- - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The morgue in Baltimore is getting crowded. The riots that convulsed the city last month have subsided, and the fusillade of rocks and bricks and the burning of cars and shops has been replaced by a more frightening violence — murder in wholesale lot. Baltimore logged 30 killings in 30 days following the death of Freddie Gray. Then 28 more were shot over Memorial Day weekend, leaving nine more dead. The police, disheartened by attacks on themselves by riotous citizens and aspersions cast on their integrity by city officials, are clearly retreating from firm law enforcement, leaving the streets to the depredations of evildoers. Word gets out.

The rash of homicides has pushed Baltimore to the tragic number of 108 so far this year, compared to 71 at this point in 2014. It’s the most chilling outbreak of murder in nearly a decade. Gunshot wounds have increased more than 70 percent over last year. Gun violence has exploded and the number of arrests has fallen. It’s an apparent paradox, but there’s a logical explanation: Police morale “is in the sewer,” one Baltimore police officer tells CNN.

The violence followed the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man in West Baltimore who was injured in police custody and died April 19. Three days of riots followed, with stoning of police, looting and burning of local shops, and more than 200 arrests. City officials, both black and white, treated the rioters and looters with remarkable lenience, and hobbled the cops. Six officers were indicted last week on charges that included second-degree murder and manslaughter.

The wave of lawlessness mirrors a pattern in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police shooting of Michael Brown last summer, and reprised when a grand jury declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson in November. A Justice Department investigation of the Ferguson police force concluded that officers routinely violated the civil rights of black residents. Justice is conducting a similar examination of police practices in Baltimore.

There must be no tolerance of police abuse, in Baltimore, Ferguson or anywhere else. But the police have rights, too. No policeman wants to risk an incident to make him a focus of scrutiny that might or might not be a politically motivated. Better to keep a low profile until the inevitable federal spanking is concluded, and then to move to a place somewhere else.

A Rasmussen poll in March found that 70 percent of American voters think crime in poor, inner-city communities is a greater problem than police abuse of the people who live there. Moreover, the poll found that 56 percent think President Obama’s Justice Department is more interested in dispensing politics than dispensing justice in investigations such as those in Baltimore and Ferguson. By sending a message that it stands with minorities, without waiting for the facts, the Obama administration alienates most Americans.

Freddie Gray’s death is a tragedy not only for his family but for the community, too, and police misconduct, whether of negligence or abuse, must be redressed. Nevertheless, a rush to judgment without waiting for the courts to render the facts undercuts respect for the law and sends the message that the authorities are merely out to get even with the cops.

When payback encourages the police to pull back from enforcing the law in minority neighborhoods, the collateral damage hurts us all, the minority residents most of all.

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