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Damning report shows scale of racial bias in Baltimore police force

The city’s mayor said there is a “long journey ahead of us”.

File: Police stand in formation as a curfew approaches in Baltimore in April 2015
File: Police stand in formation as a curfew approaches in Baltimore in April 2015
Image: AP/Press Association Images

THE US JUSTICE Department has unveiled a scathing report that found the Baltimore police department has disproportionately stopped, searched and arrested African Americans for years.

The report was released at a news conference in the city more than a year after riots provoked by the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries he suffered in police custody.

The 163-page report found that Baltimore police engage in a “pattern” of conduct that violates the US constitution.

It says that there is a perception in the city that there are “two Baltimores” – one wealthy and largely white, the second impoverished and predominantly black.

Community members living in the city’s wealthier and largely white neighbourhoods told us that officers tend to be respectful and responsive to their needs, while many individuals living in the city’s largely African-American communities informed us that officers tend to be disrespectful and do not respond promptly to their calls for service.

Although the city is 63% black, African Americans account for 84% of pedestrian stops, the report found.

African Americans also made up 95% of 410 individuals who were stopped at least 10 times by police officers from 2010-15, the report added.

Seven African-American men were stopped more than 30 times during this period.

Baltimore Police Death April 2016: Neighbourhood residents gather at the Tubman House in Sandtown the one-year anniversary of Freddie Gray's death in Baltimore. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Between 2010-15, African Americans made up 82% of the people stopped by police for traffic violations despite accounting for only 60% of the city’s drivers, the report found.

BPD’s stops often lack reasonable suspicion. Our review of incident reports and interviews with officers and community members found that officers regularly approach individuals standing or walking on City sidewalks to detain and question them and check for outstanding warrants, despite lacking reasonable suspicion to do so.

Excessive force

Police enforcement strategies “produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African Americans,” the report concluded.

The police department also uses “excessive force,” and retaliates against “people engaged in constitutionally-protected expression,” the report found.

The findings “identified concerns” about the police department’s transport of individuals and investigation of sexual assaults.

Gray died a week after suffering a severed spine while being transported in the back of a police van, unsecured and with his hands and feet bound, after being arrested on April 12, 2015 while fleeing police.

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Reforms

The report attributed the shortcomings to “deficient policies, training, oversight and accountability, and policing strategies that do not engage effectively with the community.”

The report is a step towards implementing what the Justice Department called “lasting reforms” to rebuild trust in the Baltimore police and ensure effective policing.

“We have a very long journey ahead of us and I’m grateful we can bring this process of meaningful change while I am mayor,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told a news conference.

The report can be read here.

- © AFP, 2016 - Additional reporting Aoife Barry 

Read: Drivers ‘spat at, punched and kicked’ in racist incidents on public transport>

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