In this week’s editorials, we would like to highlight two stories that we believe are not discussed on our campus as much as they should be. Both stories are grounded in historically rooted problems that carry very real implications today. Even though these stories may not always be in the headlines that we read, we hope that we can — at the very least — be aware of them and perhaps, do something about them. — The Editorial Board
On the BPD’s failures
Baltimore Ceasefire, a local grassroots organization dedicated to reducing gun violence, organized its third 72-hour event last weekend. Through advocacy and rallies, these events are meant to prevent any homicides from occuring in Baltimore during the designated three-day period, and last week’s Ceasefire was the first one to achieve that goal.
Since the death of Freddie Gray in April 2015, the number of homicides in Baltimore has spiked. Last year marked the highest annual per-capita murder rate in the city’s history, with 341 lives lost. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) struggles to address the spike as Commissioner Darryl De Sousa, the third Police Commissioner in three years, begins his tenure.
De Sousa enters this job following disappointing performances from his predecessors. In July 2015, former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired then Police Commissioner Anthony Batts in response to the rising homicide rate immediately following Gray’s death. Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis was then promoted to commissioner. Crime and homicide in Baltimore since his appointment only increased. Current Mayor Catherine Pugh fired Davis last month and replaced him with then-deputy-commissioner Darryl De Sousa.
Unlike Batts and Davis, De Sousa rose through the ranks of the Department. He is a 30-year veteran of the force and a Baltimore resident. However, he is also inherting a deparatment with many internal issues. Today we highlight these problems through the incoming revelations from the Gun Trace Task Force scandal.
The BPD’s Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF) was formed in 2007 as an elite unit dedicated to reducing the number of guns on Baltimore streets. Its members were given an unconventional degree of freedom to essentially use any methods necessary to combat gun violence.
In March 2017, seven GTTF officers were indicted in a racketeering conspiracy. They were accused of using their power as members of the BPD to steal money from drug dealers and Baltimore citizens. They were accused of confiscating guns and drugs that they were meant to keep off the street. Instead they resold them and pocketed the profits. The lead federal prosecutor against the GTTF said, “They were, simply put, both cops and robbers at the same time.”
The officers made six-figure salaries by logging overtime hours when they were on vacation or engaging in their illicit activities.
This story grows especially complicated with the fatal shooting of Detective Sean Suiter on Nov. 15, 2017 in the Harlem Park neighborhood. After discovering his body, the BPD put the entire neighborhood on lockdown as they searched for the murderer. Residents needed identification to get in or out of their own homes. They were searched, and they were banned from parts of their own neighborhood. The BPD’s occupation lasted for a week after Suiter’s death.
As Suiter’s killer has yet to be found, people have speculated that his death is tied to his role as a witness in the GTTF trials. It has been over two months, and Baltimore still has no answers.
The mere existence of this speculation undermines Baltimore’s faith in the BPD to conduct business ethically and keep citizens safe.
Fellow members of the BPD were either unaware of the GTTF’s actions or willfully ignored them, making it very difficult for the police as a whole to begin regaining the City’s trust. This trust continues to erode as more news about the BPD surfaces.
According to The Baltimore Sun, BPD Training Academy Head of Legal Instruction Sgt. Josh Rosenblatt expressed concerns about recruits failing to understand citizens’ basic constitutional rights. This is particularly concerning, considering that a 2015 Department of Justice report following the Baltimore Uprising detailed how there was an alarming rate of unconstitutional and racist police practices.
Intiatives like Baltimore Ceasefire are critical in addressing the ways in which the BPD has failed. As a community-based intiative, Ceasefire is working to mobilize residents to organize concerted efforts to promote our City’s safety and wellbeing.
We are Hopkins students, but we are part of Baltimore, too. The workings of the BPD tend not to directly affect us, and it’s very easy for us to remain detached. But as Baltimore residents, even for only four years, the last thing Hopkins students should be is apathetic and uninformed.
On the neglect of Puerto Rico
Last September, Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island of Puerto Rico. Much of the island was destroyed, and people, including families of Hopkins students, went without power for months. Eighty percent of the island’s crop value disappeared. Most of its water was undrinkable. Between September and November, over 200,000 people left the territory to come to the continental United States.
The hurricane hit months ago, but for many residents, the situation is still dire. A little less than half of the island remains without electricity. Some areas still don’t have access to clean water. Much of the structural damage to houses and public works remains unrepaired. Puerto Rican Hopkins students report going home, months after disaster struck, to continued debris, destruction and darkness.
However, this isn’t just about the hurricane. Puerto Rico has been struggling with issues that Maria only exacerbates. The island is about $70 billion in debt, with a poverty rate of over 45 percent. Over the last several years, more than 150 schools have closed, tax rates have skyrocketed and thousands of people have left for the mainland. The United States government has shown less than adequate support for its territory and more importantly, its citizens.
The island and the mainland government have had a tense relationship for years. Because Puerto Rico is a territory, laws that apply to the continental states often contain loopholes that can cause significant damage to Puerto Rican wealth and infrastructure. In the 1970s, the government imposed a tax break that encouraged businesses to move to Puerto Rico instead of overseas.
The island’s pharmaceutical industry boomed: Puerto Rico was much wealthier than it is today. However, Congress discontinued those tax breaks completely by 2006 in order to relieve tax cuts on the mainland. When the 2008 recession hit, the island lost half of its manufacturing jobs and plunged into debt. It hasn’t been able to recover in the last 10 years.
Part of this problem stems from the idea that our government doesn’t treat Puerto Rico and its citizens as true members of the United States. President Trump has glossed over the severity of the issue in the wake of similar hurricanes in Florida and Texas. He glossed over the fact that many people in Puerto Rico still lack electricity and running water and face even bigger systemic issues that the U.S. government has created instead of resolved.
Puerto Rico is not a foreign country. Its citizens are Americans and, as such, they should be given the same care and attention as those who live in Florida and Texas have received.
We encourage Hopkins students to continue monitoring conditions in Puerto Rico and supporting peers whose families are directly affected by the devastation. We cannot forget about Puerto Rico, even if the federal government seems to be moving in that direction. The government might not treat Puerto Ricans as citizens, but we can treat our friends and classmates from Puerto Rico with the dignity they deserve.
Correction: The original article stated that there were 343 homicides in Baltimore in 2017. On Friday, Feb. 2, Baltimore Police announced that a double-fatal shooting has been ruled justified, reducing the number of homicides from 343 to 341.
The News-Letter regrets this error.