Distrust between residents of Baltimore and the police - a problem that existed both before and after the killing of Freddie Gray - will not be tackled without addressing “systematic racism” within the force, activists say.
A report compiled following interviews with residents in West Baltimore carried out in aftermath of the young man’s death and the protests that followed, calls for anti-racism training, closer interaction with the community and greater civilian oversight of the force.
“The West Baltimore Community Commission recommends that Baltimore City, the Baltimore Police Department and the Maryland General Assembly reform policy to increase civilian oversight of the department, implement community policing models and ensure that every citizen is policed in a equitable, effective and constitutional manner,” says the report drawn by the No Boundaries Coalition.
The 25-year-old Mr Gray died after being detained by police in April 2015 and forced into a van. While being transported he fell into a coma. He died ten days later after suffered a severed spine.
A total of six police officers have been charged, one of them with murder. The city authorities made a $6.4m payment to Mr Gray’s family. His death sparked several days of peaceful protests and sporadic rioting.
No Boundaries Coalition Director Rebecca Nagle said residents of West Baltimore had told them they felt that residents in other parts of the city - whiter and richer - received different treatment from the police force.
“All of these things point to institutionalised racism,” she told The Independent in advance of the report’s release.
“Residents again and again and again said that for trust to be rebuilt, there had to be accountability.”
Ray Kelly, a resident of the Sandtown neighborhood, said that the number of violent deaths had fallen to a 12 year low in the year before Mr Gray’s death. after he was killed, it jumped from 21 deaths in 2014 to 66 in 2015.
“The community is trauma hardened,” he said. “It’s sad that someone had to die for us to get attention for things we have been talking about for years. We are trying to get policies in place to stop this happening.”
This week, a court ruled that one of the six officers must testify in the cases of colleagues charged over the custody death of Mr Gray.
Policeman William Porter himself went on trial in the case last year but a mistrial was declared and a fresh trial has been set for later this year.
His lawyers had argued that making him testify in other cases would violate his right not to incriminate himself.
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