If mainstream media reporting (opinion masquerading as even-handed journalism) is to be trusted, then Korryn Gaines was just a mentally unstable, lead-poisoned and brain-damaged young woman who was an unfit mother with a death wish. In other words, she got what she rightfully deserved. Special emphasis has been placed on her “anti-government views” (with no consideration as to why she might be justified in holding such views). But as Karen E. Quinones Miller writes in the Huffington Post, there’s much more to her story than is being presented in the mainstream (i.e. police) narrative, and some things we will probably never know thanks to social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram deciding to align themselves with the police as opposed to the communities those same police allegedly serve. Of course, the only “serving” the Baltimore Police Department seems to be doing for its community is serving up arrest warrants and traffic fines as thoroughly documented in a recent Department of Justice report focusing on the B.P.D.’s troubled relationship with residents of Baltimore. The report, made public on August 10, paints a damning picture of the police force that ended Korryn’s life and shot her five year old son.
The report documents numerous instances of unlawful strip searches that were in clear violation of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. constitution, unwarranted arrests and detentions, systematic racism, abuse and overall unaccountability. This characteristic unaccountability, the report notes, tends to sow mistrust and is likely to “increase distrust and significantly decrease likelihood that individuals will cooperate with the police to solve or prevent other crimes.” A quick run-down of some of the key components of the report lends credence to the theory that “crime prevention” is nowhere near the Baltimore P.D.’s list of top priorities.
Unlawful Arrests, Strip Searches and Detention
- “Officers made at least 300,000 pedestrian stops from January 2010 to May 2015 – most without reasonable suspicion.” And of the nearly 3,000 times police officers used force in the same time span, only a single case was considered by the department a violation.
- There are verified accounts of Baltimore police officers jumping out of their vehicles in broad daylight, harassing and strip-searching random people for no other reason than the officer thought they “looked suspicious”. In the past five years there have been well over 60 cases of unlawful strip searches of Baltimore residents – overwhelmingly Black residents – in public view as a means of shaming and intimidating them in front of their communities.
- In Baltimore’s Eastern District officers forced a woman out of her car for a strip-search, all because she had been pulled over for a missing headlight. According to the report, “Officers ordered the woman to exit her vehicle, remove her clothes, and stand on the sidewalk to be searched.” When the woman asked a male officer if it was really necessary for her to remove her clothes in public, he told her yes. Then a female officer came over and “put on purple latex gloves, pulled up the woman’s shirt and searched around her bra. Finding no weapons or contraband around the woman’s chest, the officer then pulled down the woman’s underwear and searched her anal cavity. This search found no evidence of wrongdoing and the officers released the woman without charges.”
- On another occasion a cop unlawfully told a mother and her son that they were not allowed to stand in front of the apartment complex where they lived. When the young man – “a juvenile with no criminal record” – demanded to know why, the officer “arrested him for loitering outside his own home.” (Notably, this isn’t unique to Baltimore. It happens frequently in New York and it is used as a means of extorting fines and bail money from poor people. See Matt Taibbi’s 2014 book The Divide: American injustice in the age of the wealth gap.) Because of the actions of this police officer and the legal system that shields his every action, a new “criminal” has just entered into the system for the crime of “loitering.” In other instances cops used pepper spray on entire groups of people for being gathered outside their homes and not dispersing, brutal tactics used against people who weren’t even accused of doing anything wrong.
- When a cop decided to tase a man who allegedly swore “at him”, the officer justified use of force because he said the man attacked him with his words when he uttered “fuck this place.” The officer listed the weapon the man supposedly attacked him with as being “his mouth”. What’s worse is that this officer’s superior actually signed off on this without further investigation as a valid excuse for using a taser on someone. It was simply classified as “justified without need for clarification.” In the words of the D.O.J. report, “If this was in fact the officer’s justification for tasing this individual, it is grossly insufficient, and it would violate both the First and Fourth Amendments.”
- Supervisory officers often instruct patrol officers to invent reasons for stopping, questioning and harassing residents when a valid reason doesn’t exist. This was even done in the presence of a DOJ investigator during a ride-along when a Baltimore police sergeant instructed his patrol officer “to stop a group of young African American males on a street corner, question them, and order them to disperse.” When the patrol officer countered that he did not have a valid reason for doing so, his superior told him to “make something up.”
- Officers themselves admitted to unlawfully stopping and detaining people for no other reason than they didn’t like their appearance or place of residence. They admitted to stopping people, arresting and detaining them without any evidence of unlawful behavior, and they justified this on the grounds that the so-called ‘suspects’ live or were present in an area “known to have a high rate of crime and [drug] activity” (though what the specific criteria is for deciding on such a designation they never can say). What this basically amounts to is a scenario in which “criminality” is determined not by one’s actions, but by one’s zip code and economic circumstances. A system has been created where people are essentially seen as being born into criminality.
Patterns of Abuse
- The Department of Justice’s interviews with members of the police force confirmed much of what residents had told them about officers speaking “in an unnecessarily rude or aggressive manner while interacting with suspects, witnesses, and the general public… Interviews with BPD officers throughout the chain of command also revealed that officers openly harbor antagonistic feelings toward community members.” One cop told DOJ investigators he “approaches policing in Baltimore like it is a war zone,” and other high ranking officers specifically stated their job is to enforce the will of the “silent majority.”
- From the report:
“In one account, during a traffic stop, a resident politely asked an officer why he had been pulled over. The officer simply told him to get out of the car and, when asked again, began cursing at the resident, even threatening to tow his ‘fucking car.’ In another account, a woman asked police officers the reason for conducting a search of her home. She was told to ‘shut the fuck up bitch and sit the fuck down’ because they were ‘the fucking law.’”
- Perhaps most illustrative of the overall attitude these law enforcement officials have about the communities they work for are BPD detectives’ comments about victims who came to them reporting sexually abuse. A detective who was assigned to the Baltimore Police Department’s Sex Offense Unit snidely remarked that “in homicide, there are real victims; all our cases are bullshit.”
- In an email exchange between a prosecutor and a Baltimore police officer, the prosecutor openly admitted to being unenthusiastic about prosecuting a case because “This victim seems like a conniving little whore,” to which the officer replied, “Lmao! I feel the same.”
- One police officer violently grabbed a victim by his neck and called him a “punk ass faggot”.
- Another officer pressured a prostitute to have sex with him, promising that he or she would be granted immunity for granting sexual favors. This happened more than one time with the same officer. When on one occasion the officer was discovered to have had sex with someone in the sex trade while he was in his patrol car, instead of being prosecuted he was allowed to resign.
- As evidence for the internalized white supremacy that is part and parcel of the department, the n-word is not even classified as being a racial slur. More than 100 reported incidents of cops referring to African Americans as ‘n****rs’ “were not classified as complaints alleging use of racial slurs or other racial bias.”
- BPD supervisors instruct their patrol officers to specifically target Black people. One lieutenant in 2011 told sergeants to instruct their officers to “lock up all the black hoodies” in their district. When a female sergeant protested against the racially biased enforcement, she was given a performance grade of “unsatisfactory” and transferred to another unit.
- Another BPD lieutenant in 2012 “provided officers under his command with a template for trespassing arrests that suggested officers would arrest exclusively African American men for that offense.” In fact, the template already had the words “BLACK MALE” filled in on it beforehand. The only blank that was left for the officer to fill out is the arrested person’s name and the date of future arrest. Thus, an instruction to target a specific racial group for a specific offense obviously resulted in a racial disparity in the arrest rate for said offense.
- In 2013 a white Baltimore police officer was booking a young Black juvenile into jail for failing to appear in court for a minor offense. This was only a few days after a verified cancer to society named George Zimmerman was acquitted after he murdered Trayvon Martin. The young Black male referred to the white officer at the jail who fashioned himself the juvenile’s racial overlord as “Zimmerman”, to which the officer responded, “Put a hoodie on and come to my neighborhood, you will see… If you come to my neighborhood I’ll throw you in the water and feed you to the crabs. I will then let the crabs get fat off you and then sell them to your family.”
Unaccountability and Retaliation
- In 2014, when a Black sergeant complained about his colleagues’ incessant abuse and unfair targeting of pedestrians, signs suddenly started popping up on his desk warning him to “mind your own business”, “stay in your lane”, and “worry about yourself.” When the sergeant filed a complaint about the signs to his lieutenant, the lieutenant confessed to being the one responsible for putting the signs on the sergeant’s desk in the first place. Here we have a perfect example of a lieutenant, instead of doing something about the abusive actions of his officers when they’re reported to him, decided it was better to just “shoot the messenger”. Notably, despite the lieutenant admitting to writing the intimidating messages, he “received no suspension, fine, or loss of benefits.”
- The above incident affected the morale of at least one other cop who says he might have reported an incident to his superiors in which he witnessed “one of his fellow officers” in a specialized drug unit “plant drugs on a suspect after a foot chase”, but he decided to keep the information to himself out of fear that his superiors would “do him” the way they retaliated against the Black sergeant. (It’s interesting that the man who had the drugs planted on him, wherever he might be now, is still referred to as “suspect” in spite of the fact that drugs had to be planted on him become a “wrong-doer”.)
- The report says that “one officer currently employed by BPD has received approximately 125 complaints from complaints within the Department and from the community since 2010, and many of these complaints allege serious misconduct… the officer subjects civilians to unwarranted strip and cavity searches in public.” And yet the Department sustained only a single one of the numerous complaints against him – the most minor one imaginable – “for not filing a proper vehicle inventory report, resulting in the loss of camera” equipment.
Make no mistake about it. Korryn Gaines was well aware of who these sick bastards were who barged into her home intent on taking her away. The police department outlined in the Department of Justice’s report is the same as the department that showed up unannounced to arrest her for failure to appear in court over a minor traffic violation. When they came to her and her son with their weapons drawn, Gaines refused to go passively into subjugation. Instead she grabbed a legally-purchased shotgun and gave her tormentors an ultimatum. Either they would leave her and her family in peace or she would defend them herself. Instead of leaving peacefully the police decided to do what the DOJ report demonstrates is second nature to them; they turned the place into a war zone. Even the police admit to being the ones who fired the first shot. It is also now established beyond a shadow of a doubt that at some point police gunfire struck 5 year old Kori Gaines in his arm. Is it possible, as some have speculated, that it was this first shot fired by the police that hit Korryn’s young child in the arm? Could this be what finally motivated her to fire back at them? Thanks to Facebook’s blocking of the live feed at the request of police, we’ll probably never know. The only thing that is for certain is that after a 6-7 hour standoff Baltimore police ended the life of Korryn Gaines, and in the process they turned her into a martyr for the cause of obtaining freedom and liberation for those whose right to liberty has been delayed for much too long.