The U.S. Department of Justice under President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has declined to seek charges for any of the Baltimore police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray.
The decision not to charge the officers for violating Gray’s civil rights reflects the difficulties the victims’ families face in seeking justice for police violence. More importantly, however, this is the new normal for an administration that was endorsed by the nation’s largest police union.
Trump, who has encouraged police brutality, has promised to take a step back, away from police reform and suing abusive police departments with a record of racial bias and violence.
Gray, 25, was killed by a severed spine on April 12, 2015 while in police custody being transported in the back of a police van. Although six police officers faced charges in Gray’s death, none were convicted. Five face possible internal discipline. The officers were honored last year at a conservative gala held by the Media Research Center.
Marilyn Mosby, the head prosecutor in Baltimore, faced blowback from police for having the audacity to go after officers accused of brutality. Now, the police are coming for her with a malicious prosecution lawsuit and a super PAC, though she has no challengers.
In September 2015, the city of Baltimore reached a $6.4 million settlement with the family of Freddie Gray. The settlement, designed to avoid a civil lawsuit, came as the city was still in the midst of recovery in light of unrest and protests following his death.
In a statement, the Justice Department said it and the FBI devoted “significant time and resources” investigating the Gray case. “To the extent that the officers violated department policy in failing to seatbelt Gray, those failures suggest civil negligence rather than the high standard of deliberate indifference,” read the statement, adding it would be impossible to prove the police intentionally ignored his medical needs.
The high standard of proof in federal civil rights cases has been an issue under Republican and Democratic administrations alike. Federal prosecutors must prove the police willfully violated a victim’s civil rights, a tall order, suggesting the laws must be changed. But don’t expect any of the above under Trump.
Trump ran on a campaign of law and order, promising more stop and frisk in communities of color, more police crackdowns and more war on drugs for the Black communities he characterized as crime-ridden. The Fraternal Order of Police endorsed Trump and prepared a wish list of agenda items for the new president. And Trump and his reactionary and racist attorney general Jeff Sessions have delivered, at least as far as the police are concerned.
The president reversed the Obama-era ban on surplus military hardware for state and local law enforcement agencies, including tanks, grenade launchers, weaponized aircraft, camouflage uniforms and bayonets — the first on the FOP wish list.
Last year, under then-President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the Justice Department issued a scathing report on racial bias by the Baltimore police and reached a consent decree with the city in the mad rush only days before Trump entered the White House. However, that now seems like a lifetime ago, as Sessions announced in April a rollback of the 14 Obama consent decrees — described as a “review” of the agreements meant to provide federal oversight to local law enforcement agencies with a history of racist and abusive practices against communities of color.
“Local control and local accountability are necessary for effective local policing. It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies,” said Sessions in a memo expressing his skepticism with a federal role in addressing local police conduct. “The misdeeds of individual bad actors should not impugn or undermine the legitimate and honorable work that law enforcement officers and agencies perform in keeping American communities safe.”
Trump has expressed his approval of racial profiling and stop-and-frisk policies. He pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who violated a federal court order to refrain from the racial profiling of Latinos and was found in contempt. The FOP expects Trump to reverse the ban on racial profiling in the federal government issued by President Bush in 2003.
Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, O.K.?
It is disappointing, though not surprising, that this administration would refuse to charge the police officers in the Freddie Gray case. Given the long record of Trump and Sessions giving cops the benefit of the doubt, and empowering them to abuse Black people with impunity and without accountability — because “Blue Lives Matter” — we should expect nothing more.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter @davidalove.