Four Fires Burn In Baltimore

There is the death of Freddie Gray, and those protesting it as the culmination of the treatment by police of the black community.  There are looters and rioters, using the death and protest as cover to lay waste to their community for their own purposes, mostly gain and destruction.  And there is the death of Freddie Gray again, the use of force by police, the deterioration of trust and respect between law enforcement and the black community.

These fires are all burning at once, and there will be argument over who lit the fires, who is responsible, who is the worst offender.  It’s going to accomplish nothing, as the desire to deflect blame and responsibility will be stronger than the desire to put out any of these fires.

For a brief, shining moment, the death of yet another young black man at the hand of the police was sinking in to the subconscious of those people who don’t see the problem affecting their lives. But images of rioting and looting will destroy that gain.  They won’t see separate problems, but just one big fire.  And of all the causes they find unpalatable, looting will be the least acceptable. The need to believe that the police aren’t entirely wrong is strong and deeply embedded.  It’s the most difficult to overcome.

Yet, dismissing the gravamen of the protests, of the anger and frustration within a community for years, decades, of being pushed, beaten, treated like dirt, because there are some within the community that make the cops look better, is a terrible mistake.  Condemn the riots, the looting, but not the cause.

And what is the cause?  The police.  The police are the cause. There is simply no way around this fact.  The public cannot be blamed for being the public, and like it or not nice law-abiding white folks, black citizens are entitled to live their lives free of police beatings, violations of their right to enjoy a walk down the street without getting tossed against a wall, and not fear that they will die for no particularly good reason at the hands of a cop who need only proclaim he feared for his life.

Some cops concede the fact that there is no “officer safety” exception to the Constitution, thus obviating the First Rule of Policing.  It’s as if the people come first, and if that were so, there would be neither protests nor rioting or looting. Cause and effect matters when it comes to fires like those burning in Baltimore.

At Crime & Federalism, Mike Cernovich makes an important point, that since the police cannot exercise self-control, they require an incentive system to compel them to not kill people for the hell of it.  That doesn’t exist because of police unions and qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity provides  police who break the law get a free pass. This NY civil rights lawyer explain the doctrine well:

I often write about qualified immunity. This a legal doctrine that allows public defendants in civil rights cases to win the case if their objectionable actions did not violate clearly established law even if, in hindsight, the court finds that their actions were in fact illegal.

In other words, ignorance of the law is an excuse if you’re a cop. Conduct covered by qualified immunity has included using a tazer to torture a man, sodomizing a man with a police baton, and sexually assaulting a woman.

How can police get a pass for obviously immoral conduct? Simple. Power protects power. Judges view themselves as being on the same team as police and prosecutors.

While there is certainly truth to Mike’s assertion, I think he misses one critical point: judges, et al., can do so because we — the nice law abiding white folks whose lives aren’t sufficiently touched by all of this because police don’t toss our kids against a wall and who would rather see a cop at our door than an unknown black face, even though we might prefer neither — acquiesce in this state of affairs.  Judges don’t do this alone. No one does.

This guy gets it.  No matter how many people are killed, how many rights are violated, the first provocation will become the image on the TV screen and make all those nice law-abiding people shake their heads about the bad people who got what they deserved. They looted. They rioted. They didn’t behave themselves the way we think they should have.

The fires burning in Baltimore are symptoms of a disease that’s become pervasive in all parts of our society, from the nice law-abiding people who grasp at any excuse to support the police to those whose anger and frustration have manifested in the outrage.  Eventually, with sufficient suppression, the fires will be put out, but they will not cure the disease.  And the disease will continue to rage, the symptoms will be back, until we deal with the cause of the disease.

But that will require a national admission that we’ve enabled the police to get out of control.  And that requires the nice law-abiding people who allow the disease to fester to recognize that our narrow self-interest comes at the expense of our national health.

We all have the right to live our lives without fear of being harmed, killed, hassled by the cops.  Even in Ferguson. Even in Baltimore. Even in every minority neighborhood in America.  Not just in the nice law-abiding white neighborhoods.

And lest we forget, even in the nice law-abiding white neighborhoods, we’re still the enemy. It just hasn’t happened enough yet to make us give a damn.



31 thoughts on “Four Fires Burn In Baltimore

  1. David M.

    And if the moral and economic arguments aren’t compelling enough, consider this: episodes like these are red meat to the anti-American part of the world. French and German newspapers are all covering the story; the left-wing types are particularly gleeful, and the comments everywhere are jeering, racist and hostile. Xinhua’s on it. Even the Economist has a totally one-sided writeup.

    Baltimore cops are helping to erode American soft power? How ridiculous is that?

  2. Scott Morrell

    I know a couple of people who defend the police no matter what they do. I think of these people as narrow minded and they make me very upset. It’s just like politics, sports fanatics, nationalism, etc. Anything to far to an extreme is the root cause of most of our problems.

    I have great respect for police officers. I also have great respect for hard working plumbers. Just because one puts on a badge does not at all mean they are more ethical or hard working than their fellow man. It is simply a different job, and which they sometimes break the rules.

    Why are we surprised that their are bad apples in the police force? The odds in Vegas would put it at 99.% that their are bad apples. Go ahead cocky union and blind supporters, place your bet at the Bellagio Hotel Casino. Oh no? Why not?

    We hear from these police pundits and the unions on TV that the police are never in the wrong. The unyielding support from these “police puppets” is the very reason why nothing changes. They fail to admit any problems of their own. I wonder if they have perfect marriages as well.

    The rioting is wrong and the policing needs to be changed. They are mutually exclusive issues and the ones that try to wrap the two up in a bow are the ones that are the real perpetrators.

  3. Bartleby the Scrivener

    I’d already started down the path, but you accelerated my travels. I was already opposed to the police and judicial overreach, but the items you’ve illustrated and the points you’ve made have strongly enhanced that viewpoint.

    This incident made me aware of Illinois v. Wardlow and that gives me even more reason to hate Terry v. Ohio. Under what circumstances is a police officer NOT allowed to search someone that is in a high crime area?

    I never realized the Fourth Amendment actually reads, “Ihre Papiere, bitte.”

  4. Terrapin

    SHG: Writing from downtown, hometown Baltimore City this morning. Amid all the noise, your post is welcome and dead on. Thanks.

  5. Lee Keller King

    I am not opposed to the police and judiciary, as one writer posts. But I am against the abuse of power that seems near endemic in our society. I blame much of this problem on the War on Drugs and the militarization of our police forces.

    The question is, what are we going to do about it?

    1. SHG Post author

      This may be the most pointless comment today, but the day is still young. Will someone out-pointless you? Stay tuned.

  6. Piedmont

    Okay, but how to curb abuses while also maintaining a basic degree of order? There’s a lot of “burn this mother down” talk, but very little on how to maintain a structure of the Rule of Law while repairing the rot.

    Looking at the confrontations that started these recent incidents, they seem to all be fairly minor violations of the law: broken taillight, having a knife in a pocket, selling loose cigarettes, walking in the street, and so on. How should our police address such things, especially in the face of non-compliance?

    -Do we repeal laws against these minor things? If so, are we okay with having cars with defective equipment on our roads and giving up tax revenue?

    -Do we require that the officer merely issue a summons, rather than effect an arrest? What if the person is otherwise unknown to the officer and flees, or is otherwise known not to come to court?

    -Do we forbid the police from chasing people without a warrant or a felony or violent offense committed in their presence? Are we willing to risk a culture where people think that they can break the law, so long as they can run fast enough?

    The change needed, in order to not bring the whole system down on our heads and leave us unprotected, is massive and is going to take a while. We need to rethink many laws, as well as retrain police and increase accountability. We need to eradicate the idea that it’s a wise idea to resist armed men commissioned by the state to use force, rather than fighting the issue in court or at the ballot box.

    1. SHG Post author

      Interesting that one of your proposed solutions was not that police should stop killing people over crap. But some people are more fond of order at the needless expense of other people’s lives than others. And if it’s because of that love of order above lives that cities burn, then it’s just the price society has to pay.

      1. Piedmont

        I had assumed that would be covered by retraining and accountability. Apologies for the assumption.

        1. SHG Post author

          So they would have a “don’t kill people so damn much” class and that would fix the problem? Sure, that pretty much covers it.

    2. Angie NK

      We could get rid of qualified immunity. Maybe the police will think twice about killing people if they aren’t practically guaranteed to get away with it.
      You mention “retraining police,” but, as others have said before me, how do you train a person not to kill people?
      “Are we ok with … giving up tax revenue?” Baltimore spent $5.7 million since 2011 to settle police brutality lawsuits. I think they’d actually save money.

      1. Piedmont

        If I had to guess, I’d say that better training (and retraining) on use-of-force and de-escalation techniques would be a good start, perhaps coupled with the use of more nonlethal equipment.

    3. Patrick Maupin

      Looking at the confrontations that started these recent incidents, they seem to all be fairly minor violations of the law…

      Nah, they all come with the death penalty.

        1. Patrick Maupin

          As do I, on a regular basis. I salute Piedmont’s confidence in his own ability to always color inside the lines.

            1. Patrick Maupin

              Today’s humor was brought to you by the letter ‘L’ and the number 6.

              Oh, and by the fact that I started to write what I really thought about “Looking at the confrontations that started these recent incidents, they seem to all be fairly minor violations of the law…”, but punted once it became an unpublishable, frothing-at-the-mouth screed longer than the statute Barleycorn just posted.

  7. Richard G. Kopf


    It is time for every State to create a truly independent full time prosecutor for the entire state to investigate and prosecute errant police officers where a citizen suffers death or serious bodily injury at the hands of the police. Give the prosecutor an adequate staff of lawyers, support staff and investigators. Take the responsibility to investigate and prosecute cops out of the hands of the of local police and prosecutors and the state Attorney General. Have this special prosecutor issue public reports of each of his or her investigations. One might even select a well-regarded criminal defense lawyer to give up the practice and become that special prosecutor.

    Knowing that you like pie, this may seem like pie in the sky to you. But it is the best I can do. Something significant and concrete must be done to restore the public’s confidence in the police.

    All the best.


    1. SHG Post author

      I agree, with reluctance given memories of Maurice Nadjari, and even though some local prosecutors have demonstrated the fortitude to do their job, even when the defendant is a cop. But it still comes post hoc, while the incentives ante hoc to not engage in needless harm remain unaddressed. Sure, we need to know that cop killings are given real scrutiny, but the problem doesn’t begin and end with death.

      My point is that we need to stop the culture of force first, the sense of impunity (and not just for killings, but for all interactions) that has become embedded in the culture. Killings make headlines, but the everyday misery caused by the callousness, the anger, the hatefulness, the brutishness, the violation of rights, the lies, the excuses, the pervasive sense that they can do anything to anyone anytime, is just as much, if not more, part of the disease.

      1. ExCop-LawStudent

        The only way to stop it is from the outside, by holding the officers accountable.

        That mean’s prosecuting them when they break the law.

        Once you have their attention, then you can work on the culture.

        1. SHG Post author

          Q. What do you do?

          A. I’m the special prosecutor for police traffic violations, you know, speeding through red lights for no reason, parking in handicap spots, running down cyclists, that sort of thing.

          Q. You must be busy?

          A. Not really.

  8. John Barleycorn

    Them supposedly asymptomatic genetic diseases are tough to diagnose especially when they cloak themselves within the nucleus of the rule of law.

    In the meantime don’t forget that only orderly, nonviolent, and civil infusions of constructive criticism are approved by the FDA as long as they are temporary and intermittent and are only administered during daylight hours.

    Justia Us Law had a readily loot-able copy of the Special Patients Bill of Rights available if any of your readers are interested in the rule of law complexities involved in diagnosing let alone treating the disease.

    2010 Maryland Code
    Subtitle 1 – Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights
    Section 3-104 – Investigation or interrogation of law enforcement officer.

    § 3-104. Investigation or interrogation of law enforcement officer.

    (a) In general.- The investigation or interrogation by a law enforcement agency of a law enforcement officer for a reason that may lead to disciplinary action, demotion, or dismissal shall be conducted in accordance with this section.

    (b) Interrogating or investigating officer.- For purposes of this section, the investigating officer or interrogating officer shall be:

    (1) a sworn law enforcement officer; or

    (2) if requested by the Governor, the Attorney General or Attorney General’s designee.

    (c) Complaint that alleges brutality.-

    (1) A complaint against a law enforcement officer that alleges brutality in the execution of the law enforcement officer’s duties may not be investigated unless the complaint is sworn to, before an official authorized to administer oaths, by:

    (i) the aggrieved individual;

    (ii) a member of the aggrieved individual’s immediate family;

    (iii) an individual with firsthand knowledge obtained because the individual was present at and observed the alleged incident; or

    (iv) the parent or guardian of the minor child, if the alleged incident involves a minor child.

    (2) Unless a complaint is filed within 90 days after the alleged brutality, an investigation that may lead to disciplinary action under this subtitle for brutality may not be initiated and an action may not be taken.

    (d) Disclosures to law enforcement officer under investigation.-

    (1) The law enforcement officer under investigation shall be informed of the name, rank, and command of:

    (i) the law enforcement officer in charge of the investigation;

    (ii) the interrogating officer; and

    (iii) each individual present during an interrogation.

    (2) Before an interrogation, the law enforcement officer under investigation shall be informed in writing of the nature of the investigation.

    (e) Disclosures to law enforcement officer under arrest.- If the law enforcement officer under interrogation is under arrest, or is likely to be placed under arrest as a result of the interrogation, the law enforcement officer shall be informed completely of all of the law enforcement officer’s rights before the interrogation begins.

    (f) Time of interrogation.- Unless the seriousness of the investigation is of a degree that an immediate interrogation is required, the interrogation shall be conducted at a reasonable hour, preferably when the law enforcement officer is on duty.

    (g) Place of interrogation.-

    (1) The interrogation shall take place:

    (i) at the office of the command of the investigating officer or at the office of the local precinct or police unit in which the incident allegedly occurred, as designated by the investigating officer; or

    (ii) at another reasonable and appropriate place.

    (2) The law enforcement officer under investigation may waive the right described in paragraph (1)(i) of this subsection.

    (h) Conduct of interrogation.-

    (1) All questions directed to the law enforcement officer under interrogation shall be asked by and through one interrogating officer during any one session of interrogation consistent with paragraph (2) of this subsection.

    (2) Each session of interrogation shall:

    (i) be for a reasonable period; and

    (ii) allow for personal necessities and rest periods as reasonably necessary.

    (i) Threat of transfer, dismissal, or disciplinary action prohibited.- The law enforcement officer under interrogation may not be threatened with transfer, dismissal, or disciplinary action.

    (j) Right to counsel.-

    (1) (i) On request, the law enforcement officer under interrogation has the right to be represented by counsel or another responsible representative of the law enforcement officer’s choice who shall be present and available for consultation at all times during the interrogation.

    (ii) The law enforcement officer may waive the right described in subparagraph (i) of this paragraph.

    (2) (i) The interrogation shall be suspended for a period not exceeding 10 days until representation is obtained.

    (ii) Within that 10-day period, the chief for good cause shown may extend the period for obtaining representation.

    (3) During the interrogation, the law enforcement officer’s counsel or representative may:

    (i) request a recess at any time to consult with the law enforcement officer;

    (ii) object to any question posed; and

    (iii) state on the record outside the presence of the law enforcement officer the reason for the objection.

    (k) Record of interrogation.-

    (1) A complete record shall be kept of the entire interrogation, including all recess periods, of the law enforcement officer.

    (2) The record may be written, taped, or transcribed.

    (3) On completion of the investigation, and on request of the law enforcement officer under investigation or the law enforcement officer’s counsel or representative, a copy of the record of the interrogation shall be made available at least 10 days before a hearing.

    (l) Tests and examinations – In general.-

    (1) The law enforcement agency may order the law enforcement officer under investigation to submit to blood alcohol tests, blood, breath, or urine tests for controlled dangerous substances, polygraph examinations, or interrogations that specifically relate to the subject matter of the investigation.

    (2) If the law enforcement agency orders the law enforcement officer to submit to a test, examination, or interrogation described in paragraph (1) of this subsection and the law enforcement officer refuses to do so, the law enforcement agency may commence an action that may lead to a punitive measure as a result of the refusal.

    (3) If the law enforcement agency orders the law enforcement officer to submit to a test, examination, or interrogation described in paragraph (1) of this subsection, the results of the test, examination, or interrogation are not admissible or discoverable in a criminal proceeding against the law enforcement officer.

    (m) Same – Polygraph examinations.-

    (1) If the law enforcement agency orders the law enforcement officer to submit to a polygraph examination, the results of the polygraph examination may not be used as evidence in an administrative hearing unless the law enforcement agency and the law enforcement officer agree to the admission of the results.

    (2) The law enforcement officer’s counsel or representative need not be present during the actual administration of a polygraph examination by a certified polygraph examiner if:

    (i) the questions to be asked are reviewed with the law enforcement officer or the counsel or representative before the administration of the examination;

    (ii) the counsel or representative is allowed to observe the administration of the examination; and

    (iii) a copy of the final report of the examination by the certified polygraph examiner is made available to the law enforcement officer or the counsel or representative within a reasonable time, not exceeding 10 days, after completion of the examination.

    (n) Information provided on completion of investigation.-

    (1) On completion of an investigation and at least 10 days before a hearing, the law enforcement officer under investigation shall be:

    (i) notified of the name of each witness and of each charge and specification against the law enforcement officer; and

    (ii) provided with a copy of the investigatory file and any exculpatory information, if the law enforcement officer and the law enforcement officer’s representative agree to:

    1. execute a confidentiality agreement with the law enforcement agency not to disclose any material contained in the investigatory file and exculpatory information for any purpose other than to defend the law enforcement officer; and

    2. pay a reasonable charge for the cost of reproducing the material.

    (2) The law enforcement agency may exclude from the exculpatory information provided to a law enforcement officer under this subsection:

    (i) the identity of confidential sources;

    (ii) nonexculpatory information; and

    (iii) recommendations as to charges, disposition, or punishment.

    (o) Adverse material.-

    (1) The law enforcement agency may not insert adverse material into a file of the law enforcement officer, except the file of the internal investigation or the intelligence division, unless the law enforcement officer has an opportunity to review, sign, receive a copy of, and comment in writing on the adverse material.

    (2) The law enforcement officer may waive the right described in paragraph (1) of this subsection.

  9. David

    Reviewing the comments: Lawyers always like solutions that involve changes in law, as do non-lawyers. Piedmont writes about repealing laws against minor offenses, requiring that officers issue summonses for trivial offenses, and outlawing police chases. Angie NK says that we need to end qualified immunity, and Judge Kopf says that we should hire prosecutors who focus exclusively on police abuses.

    These changes to the law cannot address the fundamental problem—police culture. People are angry because they are consistently treated with contempt and disrespect. They are thrown up against walls and ordered to spread their legs, while police pat them down and demand to know their home addresses and intentions. They arrive late for work because they spent forty minutes at a traffic stop that included a dog sniff of their vehicle, for some unstated reason. In the best-case scenario, they are regularly approached by officers and subjected to invasive and humiliating questioning simply because they are in a certain place at a certain time, and they have a certain appearance. They are always treated as suspects, and they are always treated as though they have done something wrong.

    When police officers engage in such practices, they perceive themselves to be doing their jobs. They perceive themselves to be protecting “us” from “them.” They perceive themselves to be protecting the “good guys” from the “bad guys.” This is a deep cultural problem, and it will persist despite legalistic reforms. Police officers have a job to do, and they see themselves as making best efforts to do that job despite the “touchy-feely rules” enacted by “do-gooders who seek to protect the bad guys.” No matter what rules are put in place, they will continue to protect us from people who look like Mike Brown, Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott.

    Police officers cannot even imagine a world in which they are expected to treat all people equally unless and until a particular person has engaged in behavior which would arouse a reasonable suspicion that he or she is engaged in criminal behavior. Such a world in entirely inconsistent with the job that they perceive themselves to have been asked to perform. Most police officers (even “good” police officers) are suspicious of a young black man standing outdoors in the same place for an extended period of time and shaking hands with passers-by. To a police officer, this young man merits investigation. At the very least, they should approach him and engage in conversation. Put simply, most police officers cannot even imagine a world in which they can treat us all equally and simultaneously perform the function they have been asked to perform—protect “us” from “them.” They will therefore resist every opportunity to reform their culture in a way that conforms to America’s supposed values of equal protection and presumption of innocence, because they cannot fully embrace these values and simultaneously justify their decision to approach that young man standing on a corner and shaking hands with passers-by.

    What is the solution? It is cultural, and it is therefore unlikely to change unless and until our culture changes. It is especially unlikely to change unless and until there occurs a value change amongst the people who actually fund police agencies and who pay police officers’ salaries. So long as the power class and the middle class continue to see police agencies as institutions that defend their interests against the violent incursions of the underclass, nothing will change.

    Quite frankly, I am pessimistic.

    1. SHG Post author

      I don’t know how long you’ve been around here, but the issue of police culture has been discussed often and at great length. We cannot change culture from the outside, and the cops have shown little inclination to change it from the inside. The only impact we, non-cops, can have on police culture is for force change through incentives. Cultural is the problem, and it is the solution in the sense that when the culture changes so will the conduct. But until we make cops want to change the culture for their own self-interest, nothing will change.

  10. Curtis

    Something as simple as asking 2 SBCSD deputies on a Starbucks break if that extra chair is taken.

    How frikkin dare I! Who do I think I am?

    Pardon me, Is this chair being used by anyone?


    Is this chair being used.

    The “look” over from head to toe to head… not a word. But you can slice through the contempt.

    {Well ef them} I’m going to take that as a no, and take the chair (as I take the chair).

    I just do not care if one is a cop or not. I’ll play by the civil and polite rules. But if you treat me with undeserved disrespect, or flat out lie to me… (I pulled you over because you didn’t come to a complete stop at the stop sign), I’m going to throw it back at you.

    But, but, but… he’s a cop! So what. He/she is a cop and I am suppose genuflect my loins in absolute submission, squeal like a girl, grab my crotch… and pee?

    I think it is about time that men… start manning up. He’s a cop! So what?

    1. SHG Post author

      There is an op-ed by D. Watkins in the New York Times that gives some stories of his childhood in Baltimore. No chairs at Starbucks, but the routine degradation he and his friends and family lived with. From the outside, it seems to only be about Freddie Gray’s death, but it’s about all of it.

      We are all starting to believe that holding hands, following pastors and peaceful protests are pointless. The only option is to rise up, and force Mayor Rawlings-Blake to make what should be an easy choice: Stop protecting the livelihoods of the cops who killed Freddie Gray, or watch Baltimore burn to the ground.

      Whether this is a solution or just a catharsis, I don’t know. But the disease continues to fester until this changes.

  11. Bruce Godfrey

    Pro bono publico.

    The Office of the Public Defender in Baltimore City is seeking volunteers to assist at Central Booking at bail reviews. While the demand has subsided slightly, the need continues. Interested Maryland licensees may contact 410-209-4437. This information is from my classmate at UM Law and senior Asst PD Marci Tarrant Johnson. I have not volunteered due to pre-existing commitments 40 miles away but hope to provide pro bono services, particularly civil and admin services, in the extended aftermath of this unrest and economic upheaval.

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