This Shows Baltimore’s Disturbing History of Illegal Arrests

Cops arrest a man in Baltimore after Tasering him — Getty Images
Apr 30, 2015 at 2:29 PM ET

The state’s attorney of Baltimore Marilyn Mosby charged six police officers Friday in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, saying the cops actions were “illegal” and they made the arrest without “probable cause.” What Mosby did not say is Baltimore police have a disturbing history of making arrests without justification.

In an interview with the Marshall Project on Wednesday, David Simon, creator of “The Wire,” discussed a brutally wrongheaded policy enacted during Martin O’Malley’s tenure as the city’s mayor, from 1999 to 2007. It provides some much-needed context.

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. 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, the ACLU 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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