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The true causes of Baltimore’s spike in crime are beyond my knowledge. But I have no problem believing that diminished respect for police officers is one factor—or that a related factor is an aversion among some cops to assertively policing a hostile population. For the sake of the argument, let's assume both factors are contributing to a spike in crime that’s mostly harming blacks, as conservatives claim.
What I cannot accept is the fantastical notion that the Baltimore police department lost the support of the city’s black residents because of hostile politicians, activists, and journalists, as if criticism of cops is a cause of dysfunction in policing rather than an effect. “If anti-cop vituperation tapers off in the coming months and police start to feel supported in their work, the recent crime increases may also taper off,” Mac Donald writes in another article. “If the media-saturated agitation continues, however, the new normal may be less policing and more crime.”
Here’s an alternative theory. Today’s relationship between the Baltimore police department and the city’s black residents was determined by neither Obama Administration statements nor New York Times editorials nor liberal hashtag activists. Rather, it was determined by years of interactions between residents of black neighborhoods––the law-abiding majority and a criminal minority alike––and Baltimore police officers, including many who behaved like thugs (and many more forced into the impossible position of being asked to wage an unwinnable war on drugs). Law-and-order conservatives are happy to acknowledge Baltimore’s criminals but ignore the part of local police culture that is thuggish, brutal and lawless because it is incompatible with how they want people to think of authority.
Yet their silence is not hiding anything.
Local mistrust of and antagonism toward Baltimore police isn’t rooted in the national conversation. It is rooted in the fact that Baltimore police officers unlawfully stopped and arrested a 25-year-old black man from the neighborhood, tossed him in the back of a van, failed to belt him, and killed him with allegedly felonious acts.
Actually, it’s much more than that.
Had the treatment of Freddie Gray been unusual, his killing at the hands of Baltimore police officers most likely wouldn’t have sparked a day and night of riots. But many Baltimore cops had been abusing residents in just that way for years. In Baltimore police culture, cops practiced “rough rides,” failing to put seat belts on arrestees and then deliberately driving in a way intended to injure them. And many others within the police department failed to stop their colleagues for doing so.
“Rough rides” were far from the only kind of abuse.
Ten days before the riot, “hundreds of Baltimore residents gathered to air grievances over years of harassment, beatings and other mistreatment they say they have endured from city police,” the Baltimore Sun reported. “They turned out for a meeting convened by the Department of Justice to investigate, at the city's request, complaints about Baltimore's Police Department. When a former San Jose, California, police chief hired to lead the meeting told the crowd he wanted to know whether they ‘trust’ the city's police, a woman shouted ‘No.’ From that point on, dozens of residents—most of them black—inundated federal officials with their assertions that city police have been brutalizing residents with impunity.” Why do “law-and-order” conservatives almost totally ignore this key factor?