Opinion

Baltimore Police Commissioner Offers Two Centuries Worth of Apology

Well, if anyone was hoping for things to improve for cops and the community in Baltimore, some recent words from the city’s police commissioner may have dashed any hope. PoliceOne.com reported that on April 18, Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa got on stage at an Eric B & Rakim hip-hop concert and addressed the audience. Reportedly, and quite magnanimously, the commissioner apologized “for all the things that the police have done dating back 200 years.”

Joining him on stage was Mayor Catherine Pugh, who I’m assuming supported De Sousa’s grand gesture. Fanning the racial flames, he added: “Two-hundred years ago, all the way to civil rights. All the way to the ‘90s. All the way to the 2000s when we had zero tolerance.” I’m not sure what he meant, but there it is. He also mentions the crack era, which he says disproportionately impacted black men.

Incidentally, this type of partisan action also highlights the police morale problems associated with police chiefs appointed by politicians. De Sousa’s apology expressed a leftist, political perspective on a complex multihued issue—all summed up in 20 seconds. Many more facts should be considered, and critical thinking must be done to reach any rational conclusions about the issues on which he alludes to during his apology. He also conflates 200 years ago with today—another common, lazy, leftist tactic.

Why would a police commissioner do such a thing when his city, Baltimore, has been struggling for years with racial issues surrounding law enforcement? Freddie Gray’s death after being transported in the back of a prisoner van in 2015 was originally ruled a homicide. Like Ferguson’s Michael Brown’s “hands up, don’t shoot,” the mythology of cops intentionally killing black men at “epidemic rates” endures and proliferates. The Freddie Gray case is a good reminder of Baltimore’s troubled history. The commissioner, though he may be sincere, should keep in mind such instances before making what may come off to cops as a divisive, self-serving overture.

Remember, in the Gray case, there were two prisoners in the van—both black. The one man who remained seated lived; the other man who stood and hurled himself around, smashing against the van’s interior, died. According to Chicago Tribune reporting, the other prisoner in the van, Donta Allen, told investigators that, during the transport, he could hear Gray in his compartment, “banging against the walls.”

During the trial for Second Degree Murder of prisoner van driver Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Carol Allan said she had ultimately ruled Gray’s death a homicide and testified she never felt the death was an accident. “The word ‘accident’ never crossed my lips to anyone,” Allen told the court. “Other than to say, ‘this was not an accident.’”

However, during Goodson’s trial, new evidence surfaced, and Judge Barry G. Williams found that prosecutors had violated discovery rules. They hadn’t disclosed information, including details of another witness. And a Force Investigation Team detective’s notes contradicted Dr. Allan’s assertions she never felt Gray’s death was an accident. Many law enforcement observers expressed their belief Dr. Allan felt politically pressured to make a finding of homicide.

Detective Dawnyell Taylor’s notes indicate that, at one time, Allan suggested Gray’s death was an accident. Goodson was later acquitted. In fact, prosecutors failed to secure a single conviction against any of the charged officers. The six cases resulted in one hung jury and five acquittals.

Back to that sweeping apology. At first, I found it encouraging that several news outlets, including the Washington Times and Baltimore Sun, reported only a “smattering of applause,” and “a round of boos” met the commissioner’s atonement. Then, comments from the crowd heard in the video seem to indicate the fans just didn’t want Five-O on the stage, no matter the issue. Can’t say I blame them. Those fans were there to enjoy a concert. It was not the right time or place for political grandstanding and pandering. In one video, fans yelled, “get the police off the stage.”

The police union president Gene Ryan, said, “Law enforcement was created to protect and serve the citizenry despite race and that is what we strive to do, daily. Are we perfect? No, of course not, but as a profession, we work very hard to care for all of our citizens.”

Though Ryan said he didn’t believe De Sousa’s apology was appropriate, he still felt the new police commissioner, appointed only a few months ago, should be given a chance. Hopefully, Commissioner De Sousa won’t waste it.

De Sousa is 53, a 30-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, and the agencies’ 40th commissioner. He came up through the ranks, which, I suspect, makes the apology—on the police department’s behalf—even harder for the rank-and-file to stomach. And what did De Sousa get for his unilateral mea culpa? Some boos, a smattering of applause, calls to get off the stage, and, likely, a widening of an already gaping chasm between Baltimore and its cops—already some of the most beleaguered police officers in America.

Putting your personal or political ideology over your department’s interests may not have been the best move. A little self-awareness goes a long way, Commish!

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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