U.S. and World Politics

Bandit Baltimore Cops

And the Black misleadership class

By Glen Ford

Two of the undercover cops that have terrorized poor Black neighborhoods of Baltimore could get up to 60 years in prison following their convictions in federal court on racketeering, conspiracy and robbery charges. Six other former members of the “elite” Gun Trace Task Force await sentencing, having testified to the defendants’ and their own crimes against drug dealers, large and small, and anybody else that crossed their predatory paths.

The cops’ lawlessness was generalized and routine—part of the job. According to the Baltimore Sun, “Officers routinely violated people’s rights in the course of their work with Baltimore’s plainclothes police squads—profiling people and vehicles, performing ‘sneak and peek’ searches without warrants, using illegal GPS devices to track suspects they claimed to be watching, and driving at groups of men to provoke them to flee so they could be chased and searched”—dating back to 2010 or earlier. A dozen cops have been directly implicated, but not charged.

Acting police commissioner Darryl De Sousa put out an all-caps bulletin. “Let me make it clear: I have ZERO TOLERANCE for corruption,” he wrote, promising that his new corruption unit will probe more deeply into the case.

We can be sure that nothing of lasting value will come out of De Souza’s efforts. The root problem is not “corruption” of the police mission, but the mission, itself, which is to control, contain and terrorize the Black community. Baltimore’s cops have simply become adept at stealing lots of money in the process.

They are also fearless and shameless, in the knowledge that their true job description is organized terror. Former detective Momodu Gondo, who pleaded guilty to robbing various victims of over $100,000, testified that he didn’t fear being caught. “It was just part of the culture,” he said.

Such pervasive police predation is no secret to the residents of the targeted neighborhoods, who pleaded in vain for relief from the blue scourge before, during and after Baltimore’s 2015 Freddie Gray rebellion. However, the nominally Black-controlled local government is incapable of meaningful response, since the Black political (misleadership) class accepts both its own subordination to the real, corporate rulers of the city, and their role as managers of the system of control, containment and terror.

The president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund expressed the frustration felt by most Black people in Baltimore. “Neither City Hall, BPD’s Internal Affairs, nor the State’s Attorney’s Office was able to uncover and hold accountable the officers at the heart of this criminal conspiracy,” said Sherrilyn Ifill. However, Ifill then endorsed the usual formulas for fine-tuning the existing system of oppression. “Residents deserve new procedures, practices, regulations, safety valves, and training across city agencies—including the State’s Attorney’s office—to ensure that this cannot happen again.”

No—what Baltimore’s Black residents need is democracy: community control of the hiring, firing and, above all, the mission of the police.

They don’t need more Black police. Integrating the ranks of the oppressor’s machine is what gave us salt-and-pepper terrorist duos like Daniel T. Hersl and Marcus R. Taylor, the two cops convicted this week. The department’s Gun Trace Task Force has been disbanded, along with its related Violent Crime Impact Section (VCIS), but the white corporate powers-that-be in Baltimore already seem impatient to get their thugs back on the street. A new study by the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University—the city’s premier employer and gentrifier—admits the police unit has generated lots of public complaints and lawsuits, but claims it’s good for law and order, and that’s what counts.

“The reductions in shootings connected with Baltimore’s VCIS are consistent with the experiences of other cities that have used specialized police units targeting illegal gun possession in areas with the highest rates of shootings,” said Daniel Webster, the center’s director and the study’s lead author. “But it is important for these programs to be carried out in a manner that is legally justified, professional, and acceptable to the communities they serve with appropriate accountability.”

Webster makes the obligatory bow to (non-existent) “accountability,” but the purpose of the study is to put forward Johns Hopkins’ position on policing in a city largely owned by the university, and which Hopkins hopes to rid of its Black majority as soon as possible. The top dog in Baltimore’s permanent ruling circles is demanding that the same hyper-aggressive, neighborhood saturation police tactics that encouraged whole units of cops to behave like warlords, be continued—minus the embarrassing robberies.

When Johns Hopkins says “jump,” much of the Black political class says “how high?”—which is what passes for “accountability to the community” in Baltimore. The same groveling relationship to corporate power obtains across Black America. Therefore, in Baltimore and elsewhere, the struggle for Black community control of the police is largely an internal Black political battle.

The first stage of this fight must be the rejection and defeat of the Black political class that turned the Gun Trace Task Force loose on the people.

Black Agenda Report, February 15, 2018