Freddie Gray Death Exposes Constitutional Disparity of High Crime
Even Baltimore police admit they had no probable cause to chase after Freddie Gray on April 12 resulting in an arrest that left the 25-year-old man unconscious with a broken back before he died in a hospital a week later.
But they still insist they had a reasonable suspicion that he committed a crime after he made eye contact with them and ran away, prompting three officers to chase him on their bicycles and detain him where two witnesses recorded Gray screaming in pain as cops dragged him into the back of a police van, never to be seen conscious again.
After all, police say, Gray was in a “high-crime area,” which are undefined areas in the United States where the Supreme Court has determined the Constitution can be suspended because the standards for reasonable suspicion are lower than in other not-so-high crime areas.
In other words, had Gray been strolling through, oh, let’s just say, a white middle-class neighborhood with low crimes rates before making eye contact with police before he ran off, police would have had no reasonable suspicion to believe he was involved in a crime and therefore, no legal right to chase after him.
That, of course, is a theoretical example and would likely not prevent cops from chasing after him anyway, but it would make an interesting argument in court where police are required to prove they had a reasonable suspicion before detaining a person.
And reasonable suspicion cannot just be a hunch, but require the officer to have “specific and articulable facts” that a person may be involved in a crime before detaining them. That is why citizens taking pictures of police or government buildings from public do not meet that standard as well as much as cops try to convince us we do.
And a black man strolling through a white neighborhood might not meet that standard either. At least if it makes its way up to the higher courts because the lower courts are mostly run by a judge’s discretion rather than the Constitution, meaning there is a higher rate of bias and a lower standard of reasonable suspicion.
Or let’s just take a look at the incident last year where a Phoenix cop pulled up next to a white teenager in a middle class neighborhood to show him a photo of a murder suspect he was seeking, prompting the teen to run away because he had marijuana in his pocket. Detective Kevin McGowan was furious that Patrick D’Labik ran, so he chased him into a store where surveillance video shows he stomped on the teen’s head who was complying with his orders to lay down.
McGowan was quickly fired and he’s now asking for his job back. And court records indicate that D’Labik was never charged for the marijuana.
In the case of Gray, which is now making national news because of the mysterious circumstances surrounding his arrest and death, an unsettling concern is that the cops chased him even though he had displayed no visible signs that he had committed a crime, which as already stated, needs to be based on specific and articulate facts, not a mere hunch.
And that goes for blacks, whites, Hispanics and photographers.
But Gray took off running for reasons we will never know because he was never given a chance to articulate those reasons before he died on April 19 with an autopsy determining his voice box was crushed and 80 percent of his spine was severed.
According to former Baltimore police officer Joe Crystal, who was forced out of the department last yearafter he blew the whistle on abusive cops and became the subject of nonstop retaliation, the entire city of Baltimore is considered a “high-crime area.”
But given the history of the Baltimore Police Department, known to be one of the most corrupt, abusive police departments in the country, an agency that maintains a “blood in, blood out” gang-like, as they told Crystal when he blew the whistle, why wouldn’t somebody run from them?
After all, we can label the Baltimore Police Department as a “high crime agency” as easy as we can label the city of Baltimore a “high crime area.” This is an agency that turned on one of its own because he did the right thing. The epitome of the Blue Mafia, a uniformed omertà that is epidemic in many police departments throughout the country.
And we, as citizens, should have the right to avoid all contact with criminal law enforcement agencies unless they can articulate a reasonable suspicion that we are involved in a crime.
We should not have to suspend our rights just because we happen to live in a lower-income neighborhood with high crime rates.
Who determines what is a high-crime area?
That question was asked by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson and Damien Bernache in a 2008 article for the American University Law Review.
What exactly is a “high-crime area”? The Supreme Court has never provided a definition. Lower court decisions are equally imprecise. Yet, as practicing criminal defense lawyers know, the question is highlighted in almost every Fourth Amendment suppression hearing focused on the legitimacy of a police stop.12 A police officer takes the stand, explains his actions, testifies to his suspicions, adds the magic words—“high-crime area”13—and reasonable suspicion is found as a matter of constitutional law. Rarely is there any analysis of why this particular area is a high-crime area, on what objective, verifiable, or empirical data the police officer has based his conclusion, or whether the officer knew this information before he made the stop.
In fact, trial courts rarely seem to question whether there is even an official definition of a high-crime area in their jurisdiction,14 on what facts that definition is based, whether the definition changes over time, and whether there are different types of offense-specific areas (i.e., those areas known as “high drug areas,” “high theft areas,” “high robbery areas,” etc.). Statistical data is rarely entered on the record by the government.15 Outside experts are never consulted.16 The high-crime area designation is hardly ever empirically supported with factual evidentiary proof. As a result, individuals’ Fourth Amendment constitutional protections are altered without verifiable “specific”17 and “objective”18 reasons to support that change.
So what we are learning is that a so-called “high-crime area” is defined by the police patrolling that area, whom we have learned, would say or do anything to justify violating our Constitutional rights.
If it was up to them, the entire country would be labeled a Constitution-free, high-crime area.
And we know that is especially the case with the Baltimore Police Department whose tendency to violate the rights of citizens prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to issue a statement of interest in 2010 explaining in detail how it should handle citizens who record them in public because they were regularly arresting citizens for recording as well as deleting their footage.
So we can probably thank the Department of Justice that the cops who dragged Gray into the back of a police van did not arrest the two citizens recording because they surely would have done that in years past, not that they haven’t continued violating the rights of citizens to record after the warning from the Department of Justice.
And it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to believe the reason Baltimore police waited more than a week to explain why they even arrested him had to do with the possibility that there might have been more cameras that recorded even more of the altercation, perhaps even the moment where Gray’s back was broken.
After all, look what happened in South Carolina after North Charleston police announced they had killed a man because he was trying to take the police officer’s taser gun, causing the cop to fear for his life and shoot and kill him.
It was only after they made this public justification that a video emerged showing officer Michael Slager shoot Walter Scott in the back as he was running away, leaving no doubt that the officer was not in a fight for his life when he opened fire. The fact that he was recorded dropping a taser gun next to Scott’s body further confirmed he lied about the shooting and was doing his best to create his own narrative.
In fact, last year a city surveillance camera captured a Baltimore cop beating a suspect, whom the cop had previously accused in his report as making him fear for his life.
When a police document of Gray’s incident finally emerged in court more than a week later, it claimed that Gray was taken into custody “without force or incident,” even though the videos show he was screaming in pain as they were dragging him into the van.
The report also states that he was having a “medical emergency” and was transported to the hospital. And police say he asked for an asthma inhaler but didn’t receive one.
A new report states that police had stopped the van, pulled him out and placed leg shackles on him because he was becoming “irate,” but the previous videos show him dragging his legs as if his back had already been severed.
However, his voice box was most definitely not crushed at that point because he was screaming in excruciating pain.
So he was placed in the back of the van without a seatbelt; his legs shackled, his arms cuffed, in need of an asthma inhaler; a 5’8″ man weighing 145 pounds who had frequent arrests but with only conviction for illegal drug possession, according to the Baltimore Sun, which describes him as a “low level nonviolent offender.”
A man who had good reason not to trust police as many of us do, despite how police may define the Constitutional value of our neighborhoods.
After all, Baltimore police have a reputation for providing “rough rides” to suspects in police vans, where they brake hard and make sharp turns, causing the handcuffed, unbuckled inmate in the back to bounce around like a piece of cargo; a practice that has resulted in millions of dollars in lawsuits and at least two men permanently paralyzed, according to the Sun.
The police report also states they found a switchblade knife on him, which if that were true, would have given probable cause to arrest him. That, of course, was determined after the fact that he ran away, giving them reasonable suspicion that he needed to be detained and frisked.
And police have yet to provide a photo of this dangerous knife as they tend to do to justify arrests that come under public scrutiny, not that a photo would even prove their allegation.
But details from the police department are slowly emerging as anger from the community is quickly escalating. Earlier this week, police released the names of the officers, which are as follows:
The department released the officers’ names earlier: Lt. Brian Rice, 41, who joined the department in 1997; Officer Caesar Goodson, 45, who joined in 1999; Sgt. Alicia White, 30, who joined in 2010; Officer William Porter, 25, who joined in 2012; Officer Garrett Miller, 26, who joined in 2012; and Officer Edward Nero, 29, who joined in 2012.
The incident has sparked several days of protests in Baltimore with many carrying signs stating “Black Lives Matter,” which has proven to be divisive among white anti-police brutality activists who prefer the more inclusive, “All Lives Matter.”
And while it’s true that all lives matter, it is becoming apparent that poor lives, those who live in poverty-stricken areas where crime rates tend to be higher, matter much less.
Even in the eyes of the U.S. Supreme Court.
And you can’t get any more unconstitutional than that.