Under Maryland law, you can be charged with disorderly conduct for “willfully [acting] in a disorderly manner that disturbs the public peace.” Baltimore police are well aware of the statute — a misdemeanor that carries a maximum of a $500 fine and 60 days in jail. The Department of Justice found in its investigation of city police that they routinely used it as a catch-all offense to facilitate the mass arrests of minorities in poor neighborhoods as part of the destructive zero-tolerance policing Baltimore practiced for years in the 2000s. During the four-year period the DOJ studied, Baltimore police made 6,500 arrests for disorderly conduct, heavily concentrated in poor, black neighborhoods and frequently without probable cause.
Contrast that with what happened during a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Hippodrome Theatre when a drunk, white man stood at the beginning of intermission and yelled “Heil Hitler, Heil Trump,” leading to panic in the audience. Just weeks after an anti-Semite killed 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, some theatergoers said they were terrified that they were about to become the next victims of a hate-fueled mass shooting.
It doesn’t matter that the man, Anthony M. Derlunas, 58, claims to have been, in some asinine way, criticizing the president for his immigration policies, not pledging actual fealty to Nazism. Nor does it matter that he was obviously and admittedly drunk. (Actually, there’s a separate law covering that, too; to be “intoxicated or consume an alcoholic beverage in a public place and cause a public disturbance” carries a maximum $100 fine and 90 day jail sentence.) What he did is not protected, free speech. It is like crying fire in a crowded theater, only worse.
But that’s how the Baltimore police treated it. They did not arrest Mr. Derlunas; they let him go with a “stop,” something less than you might expect for jaywalking. A police spokesman said officers could do no differently because he had not “directly threatened anyone.” On the contrary, he threatened the peace and well being of everyone in that theater.
Baltimore police have used their discretion over the years to arrest thousands of people, predominantly young, black men, for crimes like disorderly conduct, because they thought the alleged perpetrators might pose some greater threat. But when a middle-aged white man terrorizes a theater full of people, he is let go with no consequences whatsoever. Of course, arrests in Baltimore are a fraction of what they were in the zero tolerance days. Does this reflect some new enlightenment at BPD about nuisance crimes? Or does it demonstrate that even under a federal consent decree, unequal justice is alive and well in Baltimore?
Mr. Derlunas tells The Sun’s Sarah Meehan that he’s mortified at his conduct. Count us among those who will not easily forgive and forget what he did. Whatever opprobrium he faces is more than deserved. But at least he recognizes that what he did was wrong.
What about the BPD?
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