The Baltimore City Police Department is its own worst enemy. Those at the top speak about protecting and serving while — through winks-and-nods or sheer incompetence — they condone those in the rank and file who are all about self-serving and terrorizing.
And in Washington, an increasingly desperate President Donald Trump is doing all that he can to undermine the rule of law. The FBI is currently in the presidential crosshairs, as he tries to tweet the American public into believing the agency is thoroughly corrupt and, more particularly, out to get him.
What are we to make of all this, especially those of us inclined through experience to be wary of law enforcement institutions?
The revelations emerging from a federal trial of two Baltimore cops might cause the young person considering his or her future to eschew the common street gang world with its almost-guaranteed short productive life span and instead become a gangster with a badge — complete with generous overtime, a pension, union support and even public accolades. Speaking of the so-called rogue cops, the prosecutor in the case told jurors: “They were, simply put, both cops and robbers at the same time.”
A few thousand criminal cases are now in jeopardy because the gang that was the Gun Trace Task Force, by the admissions of those who have already pleaded guilty, has staged crimes, planted evidence, stolen money and drugs from suspects, and put purloined drugs back into circulation on the streets of Baltimore and Philadelphia. The system was rigged to reward them as higher ups took credit for making the streets safer.
This is not about feeling sorry for the ripped off drug dealers, some of whom are testifying against the two detectives on trial. It is about being sorrowfully angry that the guardians of the criminal justice system have tolerated a whatever-it-takes approach to crime fighting. “It was just part of the culture,” a former member of the squad testified as he detailed how he and other detectives went about their work. If what he described as routine was not upsetting enough, he also brought into the tableau of corrupt cops Sean Suiter, the detective killed in mysterious circumstances in November the day before he was scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury. According to him, Suiter was among those on the take a decade ago. And so the question is being asked even more loudly: Was Detective Suiter killed to keep him from spilling the beans?
When you have had little confidence in Baltimore police, based on the kinds of decades-long abuses confirmed by the U. S. Justice Department 18 months ago — much of it aimed at blacks in the city — this can erase all the goodwill created by cops playing sports with city youth or serving in mentoring programs or choosing to live in the city to serve as neighborhood role models.
In Washington, President Trump flip-flops on the integrity of the FBI to reflect how he feels about whether the agency is helping him or hindering him. He’s so muddied the waters that a recent poll showed that 38 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Democrats held a favorable view of the FBI. The GOP has long defined itself as the party of law and order, while condemning Democrats as soft on crime.
Take it from this black woman who knows the history of the agency created by J. Edgar Hoover and its devious actions against black people through his long reign: The president is messing with all who are naturally wary. Hoover’s G-Men targeted the black press. Martin Luther King Jr. was “the most notorious liar in the country.” The Black Panther Party was “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Hoover destroyed people in his anti-communist and anti-civil rights zeal. He equated being anti-war — whether World War II or Vietnam — with being an enemy of the state.
That’s a lot of baggage for the modern, post-Hoover FBI to overcome, and whatever had been achieved by the time President Barack Obama left office has been set back by the current president. Mr. Trump is pulling out all the stops to undermine the investigation being led by a special prosecutor who has bipartisan support for the creditable job he is doing. That means firing an FBI director, forcing another to resign, and possibly laying the groundwork for firing the man who oversees the special prosecutor.
But we cannot be fooled by his okey doke. Nor should our elected representatives, even the ones with backbones as flexible as a snake’s.
E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.