By Archbishop William E. Lori
The recent report by the Department of Justice on the practices of the Baltimore Police Department is sobering and distressing, and should be a cause for great concern for all people of good will in our community. The report is an affirmation of those in our community who have long criticized the policing strategies and practices of the department and a repudiation of those whose actions have undermined both public trust as well as the inherent dignity of those they have sworn to serve and protect.
The report found that the constitutional rights of Baltimore citizens were routinely violated by members of the department, and cited the following practices in support of its findings:
- From 2010 to 2014, only three percent of 111,500 police stops which occurred in two small, predominantly African-American Baltimore neighborhoods accounting for just 11 percent of the city’s population, resulted in citations or arrests.
- Officers publicly strip-searched a woman on a public sidewalk after stopping her for having a missing car headlight. “Officers conducted this highly invasive search despite lacking any indication that the woman had committed a criminal offense or possessed concealed contraband,” the report stated. Police gave the woman a repair order for the headlight.
- When interviewing women who reported being sexually assaulted, the report states that Baltimore police detectives ask questions such as, “Why are you messing that guy’s life up?”
- Other practices, such as orders to “clear corners” and giving “rough rides” to suspected criminals while transporting them, are cited by the report as all-too-common.
These practices, which are clear violations of the constitutional rights of Baltimoreans, should trouble all of us. As Catholics we believe in the inherent dignity of every human person. As Americans, we believe that everyone is owed the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.
Yet this report makes clear that the dignity and rights of our fellow citizens are being trampled upon on a regular basis. This must end if the deep-seated wounds of distrust between the police and those they have taken an oath to protect are to begin healing. This must end if our city has any chance of overcoming the many challenges that were on painful display during the unrest of 2015.
I encourage people to read the entire report, reflect on the findings and consider the role that each of us should play in bringing about much needed change. The long overdue reforms and changes that Commissioner Kevin Davis has already begun to enact and has pledged to fully implement are encouraging. However, it is clear from the report that nothing short of a wholesale change in the culture within the department will result in the kind of reform that is necessary to ensure the fair and equitable treatment of every citizen of Baltimore.
In acknowledging that this report rightly warrants a collective call for change, we cannot ignore the good and just service of the many policemen and women who put their lives on the line every day as they carry out their duties with respect for their office and those they serve. I pray the reaction to this report will not obscure their selfless service and will inspire others to follow them and to join efforts to address this resounding call for urgent change.
I invite all members of the community to join me in praying for our city, for those who justly protect its citizens, and for all who call Baltimore home.
Read more of Archbishop Lori’s writings here.