Baltimore and the search for justice

It didn’t take long for Baltimore to fall into the same narrative as Ferguson with most of my friends. They’d take their personal politics and work backward from there, cherry-picking facts to support their viewpoints, minimalizing or outright casting aside developments that didn’t fit along the way. Then they separated into their usual tribes and started yelling at each other.

This is when a lifetime of professional skepticism and bullshit-detecting gets difficult for me. It’s hard to see Freddie Gray as anything other than bad news; he had at least 18 arrests, mostly for narcotics, and bore all the signs of your basic street-corner drug dealer. Any metro cop who has spent any time on the beat knows a Freddie Gray or two or 12. You cannot believe how much it eats at police to run these guys in again and again, only to see them soon return to the corner.

That is where you get to the decision that often separates good police from bad. Good police enforce laws and understand — as hard as it can be to witness — that justice is up to the court system. Bad police decide that they represent ‘justice’ — their justice, sometimes subject to the mood of the moment.

Those kind of bad police often love their city, love their jobs, and are not corruptible in the traditional sense. They are loyal to their colleagues and are the kind of people you might want to have as neighbors. And on the streets, they stand tall. If someone needs a little tuning up, well, that helps keep the peace and the person deserved it anyway, or so the thinking goes.

When those kind of police become the norm, an ever-growing swath of the population sees law enforcement as an occupying enemy army. And guys like Freddie Gray die, alongside dozens of others injured under mysterious circumstances while in police custody. And then, sometimes, the city burns, along with real justice and real law.

The what-happened-when part of Gray’s death still appears somewhat murky. That’s why my personal bullshit klaxon started firing again when charges came out Friday, just days after rioting broke out in Baltimore.  Perhaps the case really just became that strong, that suddenly, against the police officers charged in connection with his death. But there certainly didn’t seem to be a ton of momentum in the case until there suddenly was.

Another option, of course, is that this is pure politics, done to calm a city and provide cover for elected officials. That bandage won’t hold. If the case is rushed to court, it’s much more likely to fall apart and innocent people could be caught in the gears of this machine. If that happens, the kind of police who assault suspects under the guise of ‘justice’ will be embittered — and possibly emboldened. And we’ll soon be right back where we were.

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