Archive for category: Police/Crime

Mr. Bealefeld’s Come-To-Jesus Moment

14 Jul
July 14, 2012

Embedded in a recently published interview of former Baltimore commissioner Fred Bealefeld is an extraordinary utterance — something that would and should be a lot more heralded if America were paying sufficient attention to the growing costs and failings of its drug prohibition:

“Professionally,” declares Mr. Bealefeld in a brief interview with the Baltimore Sun Magazine,  “I think our war on drugs has failed…We invested a lot of this country’s blood and resources and didn’t achieve the results. Developing real educational and job opportunities for somebody would have been much more meaningful in neighborhoods than some of the work we built into putting people in jail. That’s why I think it was so misguided. We wound up alienating a lot of folks in building this gigantic jail system in our country.”

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Welcome to Florida. Beware of gunmen standing their ground

25 Mar
March 25, 2012

Protesters demonstrate at a rally for slain teenager Trayvon Martin on March 22, 2012, in Sanford, Florida. Sanford Police Department Chief Bill Lee announced this past week he would  temporarily step down amid fierce pressure from those who say his department botched the handling of the case.</p><br /><br /><br /><p>

The Miami Herald, March 25, 2012
Reprinted with permission.

Almost a quarter-century ago — in the halcyon days when human life was seen as more precious than property and people were regarded as something more than impoverished and non-influential corporations — I happened to be present at the tragic and needless shooting death of a black teenager.It was 1988 in Baltimore, Maryland and I was a journalist embedded in the city’s homicide unit, a bystander to a particular tragedy involving an elderly white homeowner and a black kid shot in the head while trying to steal a dirt bike.

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A Municipal Moment Worthy of Orwell

25 Feb
February 25, 2009
Reprinted from the Baltimore City Paper
February 25, 2009
(Image by MEL GUAPO)
Police work, it is said, is only easy in a police state.

So welcome to the city of Baltimore, where a police officer who uses lethal force and takes human life is no longer required to stand behind his or her actions and suffer the scrutiny of the public he or she serves, where the identity of those officers who use lethal force will no longer be known, where our communities are now asked to trust in the judgment of those who clearly don’t trust us.

A 61-year-old Baltimorean is dead, shot by a Southeastern District Officer Feb. 17. His death may well be a reasonable, if tragic outcome. It may even be good police work, though any veteran city prosecutor will acknowledge that having a shooting ruled “justified” by the state’s attorney’s office should in no way be mistaken for such an assessment.

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Two Americas: A primer for Europeans

05 Sep
September 5, 2008

On the heels of The Wire becoming a hot ticket on British television, The Guardian asked me for a curtain-raiser on season five — the media season — with a Baltimore dateline in their Sunday edition.  By this point, it had become clear that The Wire was something of a phenomenon over there; American dystopia plays better the farther one travels from America, apparently.  And too, it had become clear that many viewers in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe were content to believe that The Wire was representative of the urban U.S. in its entirety.  Moreover, some of them were expressing a good bit of schadenfreude in this.

So in The Guardian, I tried to walk the line between affirming what I thought was truthful in The Wire and making clear the geographic limitations of the drama.  Not sure it worked at all, or that anyone took the point.  But in my mind, at least, it boiled down to an interior stance: We can say this shit about ourselves.  And at times, we will.  But fuck you if you’re thinking the worst of us and enjoying it a little too much.



Reprinted with permission.

BALTIMORE, Md. —- it’s been an ordinary week in Maryland’s largest city. The August heat broke and one can nearly sleep with a window open; the Orioles are again down in the cellar in the American League East; the city murder rate is a bit behind last year’s blood-letting, and if it holds into the fall, politicians and police commanders will compete to claim credit.

The stories in the Baltimore Sun remain fixed on the surface, each of them premised on the givens: schools will open next week and provide more or less the same inferior education as previous years; Johns Hopkins is building its biotech park expansion where the East Baltimore ghetto used to be and the ghetto is migrating due east and north-east; the biotech park will be great for white folk with college degrees, for those with union cards, the factories are still closed and the port is still losing cargo to Norfolk; a shooting here, a cutting there …

All in all, an unremarkable summer.

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Murder, I Wrote

10 Sep
September 10, 1997

R.C. on the corner. Photo by Debra Gertler

From The New Republic, September 1997
Reprinted with permission.

I used to cover crime on the late shift in Baltimore for The Sun. It was a living measured, by and large, in four-paragraph installments. You’d call the cops, ask what was going on, and then, when they emitted a handful of facts about which body fell on which corner, you’d write it up briefly and send it to the night editor. West Baltimore, East Baltimore, lower Park Heights, Cherry Hill—the rowhouses and postwar housing projects were all decidedly similar, and, assuming the casualty was poor and black, the newspaper accounts were similar as well.

“A 21-year-old West Baltimore man was shot to death yesterday….”

“… police say the assailant fled on foot after the stabbing. No suspects have been identified.”

“A 16-year-old Pimlico youth was found murdered ….”

In four years, I manufactured about a thousand of those formulaic morsels. The bodies I wrote about were, for the most part, buried in a handful of $200-a-plot cemeteries and potter’s fields in South and West Baltimore. The newspaper accounts were likewise interred—page D2 in the Maryland-in-Brief regional wrap-up. The detectives who investigated these forlorn cases called them misdemeanor homicides.

I wrote a book about these detectives, and Barry Levinson, a Hollywood director who used to live in Baltimore, decided to turn the book into a network television show. A few months later, a film crew showed up and began ?lming. Cheap motels, broken rowhouses, projects, street corners — the same rotted Rustbelt terrain that had yielded all those stunted news briefs suddenly became a studio backlot. Eventually, I left the newspaper and went to work writing murder stories for the television show.

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