Power corrupts and harms: Baltimore, policing violence, and its supporters

The recent report by the Department of Justice confirms what many already knew: the Baltimore Police Department uses its power to discriminate -in all aspects of law enforcement- against African Americans, cis- and trans-gendered women. The targeting for stopping and arresting was consistent and institutional. And the neighborhoods targeted were racially and economically profiled. Again, to be clear, none of this is new to most black folks in the city, or any other city in America. What is new to Baltimore is a history of accountability that will be public; if we decide to hold the process accountable. Because a public awareness of lack of accountability is our history and current practice. Black and brown folks have been requesting an investigation for years. It was the public display of protest after the murder of Freddie Gray while in custody of the police that finally led to an investigation of the department.

In light of the recent exposure of the secret surveillance of citizens by the Baltimore Police Department, and the vagueness and corruption of those involved -Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF), the mayor- not so sure that citizen protest is enough. The powerful forces that are leveraged against the black body is devastating and harmful to not just the body of those directly targeted, but the minds and bodies of every black and brown body. Every black and brown body is at risk when one body is at risk. When the lighting is low enough, when the police are in a hurry and angry/fearful enough, and when the vigilantes are feeling brave/fearful enough, every black and brown body is at risk. In some neighborhoods, it’s business as usual, as the DOJ report verifies. So what will we do to maintain a public scrutiny of the process of accountability by the police department?

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Who do we trust?

Clearly the non-profit industrial complex has proved itself again to be bought by the rich evidenced by BCF’s receipt of private dollars to support surveillance of the public. But we should not hold them solely accountable. We must hold the entire non-profit industrial complex in our city accountable: the Casey foundation for their funding and collaboration of removal of more than 800 families in Middle East Baltimore for the Science and Technology Park at Johns Hopkins. The Abel Foundation for funding the initial plan, and the Weinberg and Goldseker Foundation and others for their continuous support of EBDI and New Forest City development of the Johns Hopkins Biopark.

These ways of building and rebuilding communities have lead to communities of fragmentation and disinvestment. Let’s stop letting the white and black and brown faces, paid by these same institutions which directly and indirectly support this uneven development, continue this history of exploitation. This continuous exploitation of neighborhoods of black and brown people-serial forced displacement- has set the path for police brutality. This disinvestment and continuous segregation while building the resources of those with power created neighborhoods of poverty and crime. Instead of investment of the wealth, accumulated off the backs of black and brown people, back into these communities they have been exiled and left to fend for themselves. The funding, when targeted to these communities, comes in the form of policing. So it’s no surprise that a wealthy couple in Texas, would pay for police surveillance of our communities and that a foundation would launder the monies for the police department.

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How do we heal, stop the violence, and assure equity?

Where is the moral code of our city and its “leaders”? Tomorrow the Baltimore Action Legal Team and Baltimore Bloc will convene a meeting to hear what residents of Baltimore feel should be included in the response by the police department back to the DOJ. The city council will have a hearing to learn what the Police Department had in mind when deciding to initiate secret surveillance of the citizens of Baltimore. While BCF is not a public entity, it certainly should be questioned by the city council for enabling this type of secrecy which continues the exploitation of the poor and black and brown bodies. Every development which continues to marginalize and gentrify neighborhoods should be called to task for continuing to create neighborhoods of easy targets for police brutality. Gentrification creates neighborhoods of risk by segregating those already facing hardships: like paying more than 30% of income on housing cost, having a low income, having poor health, have decreased educational attainment, etc. It’s time to look at the root causes of police brutality, and not be content with the outcome of the DOJ report. A thorough analysis requires us to understand how historic and current disinvestment by the city and its wealthy “leaders” have created communities prone to violence. For example the current Port Covington development in south Baltimore which seeks more than 600 million in public subsidy continues this history of exploitation of our tax dollars. The city council should investigate the disproportionate growth of the wealthy and the poor in our city and redistribute this wealth. It should investigate and repair how the city has chosen to ignore this legacy of separate and unequal community building and instead continue on the same path. Anything else is just a continuation of the superficial attention to the history of how the powerful have used racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia to exploit a capitalist political economy. How many more reports of the outcomes of this history do we need to change? As long as our communities remain fragmented, and our culture of violence, punishment, and corruption (itself a form of structural violence) continues, we will continue to get the same results. When will we wake up and do something different so we can become healthy and whole, individually and as communities? Let’s demand that our political leaders hold government departments and their powerful cronies/supporters accountable. Enough is enough Baltimore, we must stop the violence!

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