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Baltimore police are afraid to arrest people, and murders are at a record high

The city just had its deadliest month in 25 years – right after the death of Freddie Gray.

Baltimore Police Death Source: David Goldman/PA

THE CITY OF Baltimore, Maryland has just experienced the deadliest month in a quarter of a century, with arrests plummeting since the death of black man Freddie Gray, whose spine was severed in a police van.

Some 40 people have been killed in May, and 100 shot – the most in a single month since the 42 in August 1990, when the city had a larger population, as the Baltimore Sun reports.

On Friday night, two 23-year-old men – Eladio Bennett and Justin Bey – were shot dead in north-west and south-west Baltimore, becoming the 39th and 40th victims in May.

The record number of killings, and drastic drop in arrests, have been widely blamed on the fallout from the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in April, after his spine was severed in a police van.

His death prompted outrage, days of rioting and peaceful protests, and eventually, six police officers being charged, including one with second-degree murder.

Since then, arrests have plummeted, and homicides have sky-rocketed.

To put it in perspective:

  • From 1-19 May 2014, Baltimore police made 2,396 arrests – 126 a day
  • From 1-19 May 2015, they made just 1,045 arrests – 55 a day.

That’s a 56% drop, year-on-year.

Both police themselves, and residents in the worst-affected communities appear to agree that a lack of street patrols and arrests has resulted in the surge in violent crime and killings.

Homicides were already rising month-on-month by the time Gray died, but shot up by a staggering 82% between April and May.

January – 23
February – 13
March – 15
April – 22
May – 40

‘Police used to sit on every corner. These days they’re nowhere.’

graycnn Source: CNN via YouTube

“Before it was over-policing,” said Donnail “Dreads” Lee, who lives in the neighbourhood where Freddie Gray was chased down by police.

Now there’s no police. People feel as though they can do things and get away with it.
I see people walking with guns almost every single day, because they know the police aren’t pulling them up like they used to.

Antoine Perrine’s brother was shot dead three weeks ago on a basketball court in West Baltimore, which has borne the brunt of violent crime in the city, for years.

Police used to sit on every corner, on the top of the block. These days? They’re nowhere.
It’s so bad, people are afraid to let their kids outside. People wake up with shots through their windows…I’m afraid to go outside.

Residents in West Baltimore now worry they’ve been abandoned by the officers they once accused of harassing them.

Baltimore police: Frustrated, angry, and “under siege”?

Baltimore Police Death Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts. Source: Associated Press

However, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts denied this week that officers are “holding back,” despite sometimes being met with hostility in the Western District.

Our officers tell me that when officers pull up, they have 30 to 50 people surrounding them at any time.

He did admit, however, that since the death of Freddie Gray, and with a federal investigation hanging over them, Baltimore police do fear getting arrested for making mistakes.

What is happening, there is a lot of confusion in the police organization.
There are people who have pain, there are people who are hurt, there are people who are frustrated, there are people who are angry.
There are people, and they’ve said this to me, ‘If I get out of my car and make a stop for a reasonable suspicion that leads to probable cause but I make a mistake on it, will I be arrested?’

The Fraternal Order of Police, which has a reputation for being an outspoken defender of Baltimore cops, said in a statement this week they are “under siege,” and “criminals are taking advantage…since the unrest.”

Baltimore Police Death Source: David Goldman/PA

Some observers have been reluctant to draw a causal link between the spike in killings and the drop in arrests since Gray’s death.

On Wednesday, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the city was “examining” the connection, but claimed there are ”a lot of reasons why we’re having a surge in violence.”

In other cities that have experienced police officers accused or indicted of crimes, there’s a lot of distrust and a community breakdown. The result is routinely increased violence.

Michael Greenberger, a law professor at the University of Maryland, said the spike in killings is more likely a response to Gray’s death and the rioting.

We went through a period of such intense anger that the murder rate got out of control. I think it’s been really hard for the police to keep on top of that.

Donnail Lee disagrees, though. He says rival gang members are taking advantage of quiet policing to settle old scores.

There was a shooting down the street, and the man was standing in the middle of the street with a gun, just shooting.
Usually, you can’t walk up and down the street drinking or smoking weed. Now, people are everywhere smoking weed, and police just ride by, look at you, and keep going.
There used to be police on every corner.

Contains reporting by the Associated Press.

Read: Outrage and protests after death of black man arrested by Baltimore police>

Read: Baltimore – Six police officers formally charged over Freddie Gray death>

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Dan MacGuill

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