Over the last several days, Baltimore has raged with protests and riots over the death of Freddie Grey, who suffered a fatal spine injury while in police custody. The events have left many wondering where the roots of the anger originate and how best to address Baltimore’s ills.
Baltimore’s foremost scribe, David Simon, has finally weighed in. Simon worked for The Baltimore Sun as a police reporter for more than a decade before creating HBO’s television series “The Wire,” a thinly-veiled documentation of the city’s institutional problems.
In an interview in The Marshall Project with editor-in-chief Bill Keller, Simon laid out the issues plaguing Baltimore in typically blunt fashion.
According to Simon, Freddie Grey’s death and the subsequent outrage results from a larger erosion in police work caused by the Drug War. Simon said that the Drug War expanded what constituted probable cause until it became “a permission for the police to become truly random and arbitrary and to clear streets any way they damn well wanted.”
On April 12th, a Baltimore police lieutenant made eye-contact with Freddie Grey in an area known for drug dealing, at which point Grey “fled unprovoked,” according to court documents cited by The Sun. Officers found an illegal switchblade knife clipped to the inside of Grey’s pants pocket.
Simon gave his version of the events:
“And so, fast forward to [Baltimore projects] Sandtown and the Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Grey gives some Baltimore police the legal equivalent of looking at them a second or two too long,” Simon said. “He runs, and so when he’s caught he takes an arse-kicking and then goes into the back of a wagon without so much as a nod to the Fourth Amendment.”
Simon does have one solution to Baltimore’s problems: End the drug war.
“I know I sound like a broken record, but we end the f***ing drug war,” Simon said. “The drug war gives everybody permission to do anything. It gives cops permission to stop anybody, to go in anyone’s pockets, to manufacture any lie when they get to district court …. The drug war gives everybody permission. And if it were draconian and we were fixing anything that would be one thing, but it’s draconian, and it’s a disaster.”
For Simon, ending the drug war doesn’t necessarily mean legalizing drugs. Instead, he advocates decriminalization of drugs and removing the incentives like overtime for state attorneys and police officers to arrest for minor offenses such as loitering and “failure to obey.”
“Nobody gets paid for that bulls**t, go out and do real police work. If that were to happen, then all at once, the standards for what constitutes a worthy arrest in Baltimore would significantly improve,” Simon said.
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