The Freddie Gray Effect? Police Wonder If They'll Be Arrested for Doing Their Job as Baltimore Gets Bloodier
By The Associated Press
BALTIMORE — A 31-year-old woman and a young boy were shot in the head Thursday, becoming Baltimore’s 37th and 38th homicide victims so far this month, the city’s deadliest in 15 years.
Meanwhile, arrests have plunged: Police are booking fewer than half the number of people they pulled off the streets last year.
Arrests were already declining before Freddie Gray died on April 19 of injuries he suffered in police custody, but they dropped sharply thereafter, as his death unleashed protests, riots, the criminal indictment of six officers and a full-on civil rights investigation by the U.S. Justice Department that has officers working under close scrutiny.
“I’m afraid to go outside,” said Antoinette Perrine, whose brother was shot down three weeks ago on a basketball court near her home in the Harlem Park neighborhood of West Baltimore. Ever since, she has barricaded her door and added metal slabs inside her windows to deflect gunfire.
“It’s so bad, people are afraid to let their kids outside,” Perrine said. “People wake up with shots through their windows. Police used to sit on every corner, on the top of the block. These days? They’re nowhere.”
West Baltimore residents worry they’ve been abandoned by the officers they once accused of harassing them, leaving some neighborhoods like the Wild West without a lawman around.
“Before it was over-policing. Now there’s no police,” said Donnail “Dreads” Lee, 34, who lives in the Gilmor Homes, the public housing complex where Gray, 25, was chased down. “People feel as though they can do things and get away with it. I see people walking with guns almost every single day, because they know the police aren’t pulling them up like they used to.”
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said his officers “are not holding back,” despite encountering dangerous hostility in the Western District.
“Our officers tell me that when officers pull up, they have 30 to 50 people surrounding them at any time,” Batts said.
Batts provided more details at a City Council meeting Wednesday night, saying officers now fear getting arrested for making mistakes.
“What is happening, there is a lot of levels of confusion in the police organization. There are people who have pain, there are people who are hurt, there are people who are frustrated, there are people who are angry,” Batts said. “There are people, and they’ve said this to me, ‘If I get out of my car and make a stop for a reasonable suspicion that leads to probable cause but I make a mistake on it, will I be arrested?’ They pull up to a scene and another officer has done something that they don’t know, it may be illegal, will they be arrested for it? Those are things they are asking.”
Protesters said Gray’s death is emblematic of a pattern of police violence and brutality against impoverished African-Americans in Baltimore. In October, Batts and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake invited the Justice Department to participate in a collaborative review of police policies. The fallout from Gray’s death prompted the mayor to ramp that up, and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch agreed to a more intensive probe into whether the department employs discriminatory policing, excessive force and unconstitutional searches and arrests.
Baltimore was seeing a slight rise in homicides this year even before Gray’s death April 19. But the 38 homicides so far in May is a major spike, after 22 in April, 15 in March, 13 in February and 23 in January.