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Arrest Data That Helps Explain The Baltimore Riots

01.05.2015  |  09:48
Arrest Data That Helps Explain The Baltimore Riots

For years, Baltimore had a policy that led to tens of thousands of wrongful arrests

It is hard to argue that the relationship between Baltimore police and the black community it serves was ever good, but it was made exponentially worse, if not destroyed, during the early aughts. That’s when the city created a program that led to the wrongful arrests of thousands of the city’s black residents.

In an interview with the Marshall Project on Wednesday, David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” argues the brutally wrongheaded policy enacted during Martin O’Malley’s tenure as the city’s mayor, from 1999 to 2007. As the city smolders in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death and the Baltimore riots, it provides some much-needed context. It’s a part of O’Malley’s record that will likely come under more scrutiny if he decides to run for president in 2016, which many pundits believe is likely.

At the time, according to Simon, O’Malley had his eye on the Maryland governorship, and one of his chief selling points was his record on crime—the city’s high rates were notorious, and the mayor was billing himself as the man capable of bringing about drastic reductions. To pad the stats, the city came up with a new initiative. As Simon explains it:

The department began sweeping the streets of the inner city, taking bodies on ridiculous humbles, mass arrests, sending thousands of people to city jail, hundreds every night, thousands in a month. They actually had police supervisors stationed with printed forms at the city jail–forms that said, essentially, you can go home now if you sign away any liability the city has for false arrest, or you can not sign the form and spend the weekend in jail until you see a court commissioner.

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And tens of thousands of people signed that form.

In the summer of 2006, the ACLU sued the city over the mass arrests. In the initial complaint, it highlighted the key stats at the heart of the program. During the prior year, police arrested 76,497 people without warrants. City prosecutors declined to charge 25,293 of them, or 30%, on the grounds that the cases presented were “legally insufficient.” As for the people who were charged with crimes, see the chart below for a sampling of those transgressions.

Baltimore was forced to settle with the ACLU in 2010 and enact a series of reforms. The initiative has now more or less ended, but the damage it caused obviously lingers. “Never mind what it did to your jury pool,” Simon told the Marshall Project. “Now every single person of color in Baltimore knows the police will lie.”




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