The photographs were so disturbing that it took me several days to convince myself to read “Undue Force,” the investigative article that was the lead story in Sunday’s Sun on September 29, 2014.
More disturbing than the photographs was knowing that the people who were willing to speak to reporter Mark Puente were just the tip of the iceberg – only a few of the city’s residents whose lives had been turned upside down by encounters with the police – encounters that ended in constitutional and civil rights violations, improper and wrongful arrests, and verbal and physical assaults by law enforcement officers resulting in lawsuits, settlements, and court judgments in excess of $5,700,000 in cases alleging police misconduct.
Baltimore City Council President and Caroline Center neighbor Bernard C. “Jack” Young is calling for officers to be trained to communicate better with residents. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has acknowledged that the topic of police brutality is one of the main issues consistently raised by residents in nine forums recently held across the city. To add insult to injury, Council President Young, who shared in the article that he had been “stopped a couple of times [himself]” by police, is now able to count himself among the far too many African-American men in Baltimore who find themselves on the questioning end of “routine” stops. And, sadly, every mother whose child is African-American still dreads the day when she knows she must have “the talk” with her son, and some might also suggest with her daughter, for what to do when he or she may be detained by the police when least expecting it.
Caroline Center teachers and staff can attest that there are women in every class who either know someone or who have themselves had encounters where undue force was used by the police. It’s not a secret, and it’s no surprise that many people living in the city fear the police more than they fear crime or anything else.
What are we losing when an officer shoves an 87-year-old woman (now of blessed memory) against a wall, handcuffs her, and tells her, “B—-, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black b—— I’ve locked up?”
What are we losing when a 26-year-old woman with no criminal record who is trying to tell an officer that she is pregnant is pushed face down onto her porch, a knee placed in her back and handcuffed? And, how is the pregnancy regarded? Well, the officer says, “[We] hear it all the time.”
What are we losing when a petite 58-year-old grandmother trying to get her grandson away from a drug operation is pushed down on the ground by the police with such force that “everything [got] dark and black” and she thinks that she is “gonna die?”
As a civil society, as human beings, we are losing something far more valuable than the millions of dollars awarded in settlements.
When I think about all of the challenges Caroline Center trainees struggle with each and every day to “protect” this educational opportunity and the sanctity and integrity of their 15 weeks here – working long hours and sometimes two low-wage jobs to help make ends meet; taking the bus in the dark – morning and evening; finding just a little time to spend with their kids much less taking a little time just for themselves; dealing with the daily stresses of the forced choices that nobody likes to talk about – whether to pay rent or utilities or put a little food on the table; and, worrying about everything twice as much as most people worry because they have been made to feel their entire lives that they have to work twice as hard to be half as good.
So, to my thinking, here’s the real crime when police cross the line by using undue force. In the words of the poem “Here I Stand” from Caroline Center’s book, What It Takes, it creates one more enormous stone in “an impenetrable wall, ten miles wide, a lifetime high, and generations thick.”
As a Caroline Center sisterhood, and as a proud, if imperfect, Baltimore community, we need to bring this wall crashing down. Because it is indefensible. Because it is keeping all of us down. Because we need to get back our humanity and all the potential it holds before it is lost to us forever.
Quotations in this blog post are excerpted from The Baltimore Sun, “Undue Force,” by Mark Puente, September 29, 2014, and from the poem “Here I Stand,” published in Caroline Center’s What It Takes.
The wheat paste wall murals in this blog are entitled “Mulberry X Howard Street” (Baltimore, Maryland) and “Hackscher Market” (Berlin, Germany). They were created by the artist Nether Bmore and are used with his permission.
“Bus,” a wood and steel functional art installation near the Creative Alliance in Baltimore, Maryland, was created by the Spanish Art Collective mmmm . . . . (Alberto Alarcón, Emilio Alarcón, Ciro Márquez, and Eva Salmerón)