Thanks to a federal judge, important reforms regarding how Baltimore police interact with the city’s large minority community stemming from the 2014 riots, which followed the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody, are going into effect, frustrating last ditch efforts by the Trump administration to delay the badly needed reforms.
Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Session’s asked to put a 30-day hold an Obama-era consent decree between the city of Baltimore and the U.S. Department of Justice that mandates significant police department reforms and oversight.
Unfortunately for him, a Federal Judge approved the plan on Friday and it takes effect immediately.
“The time for negotiating the agreement is over,” U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar wrote in his decision. “The only question now is whether the Court needs more time to consider the proposed decree. It does not.”
After the riots, the Obama Administration led a large-scale investigation of Baltimore police and found widespread discrimination in policing of predominantly black neighborhoods, most among the poorest in the city.
Sessions has sought to freeze, modify or kill similar agreements to reform largely white police departments who deal with large African American populations in 114 communities nationwide that were negotiated under President Obama.
Sessions insists that his reason for seeking a delay in Baltimore is that he has “grave concerns that some provisions of this decree will reduce the lawful powers of the police department and result in a less safe city.”
The judge and most of the Baltimore officials and community did not agree.
The 227-page agreement sealed in December has the support of the city’s Mayor, Police Commissioner, the NAACP and many others. Mayor Catherine Pugh called the judge’s approval, “a great victory for citizens of Baltimore as well as our police department.”
The consent decree places new restrictions on police officers, including how and when they can engage individuals suspected of criminal activity. It requires police to have more training in how to de-escalate a situation and how to work with youth, especially those involved in protests, or who have a mental illness.
It also mandates more supervision over the officers, better equipment, newer technology, greater transparency and civilian oversight of the department.
“The problems that necessitate this consent decree are urgent,” wrote Judge Bredar, adding: “The parties have agreed on a detailed and reasonable approach to solving them. Now, it is time to enter the decree and thereby require all involved to get to work on repairing the many fractures so poignantly revealed by the record.”
This is one time Trump’s backward looking Justice Department has been stopped from coming down on the side of police who are insensitive to many of those whose lives are changed and views altered in a negative way by interaction with the front line authorities in their city.
Whether Sessions will be able to mess with other pending agreements is yet to be seen, but Baltimore now becomes a test case for whether America can improve race relations and grow in the 21st century, or if there will just be an endless series of unconstitutional killings, bloody riots and civil disobedience fueled by anger at the unfairness of society.