Is Police Reform Even Possible? A TRNN Discussion

Is Police Reform Even Possible? A TRNN Discussion


TAYA GRAHAM: Since the uprising after the
death of Freddie Gray and the subsequent report from the Department of Justice on the Baltimore
City Police Department outlining its use of racist and unconstitutional practices, The
Real News has done in-depth analysis and reporting on policing and its consequences in Baltimore. One facet of that coverage has been the efforts
to reform policing which has encompassed a wide range of stories on activists, legislation
and the consent decree between the DOJ and the city. It was this topic Towson University asked
Real News reporters Taya Graham and Stephen Janis to discuss with students who are studying
the topic. Here are the highlights from this conversation. STEPHEN JANIS: Obviously, the title is meant
to be provocative, that’s sort of intentional. I’ve spent the past probably 11 years of my
career as a journalist covering policing and law enforcement in Baltimore. It is the most defining government agency
in Baltimore, and it is probably where Baltimore has put most of its resources in terms of
social capital and actual money. Unfortunately, as you all probably know it
hasn’t turned out very well for the city. As you may or may not know, we are having
another record year of homicides. I think we’re at about 303, 304. We passed 300 this weekend. This would be the third year in the row, I
think the third year, right, that we’ve passed 300. TAYA GRAHAM: Yes. STEPHEN JANIS: We had the death of Freddie
Gray and the subsequent uprising. These are things we’ll go into detail later. We had the Justice Department report, which
found that the Baltimore City Police Department practice unconstitutional and systemically
racist strategies or tactics in the city. We had the gun trace task force indictments
where seven officers, eight officers have been. TAYA GRAHAM: Eight officers now. It was originally seven officers that were
charged with racketeering, with theft, with actually stealing from members of the community
as well as filing bogus over time. For example, one officer in particular filed
for overtime saying he was on the job but was actually down at Rehoboth Beach playing
golf. That’s an example of some of the ways they
were stealing and taking from our community. STEPHEN JANIS: The point being that, having
been through this cycle many times, and we’re at a very fraught moment in the city to try
to in some ways address crime and also fix the police department, which most people agree
is broken. We decided to take a different kind of tactic
in reporting about it, which was not to just look at it from the litmus of the immediate
but put some contextual or historical, or try to look at policing in different ways. Right now the City of Baltimore is facing
the dilemma of probably having to spend 50 to 60 million dollars reforming policing. This is on top of the fact that we already
spend 500 million dollars on policing. This is on top of the fact that last year
alone we had 50 million dollars in overtime, it was 40 million dollars over budget. The continued costs, the continued rise in
crime, you would think would call for something radical but nothing really radical has happened. We just approved a consent decree monitor
who is part, let me explain, from the justice department report, we entered a consent decree
with the federal government. We just entered in that agreement and picked
a monitor, so to speak, who will be monitoring the police department to make sure they’re
compliant with this particular agreement. However, that monitor will cost about 1.75
million dollars a year. You add that onto pension costs, which are
about 125 million dollars a year, and you have a situation where the city is basically
stuck. We’re stuck; we spend more in policing year
over year. We spend more in policing than we spend on
schools, recreation and parks and yet our crime is higher than ever. In a way, the reason I approached it from
this perspective was because I think that emphasis has, not just to do with money and
law enforcement but a sort of cultural and social dominance of the conversation to the
point where I don’t think we really understand what’s going on in Baltimore. Now, Joyce may remember I was here, how many
years ago when I did that? That was four or five years ago. I talked about this is some form, fashion,
but really no one paid attention at that time. It took the uprising and what happened with
Freddie Gray to really get people to think about this. Clearly, clearly all evidence aside, if policing
is the solution to the problems in Baltimore it has not worked. I think it’s worthwhile to not look at policing
just as a function or a part of governance but to look at policing as a communal philosophy
that has to be reconsidered. To try to understand, the point of our reporting
was to try to get beyond this idea; that we have a police department here that’s a perfect
administrator of justice, and the city government here and then wrap around services. Somehow all these things will coalesce towards
a solution but that does not turn out to be the case. The question is why; why is it that policing
continues on this path that doesn’t seem to be helping itself or the community it’s supposed
to serve, and why do we constantly get embroiled in this debate that doesn’t seem to move or
really change? TAYA GRAHAM Officers felt so above the law,
so free to act with impunity and to take whatever they wanted from the community that even though
the federal government was literally leaning over their shoulders, watching what our police
department was doing, it didn’t stop them in the least. STEPHEN JANIS: I want to take people back
a little bit just to explain how we got here and how we got with our story. I started recovering policing in 2006 with
the now defunct Baltimore Examiner. It was a newspaper that was started and stopped
within three years. I was the senior investigator and reporter. During that time, I kind of caught the tail
end of a policy that was called Zero Tolerance. Does anybody know about that? TAYA GRAHAM: Zero Tolerance is based off of
broken windows theory, which was a short essay written by two people that created the idea
of the city community as a building. If there were broken windows, there we nuisance
crimes. If you took care of the nuisance crimes, then
the rest of the crime would follow. If you had broken windows-
STEPHEN JANIS: And you fix the window. TAYA GRAHAM: And you fix those windows, then
you’re going to fix the community. STEPHEN JANIS: Right. TAYA GRAHAM: Let me just add that. STEPHEN JANIS: Oh, I’m sorry. TAYA GRAHAM: With Zero Tolerance, just much
like it is with school, it’s one strike and we’re out, and it’s for very small crimes. When I looked through, I looked through about
a year worth of police reports for 2006 and seven. The arrests were for things like expectorating,
which is fancy for spitting on the sidewalk, or having an open container of beer, or urinating
in public; very small crimes that people were being taken off the street and taken to jail
for. As you can imagine, flooding our criminal
justice system with people for such small crimes, putting really an undue burden on
the entire judicial system but it also really hurt these people. You can imagine spending two days in jail
doesn’t help you if you have a job where you’re paid hourly,it can cause you to lose your
job. There are certainly landlords now, even though
it’s illegal to do this, if your landlord finds out you’ve spent some time in jail,
you can be evicted. Technically they’re not supposed to but that
kind of things happens all the time. Zero Tolerance really had a terrible impact
on the community. During the height of it, which I think was
in 2009, there were around roughly 106,000 arrests. In a city of 630,000 people, imagine 106,000
arrests. Of course some of these were repeats but that’s
an incredible number of Baltimore citizens to be arrested at any given time. STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah. The reason I go back is sort of to see how
we got here. This policy was big turning point for the
city because people had been arguing we need to go with community policing. Mayor Martin O’Malley said, “No, no, no, we’re
going to arrest as many people as entirely possible.” What really struck me about Zero Tolerance
is I’d been writing about it, talking about stories about people getting arrested for
all sorts of crazy stuff. One day I got a call from a source of mine,
I had sources in all the prisons because that’s where everything happens unfortunately in
Baltimore. He called me, he said, “Stephen, you’ve got
to come down here, you’re not going to believe, I’m staring at this kid.” I’m like, “What do you mean?” He goes, “They just arrested a seven year
old.” I’m like, “What did you arrest a seven year
old for?” He said, “I don’t know, I have no idea but
come down here.” What had actually ended up happening, when
I got down there I rushed around, I met the mother, we agreed to go back to her house. I was sitting there, and I’m like, “Why did
they arrest your son?” She said, “Well, he was sitting on his mini
electric bike and police officer took it because dirt bikes are illegal, but it wasn’t really
a dirt bike.” TAYA GRAHAM: They’re illegal in the city,
they’re not illegal in the county. STEPHEN JANIS: It wasn’t a dirt bike. “I called the Sergeant to complain because
it was my son’s bike and I wanted it back. They showed up an hour later and they arrested
him for riding a dirt bike.” As I started to ask this child, who had just
turned seven, he was six, about the story he started crying. We took a picture, and it became this huge
story because it was just hard for people to believe that the city would arrest a seven
year old. What really stunned me was the reaction I
got as a reporter from this particular case. TAYA GRAHAM: For some people it wasn’t hard
for them to imagine arresting a seven year old. The type of blow back he received was really
shocking. People emailed him, contacted his newspaper
and said things like, “That seven year old is an animal. He’s a drug dealer in the making. He’s a thug in the making.” For reporting on it, Stephen was called, the
nicest of the words was, race traitor. There was a lot of blow back saying that this
young boy who just turned seven years old was somehow already a criminal and already
a thug. STEPHEN JANIS: That was a point in time when
I started thinking differently about policing. I couldn’t really understand why we would
arrest a seven year old for something. I guess if he shot somebody. What was amazing was this story was picked
up by like 115 newspapers, because people couldn’t believe we did it. There also was the argument, and this was
after Freddie Gray, because the officers were arrested; the argument that, and this is an
interesting argument, that the reason crime went up was because police were no longer
willing to do their job, they took a knee, which is interesting to think about. Another thing to think about in this discussion
of how we philosophize policing, that they said basically, we’re not going to enforce
the law because you held us accountable. Even after the justice department report,
there was very little change. That’s when we started talking about, what
are we missing from the story of policing. Of course, we’re journalists, so being a journalist
you have certain limitations on how you can report things. You’re not supposed to offer an opinion, and
you’re not supposed to inter prelate certain kinds of things into your reporting, you’re
supposed to be pretty straight forward. It felt like we weren’t really getting some
way to tell the story so people understood that there’s something here more than a discussion
of law and order, or discussion of right and wrong. All the rhetorical elements that comprise
a discussion of policing didn’t seem to be addressed with straight forward reporting
of, this is what happened, and this is what didn’t happen. No matter how many times … As Taya pointed
out, that was a damning report. It was how many pages? 200 pages. TAYA GRAHAM:: 163 pages I think. STEPHEN JANIS: If we as journalists had report
about us like that, we would have been fired. TAYA GRAHAM: Absolutely. STEPHEN JANIS: Nothing happened to the police
department. In fact they got more money, they for $40,000,000
in overtime. TAYA GRAHAM: Right. As a matter of fact, Mayor Pew, the consent
decree and the independent monitor kind of fell into her lap. Initially they were talking about, well, it
might be $9,000,000 we need to give the police department. First it was six, then it was nine, then it
was 12. STEPHEN JANIS: 10 per year. TAYA GRAHAM: Then she said it’ll be as much
as they need. STEPHEN JANIS: Right, so they’re talking about
another $50,000,000 to increase training, to buy better equipment. TAYA GRAHAM: Right, improve technology. STEPHEN JANIS: Certainly, some of these things
are legitimate. The question is, where does it end for this
community, where do we come … Why can’t be get beyond this sort of rhetorical wall
that all this money and everything is all going to be productively spent or encourage
productive outcomes. That’s what is the heart of what we were talking
about, and why we came up with the idea to do some stories that were a little bit off
the traditional journalism framework. We can show you one of them right now. What precipitated this specifically was body
camera footage. Go ahead Taya, sorry. TAYA GRAHAM: I was just going to say we are
finally have body cameras implemented in Baltimore City, which I think is a very positive thing. You may have seen some clips of the footage
that seem a bit strange, it seems as if police officers are either … There’s two ways to
view it. You could say they are reenacting how they
discover evidence, or you could say they are planting evidence, depends on what side of
that you land on. Either way, it is interfering with the chain
of custody, you are not supposed to reenact placing evidence. What’s happened is, now that this body worn
camera footage has come to light, the city states attorney’s office, Marilyn Moseby’s
office has had to throw out a ton of cases, because you can’t interfere with the chain
of custody like that. STEPHEN JANIS: It’s caused a great amount
of controversy because the police have been defensive in saying their officers were just,
they got drugs, and later on they were just simply staging. Obviously the public defender and the defendant
say no, they were planting evidence, which of course is pretty bad. What struck me about the footage, and the
reason I use it in these stories, is it also told another narrative. In the city with hundreds of unsolved murders,
why do we have police officer’s rummaging around the back of a row home in trash for
four hours? TAYA GRAHAM: For gel caps, which is worth
about $40. STEPHEN JANIS: This is the question, I want
to pose this question, I think it’s an important question. We have people being murdered every day, yet
this is our elite units, specialized units … Actually the one that came up after the
gun trace task force, it’s called the District Action Team; they’re elite narcotics units,
and they spend their time rummaging around in the back of Ro-home going through trash. What would be the point of that? I guess for the first time seeing it. I mean you see the hours that they’re spending
to get like two gel caps. In fact, there’s one case that was covered
where they arrested this man who have $5 cash. He ran and he dumped a little cigarillo pack,
or what was it? TAYA GRAHAM: Yeah, it’s like a cigar pack
that had a little zip top. STEPHEN JANIS: It had like five or six gel
caps in it. TAYA GRAHAM: Yeah, at the most. STEPHEN JANIS: Later on, they couldn’t find
it, so they tapped his phone. When they tapped his phone they sent out another
four officers, who then staged finding it. Think about that, do you know what that costs
to have seven or eight or 10 officers focused on this, to have people rummaging through. It just struck me as a total exercise in futility
and we weren’t really understanding what it mean. The one thing we should mention in all this
discussion is the war on drugs, right? TAYA GRAHAM: Yeah. STEPHEN JANIS: The war on drugs is a big part
of that because it’s a very specific type of criminality. The war on drugs gives a police officer the
power to arrest somebody for being proximate to a substance, for being in possession. It can be a crime of intent simply by volume,
but when you think about it, if Taya was sitting here and there was more than 10 ounces of
weed, she’s a criminal. Not 10 ounces, 10 grams. TAYA GRAHAM: 10 grams. STEPHEN JANIS: Right, sorry. TAYA GRAHAM: If 10 ounces, I might be distributing. STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah. Just before they decriminalized marijuana,
we did an analysis of marijuana arrests in Baltimore City for minor possession. There were 6,000 in, I think 2014. What do you think the racial breakdown on
the marijuana arrests were, anyone want to take a guess? The point is, the point is that you have this
instrument in criminal justice to arrest people for proximity to a substance. From that, you get grants and money, and it
generates a lot of money, and you can go into backyards and rummage around for hours, because
as long as you find something, you have criminality.

Posts created 28257

30 thoughts on “Is Police Reform Even Possible? A TRNN Discussion

  1. When will you know that America is a POLICE STATE part of a military that says "We own the world" In order to own the world you have to be a police state at home. What you do to others, you do to yourself.

  2. they actually scared that 6 year old for life, and created a form of anxiety with a loss of innocence in him….he will never trust the police!!

  3. Four hours looking for 4 gel caps? From the cop's perspective that is great. They get to fuckoff for half their shift. They don't have to confront any actual criminals (that might be dangerous). They get to stack up the hours towards getting that overtime gravy. They also get the sadistic thrill of ruining someone's life if they do hit the "jackpot". Ah, policing in America.

  4. Chinese saying, society prepares the crime. Especially the police they want crime, that is their business. Decriminalize drugs, the police and prisons say no, that is where they make their money.
    Blood money, vampire organizations.

  5. One must question how did it get to this degree? Being African American myself I can’t ever remember the majority of cops being anything but what we are seeing now. Each state in the Union is a dichotomy of Baltimore. It’s the complicity of those who promote stigmas against certain groups along with the state funding as well as federal funding. Certain demographics won’t speak out because they side with the police. These tactics and stigmas make it racial as well as a class struggle. Bear witness America is a full blown version of what they blame countries like Russia, Syria, or N Korea to be. Totalitarian and a police state, rights are only afforded to certain people.

    America has never nor will be great and this downward spiral is guaranteed to continue!

  6. To be sure the way policing is done in America is militaristic and only serves to aggravate an already bad situation. But it's not just bad policing that is the problem. It is also symptomatic of a much large problem. America on the whole is a sick society. If you don't invest in your country and its people than this is what you get. I guess rich people are more important. It amazes me that this trend is still continuing despite the plethora of problems plaguing America.

  7. Interesting how the only idiots that have an issue with the Police are the once who have an issue with following the laws of the land. You want reforms, reform the criminals……oh I’m sorry, we can’t talk about the criminals and their negative impact on society because the criminals are democratic voters. Blame everything on the Police. All of you are bunch of retarded morons.

  8. US police policy is racist, period… It's deep inside it's training reactionary instead of being proactive, escalating instead of de-escalating…

  9. excellent discussion/lecture by the wonderful team of Stephen Janis and Taya Graham (very beautiful woman) and this is a great talk because I think we often forget how the justice system if that's what you want to call it in the US and other countries is very much Dickensian and rigid corporal punishment system that's define by it punitive punishment of littering, jaywalking, simply being homeless, and other acts which should be minimal and shouldn't even make you go to jail and languish in a cell in which no good lawyer or anything before you know it your in the New Jim Crow or in the Neo-Dickensian system. Drug War is not only racist to the core, but the broken windows theory that Giuliani and the get tough thought losers like Cory Booker champion is classicist to the core. Great talk Real news, I love you guys! lol

  10. You mentioned the reason but didn't follow up. Follow money and control of designated populations. Same playbook for decades, both local and federal. Hire corrupt, easily controlled thugs to carry out your nefarious work, then set up systems to reward and never punish. If different, explain why you've had multiple leaders, police execs, DAs, but same result. Authorized and supported all the way to SCOTUS.

  11. Excellent discussion. No, police reform is NOT possible with drug prohibition. U create a black market which is especially tempting to impoverished areas, then ask the police to do mission impossible. I wish their was more critical thinking like this… instead of scapegoating police from the armchair.
    Unfortunately, as I look at the comments, nobody listened…. just more "fuck the pigs" comments.

  12. Police Department is the most powerful Institution in the black community it literally hold your freedom in his hand to arrest a 7yr old for ride a motorized dirt bike on sidewall

  13. Please, it's simple, America is "racist" a racist government with the KKK on the police force, their job hasn't changed, to murder Black people, beat them, lock them up so money can be made off of them!

  14. Exactly. Policing is a "communal philosophy" that needs to be reconsidered, just like capitalism is a "communal philosophy" that also isn't working and has to be reconsidered.

  15. This is one of the most important aspects of what is wrong with our society today, and one of the most important videos. This needs to go viral, and we need to see more of this.

  16. Very articulate reporters who do not answer the question they pose, or even really address a working alternate model.

  17. This should be called " When Your Police Become Your Biggest Problem " cops are the worst folks in society but the blind can't see it because they are too afraid. Don't forget all the gas they burn and playing in traffic with their toy cop cars with lights and spending hours on the cell when phone on duty, the job is a joke and always has been, because they instigate and agitate all most all of the crimes in their patrol areas.

  18. Policing doesn’t work because violence only begets violence. Treat people like they are human and actually help them. Food, water, shelter, community, friends, kindness. Policing is the opposite of that.

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