposed, if they don’t end on their own, and offending cops not called to account, it will not be just the African American community that takes to the streets.
This Justice Department report exposes what minority communities have suffered and sensed for a long time; unequal protection of the law when they engage with the police.
In order to make the needed changes sooner rather than later, from the citizens’ side, and not just relying on reform by the government’s side, we need to try something new and different, as “A Toast to Silence” advocates; first, we must stop the needless fear of arrest. Fear makes for bad decision making. Next, instead of engagement, which got us where we are — nowhere — disengagement should be given a try — disengagement by silence. Instead of First Amendment free speech, how about Fifth Amendment no speech — silence, coupled with universal video recording of police encounters. These two self help measures are legally protected and as detailed in “A Toast to Silence“, constitutionally guaranteed. And they work at the Courthouse, where it counts. In Court you have a better shot at equal justice than on the street talking with a cop.
Cops are not lawyers and not judges; you can’t get anywhere or accomplish anything by verbally engaging with them on the street. Their work on the street is “. . . the competitive enterprise of ferreting out crime”, and collecting evidence from you to use against you in Court. Disengagement by silence empowers you to stop that from happening. It’s worth a try.