Some Baltimore Residents Say They Don't Trust Police, Politicians

Apr 29, 2015
Originally published on April 30, 2015 2:08 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Thousands of National Guard soldiers and hundreds of extra state troopers helped maintain calm in Baltimore the day after a curfew took effect. The city has been waiting for a full report on the details of what happened to Freddie Gray. The 25-year-old black man died with a severe spinal injury after being arrested earlier this month. The police department had indicated a report on Gray's death would be released Friday. But today, a police spokesman said that won't happen - that their report will be instead turned over to the state's attorney. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports on the calls for justice and answers.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: The six officers involved are suspended with pay. But after Gray's funeral Monday, Tony Brown and Tonya Pechert (ph) derided that as paid vacation. If we'd done what those officers did, they say, we'd be behind bars immediately.

TONY BROWN: You know, I feel as though they treat us like we guilty before we even go to court.

TONYA PECHERT: And they innocent until proven guilty, and we guilty until proven innocent.

BROWN: Exactly, that's totally wrong.

LUDDEN: A Baltimore Sun investigation found the city has paid out nearly $6 million to settle claims of police harassment and brutality. The NAACP says in many cases, there was no basis for an arrest. And even when prosecutors declined to bring a case, those arrested often could not get their records cleared.

JOYNE BUCHANAN: The relationship is not there between the community and the police.

LUDDEN: Joyne Buchanan (ph) is a nurse assistant. She was out, broom in hand, helping clean the looted neighborhood where she grew up. A line of officers in riot gear stood watching across the street.

BUCHANAN: They don't patrol the neighborhoods. They don't get out and walk and talk to people. Only time they get out of their cars is to chase somebody down.

LUDDEN: Many say they feel disrespected and not just from police.

JESSICA LAND: Our politicians in our city, a lot of them have let us down with all the cutbacks. However, we're steadily building downtown.

LUDDEN: Jessica Land says outsiders may know Baltimore for its glittering Inner Harbor. But she and her mom, Hazel Moody (ph) feel economic development there has come at the expense of impoverished West Baltimore neighborhoods like this one. A big sore point - recreation centers that used to keep kids off the street after school have been closed in budget cuts.

LAND: My mom learned how to swim at her rec. I learned dancing, and we played paddle ball, Monopoly and all that.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And now they don't have that.

LAND: No, they don't...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: They don't have anything, even in the summer.

LUDDEN: City officials have privatized some rec centers, and they've said some were too run down - that it's better to operate fewer of them well. But critics worry leaving more young people without supervision will create a vicious cycle.

ANTHONY WOODFIELD: If you're caught up in a system at 10 years old and you don't have an outlet to make it better, then guess what? You stay in the system.

LUDDEN: Anthony Woodfield (ph) is a Baltimore native who helps community groups raise money. He says aggressive policing fuels poverty.

WOODFIELD: If you go to jail and want to do better, you come out, and there's nobody going to hire you. Oh yes, you did do something stupid, but you're a really good guy. The system's not going to hire you.

LUDDEN: The death of Gray and the attention on strained police relations was overwhelming for Sally Shanahan (ph). She's white, but her adopted son is black. They came from Pennsylvania to attend Gray's funeral.

SALLY SHANAHAN: Because it's not right, and it could've been my son.

LUDDEN: After so many high-profile cases of black men being killed by police, she wants to see a change.

SHANAHAN: I want to fix the problem. I don't want to just sit idly by.

LUDDEN: As Baltimoreans wait for answers about Freddie Gray's death, Tonya Pechert, Tony Brown and Jessica Land know what they want to happen to the officers involved.

PECHERT: Guilty.

LAND: Guilty, guilty.

BROWN: They have to be charged. If they're not, people just going to keep reacting off of anger.

LAND: There's really no faith in the justice system, unfortunately, but we're praying. We're praying.

LUDDEN: Holding officers accountable, Land says, would be a first step in restoring the trust of the people they serve. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.