Pubdate: Thu, 26 May 2016
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2016 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: James Wyda


Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein is right to "Thank a Cop" in 
honor of National Police Week. Good police work is essential to a 
fair and effective criminal justice system.

However, Mr. Rosenstein is wrong to imply that his office's 
occasional prosecution of corrupt police officers, usually for theft 
and fraud offenses, means that we have been vigilant enough in 
policing law enforcement.

Much has changed since 1962, when National Police Week was created. 
Most significantly, the mass incarceration of racial and ethnic 
minorities, primarily for drug offenses, has shaken our community's 
faith in the fairness of the criminal justice system.

The U.S. prison population has exploded from less than 300,000 in 
1962 to 2.2 million today. In federal courts, home to severe 
sentences and remote prisons intended to separate prisoners from 
their loved ones, African-Americans were 68 percent of the defendants 
prosecuted by Mr. Rosenstein's office in 2015.

The Maryland U.S. attorney's office prosecutes more African-Americans 
per capita than all but two other jurisdictions in the nation - the 
U.S. Virgin Islands and Mississippi. It would be helpful for the 
community to see Mr. Rosenstein's office make the prosecution of 
criminal civil rights violations by law enforcement the priority that 
some other U.S. attorneys' offices have done.

Our community has a deep distrust of law enforcement and the criminal 
justice system. For our system to function, there has to be trust, 
and a perception of fairness, between citizens and law enforcement.

The Freddie Gray uprising was just the most obvious proof of how the 
"war on drugs" has undermined our community's faith.

Much-needed change seems to be coming. The Department of Justice has 
opened a civil rights investigation into the Baltimore City Police 
Department. The city's new police chief, Kevin Davis, has joined 
civil rights leaders in welcoming this investigation. Political 
leaders in Baltimore and Annapolis are pushing for reforms that can 
restore trust and give officers the tools they need to partner with 
the communities they serve.

This is not the time to be satisfied. Our community has waited too 
long for change. It is in everyone's interest, including law 
enforcement, that police be perceived as accountable. Real 
institutional change is hard to do and it will take everyone's 
support, especially Mr. Rosenstein's.

James Wyda The writer is a federal public defender in Maryland.
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