Eight days had passed since the Justice Department issued a scathing review of the Baltimore Police Department, detailing years of racial discrimination in its law enforcement practices. Yet the 40 or so longtime residents who gathered in a church basement, many of whom were older black women afraid to walk to the store or leave their homes at night, had come to urge police to clear their corners of miscreants and restore order to their crime-plagued community, reports the Washington Post. “Please help me,” pleaded gas station owner Chaubhry Masood, whose parking lot has been overrun by loiterers and where a 17-year-old was recently shot and killed.
At the same time, in an adjacent church hall, Justice Department civil rights attorneys were discussing how to change the police department with another group of residents intent on curbing the abusive behavior of corner-clearing cops. Those attending included black youths long targeted by police. The organizers of each gathering didn’t know the other was taking place. And as people showed up last Thursday night, a priest from St. Peter Claver Catholic Church hurriedly attached paper signs to metal railings to direct the flow. The meeting with the police community relations council was to the right, the meeting with Justice Department lawyers to the left. The disconnect between those focused on crime and those focused on changes in policing looms large as Baltimore reaches an agreement with the federal government to restructure the department and end unconstitutional detentions, arrests, and beatings.