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by Peter Moskos

May 25, 2016

"Nero Should Never Have Been Charged"

Writing in the Baltimore Sun, co-authored with my friend, Leon "HL Mencken" Taylor:
Mr. Nero, who had but a tangential role in Gray's detention, should never have been charged. He committed no crime.
The prosecutor, in her desire to achieve "justice" for Freddie Gray, wanted somebody — anybody it seems — to pay for his death. But justice doesn't work that way. And the ill-conceived effort to pin the blame on these six officers has at best distracted from and at worst exacerbated Baltimore's most pressing problems.
Let us prevent the next prisoner's death. There are safe, modern, camera-equipped prisoner transport vehicles. Replacing Baltimore's entire prisoner transport fleet would cost less than the payout to Gray's family. But Baltimore either lacks the money or leadership to invest in them.

The trouble is, the political leadership in Baltimore is more interested in votes than addressing the deeper issues of the poorest Americans.
The mayor taps anger fueled by failed social policy and malign neglect. But we've never seen her or any Baltimore politician ride in a police car to see what officers see every day.
Politics and policy put Freddie on that drug corner and also gave police the task of moving him off of it. The failure of Freddie Gray is a collective failure. So why does "justice" depend on convicted police officers? Baltimore elected officials need to focus on the city's real problems, which do not take legal acrobatics to explain.

After the April riots, the murder rate doubled. Last year in Baltimore 304 black men — 131 more than in 2014 — were murdered. That's roughly one in every 220 black men aged 15 to 35 murdered in one year. Think of those odds. Americans shouldn't have live and die like this.

There are actual criminals in Baltimore. Those who pick up an illegal gun and pull the trigger to kill a fellow man. Police deal with them every day. So when criminals are seen as the victims and police are made out to be the problem, it's as if the inmates have taken over the asylum.


JPP said...

Is it true that the prisoner transport vans could be replaced relatively affordably?

aNanyMouse said...

Typo alert: "Americans shouldn't have TO live and die like this."

john mosby said...

I like your medical analogy: no one arrests the whole OR staff when a patient dies.


Andy D said...

JPP this is a city with a TWELVE MILE river of literal shit backed up in sewer mains running to the Back River Treatment Plant and backing up routinely into residents' homes, which the residents end up on the hook for cleaning up. Also the city where the school system has been unable to account for millions of dollars missing or mis-spent and where the school system and city government refuse to do a forensic audit to locate it. I'm sure they COULD replace the vans. They could do a lot of things. But the management of city government in Baltimore is so pathetically poor and corrupt that they WON'T.

Andrew Laurence said...

What about those who pick up a LEGAL gun and pull the trigger to kill a fellow human?

JPP said...

Yup, I just moved from Baltimore city. It just never occurred to me that they could just buy new frickin vans. I moved to Minneapolis, and being back in a functional city is amazing. Plus, no rats!

john mosby said...

A lot of these dysfunctional cities could go a long way to being solved if they were DIS-solved: unified with their surrounding metropolitan area. I wonder if a lawsuit could be filed, similar to the school-desegregation type lawsuits, wherein a city resident says "because of my race, or at least disparately-impacting my race, I am forced to live in political boundaries that are drawn to exclude revenue-generating parts of this metropolitan area."

For another legal analogy, it's sort of a hostile-work-environment argument extrapolated to civic life itself: you (the state of MD) are telling me (the Balmer resident) to support my own municipality, yet you make it impossible for me to do so.


Moskos said...

Andrew, I'd be very curious to know how many gun murders are committed with legally owned guns. I'd guess ten?very few. One in five? One in In a place like Baltimore or Chicago, the answer is basically zero. I assume in more gun friendly areas, legal gun owners actually do kill people. But how many murders are committed by non-felons? Some. Not many.

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in seeing these newer, safer transport vehicles. Would they still allow officers to transport multiple suspects (as opposed to tying up an officer for each one)?

Moskos said...

The one I have in mind I saw on the Leidseplein in Amsterdam on King's Day. I so wish I had taken a picture. It had upright individual forward facing seats. If I remember correctly, there were maybe 3 rows of seats & dividers between rows. Sliding side door. Based on a passenger van. Clear plexiglas on inside so you could see prisoners. Probably could transport 10?

It looked spanking new, so it may not be standard issue yet.

And because of the anti-junkie blue light, it looked a bit like a club/party bus.

I'll ask some of my A'dam police connections if they can take a picture and find out the cost. VW, I think.

Moskos said...

John, people can always move further away. And they would, before sending their kids to the same school as Baltimore's criminal class.

People leave cities to get away from problems. And think of the problems caused by busing (which for some arbitrary but not accidental reason stop at city limits).

Toronto, did that, by the way, and got a crazy crack head anti-urban mayor as a result. There's something to be said for local political control. But these problems need to be seen as America's problems and not Baltimore's (or whatever city's) problems.

JPP said...

I think about that idea as well. The surrounding counties are wealthy and many people who live there work in the city.
You might like the book "Not in my neighborhood"

Answers a lot of questions you have when you walk around Balt city.

Unknown said...

I will keep an eye out for that transport van. If I see one, I'll take a photo!

john mosby said...

Prof, ref your response to my metro-consolidation idea:

1. Agree that there will be "flight." However, at some point, the commute time outweighs the benefits. In other words, there can be a critical municipal mass that is self-sufficient, eg modern NYC.

2. Even with "flight," there will be other sources of revenue besides residential property tax: sales taxes, utility fees, commercial property tax, movers/parkers, and maybe even a commuter tax for the hardcore flyers who refuse to live in the new municipal boundaries, but still swoop in for work.

3. Pls keep in mind that I was making an analogy to school desegregation, not necessarily including school desegregation in the solution. Far more important is the desegregation of other public services: sewers, as per the other commenter's remarks; water, a la Flint (ironically, they refused to participate in Detroit's water services, which is the one public service Detroit does well!); and of course policing. These are a little more stealthy than watching buses disgorge little urbanites at the school you're paying that huge mortgage for while another set of buses takes sweet Biff and Buffy away for eight hours of bullying. So they would trigger less flight.

4. A MVLBM (Mosby Very Large Municipal Boundary - I hereby coin this new pseudoscientific acronym) solution could pick-and-mix these solutions. For example, separate school districts could be preserved within the MVLBM while police and fire are unified. Or vice versa. The most important ingredient is unifying the tax and voting base so that people can't just draw a line on a map and hoard resources behind it.

5. "America's problems?" Could you elaborate? That sounds a bit more mushy than we are used to hearing from you. I would agree if you mean that "America's" top-down urban policies of the last 60 years have brought tons of unintended consequences onto Balmerites. I would disagree if you mean that we need more top-down nationally-applied urban policies to fix these unintended consequences. On a more micro level, I heartily agree that these are not just Balmer's or Detroit's problems, which is why I propose expanding the municipal boundaries to include more of the affected people.


Andy D said...

In the Associated Press article about Porter and White filing a civil suit against Mosby there is this gem: "David Jaros, a law professor at the University of Baltimore, said prosecutors have "absolute immunity unless they show true malice" toward a defendant. "If the state's attorney's office is ultimately mistaken about whether or not a crime occurred, or they lose a trial, those things don't give grounds to a defamation case," Jaros said."

Under the argument made at trial about an arrest without PC being a crime, wouldn't that also mean that if the State's Attorney is "Mistaken about a crime being committed" that should ALSO be a crime?

Moskos said...

Andy, In theory, sure. But it ain't gonna happen.
This lawsuit won't go anywhere, but it is kind of fun.

But what if, hypothetically, there were more to the story than just incompetency and failed prosecutions. What if there was a meeting between prominent leaders discussing arresting certain police officers in order to calm the city. What if? Why, that could be seen as malice.

John, as to "America's problems." I mean that people don't have mental issues *because* they live in Baltimore (insert joke here) or any other city. Homeless people get pushed and pulled to cities. And then they become entirely responsible for them.

Think veteran's care. For all the problems of the VA, at least it is seen as America's problem and the solution is discussed on a nationwide level. Contrast that with the urban homeless. If you're just crazy and not a veteran, well, then your health care and other expenses are entirely pushed to local municipality to deal with. It makes no sense. Why should cities be burdened with all the problems of a region? Because if you're down and out, eventually you will probably migrate to a city. (for various reasons)

It's not entirely a myth that some towns give problem people one-way bus tickets San Francisco. Out of sight, out of mind. Problem solved! It shouldn't be that simple. Poverty is expensive. And rich people move to rich towns and don't have to pay for it.

On a policy level, perhaps regionalism is the answer. But on a moral level, it's time America stepped up and understood that the problems in cities really are America's problems and not something that can and should (as happens now) be pushed on poor municipalities to (not) deal with.

Unknown said...

Did someone call for a 10-15?

Andrew Laurence said...

I thought a significant number of homicides are spouse-on-spouse using the gun bought legally for "protection" where the homicide is the perpetrator's first crime. No? Maybe only in more affluent areas?