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Justice Department Report Finds Baltimore Police Violated Civil Rights


The Justice Department has released a scathing report on the practices of the Baltimore Police Department. The mayor and police chief promised that things will change, that the police will become a model force. But some Baltimore residents have doubts. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: In what has become a kind of ritual in American cities from Ferguson to Albuquerque, the chief of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division stood in front of cameras and delivered a bruising assessment of the Baltimore Police Department. Standing in City Hall next to the mayor and the police commissioner, Benita Gupta said Baltimore police engaged in the pattern of unconstitutional policing.


BENITA GUPTA: The city's African-American residents and African-American neighborhoods bore the brunt of this activity.

PERALTA: Indeed the more than year-long investigation found that African-Americans were a lot more likely to be stopped, arrested and charged, but oftentimes it amounted to just harassment. One man, for example, was stopped 30 times in less than four years by police, yet none of the stops ever resulted in a citation or criminal charge. Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis promises his police force is taking the report to heart.


COMMISSIONER KEVIN DAVIS: We will be better. We will prove it to the world, to this city, that it can and will be done in Baltimore. And Baltimore will be the model for this nation.

PERALTA: Some Baltimore residents, however, are doubtful.

SHAWN YOUNG: (Laughter).

PERALTA: That's Shawn Young, who lives in the same neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested last year. He says it won't be long before things get back to what they've always been.

YOUNG: I guarantee somebody is going to be arrested today for a minor drug charge. Somebody is going to be stopped and harassed today for no reason. Somebody is going to be - have their rights taken from them. You feel me?

PERALTA: Across the way, Charles Ross is sitting on a stoop. Police, he says, have terrorized this neighborhood. They don't let him sit in front of his house. They've arrested his friends without probable cause. What he heard from his mayor and his police chief are just words, he says.

CHARLES ROSS: They only put out what they want to put out there just to get the votes and get what they need to get in. And then once they get in, they don't care because if you look around the city, there's no way shape or form that the city should be - look like a damn abandoned area.

PERALTA: One thing that might change things, he says, is if someone in power is hauled off to jail.

ROSS: That's the problem. That's why it is the way it is because ain't nobody being held - you know what I mean? - accountable.

PERALTA: At the press conference, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the problem is so systemic that finger-pointing at individuals doesn't help.


STEPHANIE RAWLINGS-BLAKE: A system is not individual. That being said, I'm responsible for ushering in the meaningful reforms that have taken place thus far, and I am certainly committed to making the meaningful reforms moving forward.

PERALTA: Paul D. Butler, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown who studies policing, agrees with Rawlings-Blake.

PAUL BUTLER: When the Justice Department releases reports with these kinds of scathing findings that corroborate what black people have been saying all along, that's the route to a systemic change.

PERALTA: Over the next weeks and months, Baltimore and the Justice Department say they will work to come to a court-enforced agreement. It will likely be in place for years and include more stringent record-keeping, more training and an independent monitor who makes sure reforms are implemented. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.