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by Peter Moskos

April 26, 2015

"Group on the corner, disorderly, no further, anonymous"

I don't want to make too much out of this, but there is something just a little funny about a reporter being robbed on camera and then running, in tears, to the police. No, it's not funny because somebody is robbed. No, it's not funny that she was traumatized by it. It is just a little funny because at the same time she might be filing a report about police brutality, who does she run crying to when threatened? The police.

Or... maybe she's just harassing an innocent unarmed youth. After all, the guy said he didn't do it.

It's the moral equivalence that bother police. The idea that people would take word of the mob purse snatcher as equal to a cop's word. Even worse is the idea, which I hear a lot of, that these guys are actually morally superior to working police officers. It's absurd. (You can get another take on this from a previous post.)

Here's the thing about the guys who were threatening her: it's not like they just appeared yesterday and won't be here tomorrow. Police deal with these guys literally every day. These dozen youths are out there every night in the streets of Baltimore. They might not always be acting up quite so much. But sometimes they are. Too many people pretend it's all about bad police oppressing good people. But they don't live or work in neighborhoods where they get harassed by these specific youths. But good people do. And they call the police. I'm talking class, not race.

Police handle "routine calls for service" like this every hour. When I texted my friend working the Eastern last night wishing him well, he replied, "Thanks brother. Just another night in the hood! Lol."

A typical call may be because Pops called 911 because these kids on the corner, in front of his house, are being loud, rowdy, breaking bottles, and otherwise disrespectful. You get the call. You pull up. You're solo. There they are. Deal with it. That's what cops do. Every goddamn day. You know, I got tired telling the same group of drug dealers to get off the same corner every goddamn night. But I did. I had to. It was my job.

Usually what happens in the ghetto stays in the ghetto. Literally and figuratively. I spoke to many teenagers in the Eastern who had never been downtown. Never been out of Baltimore. Never left their neighborhood. It might be one thing to never leave your neighborhood if you live somewhere nice, but if your whole world is centered around Rutland and Crystal? (Go on, google-steet-view 1511 Rutland Ave, Baltimore MD 21213 and take a look around. Hell, buy that home for $8,000!) Take a stroll down the 1700 block of Crystal Ave. No wonder you're messed up. Who do you think is pulling the trigger on 200-plus homicides a year in the city of Baltimore? Since Freddie Gray died in police hands -- between April 13 and April 26 -- there have been 8 murders in Baltimore.

So yesterday -- along with hundreds of peaceful protesters -- a bit of the ghetto broke out of the ghetto. Now if you're so ideologically inclined you might think that's good. Or, if you're in a restaurant where things are being thrown through the windows, you might not (while praying that a Molotov cocktail doesn't follow suit). But here are a dozen human being society tries to ignore, until we put them in prison. I'm not talking about the protesters. I'm talking about these dozen thugs.

And I don't actually blame these kids for being foolish -- I know they're fools, but hell, they never had a chance. Look where they grew up. Look at their parents -- as much as I blame the people who apologize for their bad actions. Those who call mindless violence a "rebellion" or "giving voice to the voiceless." Those who blame police for trying to calm a disturbance. Those who believe in the false ideal of the gentleman thug.

So we pay police to deal with the problems of our country and to somehow contain these kids so they don't beat up working tax-paying voters. We, collectively, have failed. And then we wait for police to make a mistake and blame it all on them.


Adrian said...

Your last paragraph is basically the gist of Ta-Nahesi Coates' piece


Anonymous said...

The reporter was from the Russian Times. We pound them over human rights abuses.

They NEVER miss an opportunity to counter punch with alleged police brutality.


This is obviously propaganda. But I read RT articles on Ukraine in the last year.

Our media can't do anything close to balanced reporting.

An American has to find it for himself.

bacchys said...

So, we shouldn't hold police accountable when the break the law because other people *we don't pay* do break the law?

Am I getting your point right?

Peter Moskos said...

No, bacchys. I didn't mean to imply that at all. Sorry if I wasn't clear.

We should hold police accountable. We need to hold police accountable.

This post was about people causing violence. And people who somehow think everything can be easily and neatly solved by police.

Can't we worry about police accountability *and* the greater problems facing America. To me it seems like we're overly focused on the former and all but ignoring the root of these problem, which is less police than society.

Peter Moskos said...

RT is an odd organization. They do have strange masters. And they don't always follow the normal bias of American media. An outside perspective can be good. They also have a lot of really good journalists. For a while, they were the only major organization that was hiring young talent in the US. So they got a lot of good talent.

Peter Moskos said...

I wrote about that Coates piece here:


We've both been hammering at the point for a long time.

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

"Can't we worry about police accountability *and* the greater problems facing America. To me it seems like we're overly focused on the former and all but ignoring the root of these problem, which is less police than society."

It seems to me that there's no shortage of people concerned about, and writing about, the root causes of racism and poverty. But in terms of where power is, and therefore where action is, there's not a lot of police accountability, not a lot of dealing with root causes, but no shortage of jailing the guys in this video. I'm really not worried that our country will suddenly not jail enough black lawbreakers. I'm really concerned that our society will not---and hasn't---jailed enough lawbreakers in blue.

Peter Moskos said...

Bacchys, Also, the post was motivated because people blame police *collectively* for the actions of individual police officers. That's not very productive. We tend not to do that to other groups of people.

And Fuzzy, I do think there's a lack of people actually trying to solve our problems. I'm not talking about people writing about the history of racism. I'm talking about coming up with solutions and money.

Anonymous said...


Hope you're well. Ex-student here and I just checked out your blog to see your comments regarding Baltimore's riots.

I'm really torn about police. I confess, I was a police boot licker. I loved 'em. Growing up I watched the TV show Cops religiously and idolized those that always got the "bad guy." Hence my interest in criminal justice and subsequent degrees in the field. I thought about becoming a police officer or Fed and for a variety of reasons, I opted not to.

My views have shifted a bit over the years and I'm inherently less trusting of many of society's institutions, the media, and things in general.

I've had minor interactions with the police regarding run-of-the-mill traffic issues. I was issued tickets and spoken down to during the encounter. I resented it. Immensely. I'm a good, honest, person and I was treated like I was on the Most Wanted list. I've grown to hate police hypocrisy (is it a pre-requisite that you have to do 95 in the left lane while talking on a cell phone in order to drive a police car?). I've grown to hate the double-standard and favors other police give each other. I feel like the police have their sites trained on the public and enforce revenue generating laws against generally good people while the real criminals (crooked politicians, Wall Street gamblers, and the like) rarely if ever pay for their very consequential but often overlooked crimes.

Until police are model citizens, drop the 'tude, and the influential and well connected are subjected to the same legal scrutiny for their major crimes (compared to the general public's generally petty crimes), I don't know that I'll ever resolve these feelings.

I get it. Police have it hard and society has changed. Society is a bit more violent and disrespectful. Gone are the days when Officer Friendly sat with Little Timmy at the soda fountain. But police volunteered for this job and in many areas, get paid well for their service. The job entails risk and police need to accept it. But to hear police parrot "personal safety" as the justification to unload clips into people or brutalize them with encounters with citizens deviate from anything but uber-polite police-citizen interactions, I feel we'll continue to see a growing mistrust of police from people of all walks of life. You'll always have the criminals or pseudo-"fuck the police" street gangsters hate police because of what they represent and you'll always have the police admirers on the other side of the spectrum. There's a whole bunch of people in the middle that judge police based on their limited interactions or headlines. To that end, police aren't going a good job convincing those without vociferous opinions regarding the institution of policing to join their corner. I'm on of them.

All the best and awaiting your thoughts!

Peter Moskos said...

(Sorry that was counted as spam. Just fished it out in June.)