US government blasts Baltimore police over race

US government blasts Baltimore police over race

BBC News

A mural of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, 10 August
Image copyrightWIN MCNAMEE
Image caption Freddie Gray is commemorated by a mural in Baltimore

A US justice department report has accused police in the city of Baltimore of routinely discriminating against black people and using excessive force.

An inquiry was ordered after a young black man, Freddie Gray, died in police custody in April of last year, sparking Baltimore’s worst riots for decades.

The report found African-Americans had been disproportionately targeted.

Unjustified strip searches were conducted while in one arrest, a black man’s weapon was listed as “his mouth”.

In recent years, the justice department has conducted similar investigations into the police in Chicago, Cleveland, Albuquerque and Ferguson, Missouri.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake responded to Wednesday’s report by promising speedy reforms.

“Over the next few months, we will put in place a concrete plan for change and a new culture – for the good of the city, the police department and the people it protects,” she said in a statement.

‘Trust eroded’

The head of the justice department’s civil rights division, Vanita Gupta, told reporters the Baltimore Police Department’s practices had “deeply eroded” trust between officers and the community.

“We conclude that there is reasonable cause to believe that BPD engages in a pattern of practice of conduct that violates the constitution and federal anti-discrimination law,” she said.

“BPD engages in a pattern of practice of making unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests, using enforcement strategies that produce severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African-Americans; using excessive force and retaliating against people engaging in constitutionally protected expression.”

An official from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a leading African-American civil rights organisation, said the report confirmed “what many African-American residents of Baltimore have known and lived too long”.

Sherrilyn Ifill said the report’s findings had laid “bare the harsh reality of discriminatory policing in a major American city”.

She urged “residents, community groups and leading city institutions to marshal their resources and prepare for the long haul to find a way forward”.

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