On November 16, a Baltimore City Police Detective named Sean Suiter was killed on the job.
His death has spurred much heartbreak and outrage in Baltimore, as well as arguably unconstitutional activity by the police. Ultimately, his death has revealed our city’s dark underbelly.
At the end of the day, someone was killed. Sean Suiter was a married father of five, and my heart goes out to his family. No one deserves to have a loved one ripped away from them in such a cruel and sudden way. Everything to follow in this article bears this in mind, and means no disrespect to the memory of the fallen or the loved ones he leaves behind.
But the fact is that this incident of violence – and the city’s response to it – reveals an astounding double standard when it comes to who and how we as a city grieve, how we view crime, and ultimately whose lives (and deaths) we value.
Baltimore is currently experiencing the highest homicide rates it's seen in years, with over 300 people having been killed so far in 2017. The intersection where Suiter was found dead has been the site of over a dozen shootings and killings in recent years.
When ordinary Baltimore residents – oftentimes young black men in disenfranchised neighborhoods – are killed, we move on like nothing ever happened. When a police officer is killed, it makes headlines across the state, a $215,000 reward is set in place for whoever finds the suspect, and police officers occupy the block where he was killed while wearing bullet-proof vests and openly carrying weapons, vowing to do whatever it takes to find the perpetrator.
Quite the contrast, no?
BPD Police Commissioner Kevin Davis acknowledges this disparity, but justifies it by saying: “When a cop is killed, that goes way beyond that murder. It’s an attack on American policing…Policing exists to serve our unique democracy, so that’s why the murder of a cop always has been and always will be something that’s absolutely unacceptable in a free society.” (Quote from the Baltimore Sun.)
I do not believe this to be a satisfying argument.
This might feel like a satisfactory response if Baltimore policing did indeed serve our unique democracy and if Baltimore police officers were known to protect the safety and liberties of the people. But the reality is that the Baltimore Police Department is known to be a corrupt and discriminatory institution. While there are certainly good cops who wish to make Baltimore safer, their efforts have clearly not been effective this year, as our crime rates are soaring.
While some may argue that this murder is different than those between ordinary civilians because regular residents killed throughout the year are more likely to be involved in illegal activity, talk to many Baltimore residents and they will tell you that police officers are just as likely – if not more likely – to be criminals than ordinary citizens.
This belief is not unfounded. After all, the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2015 investigation into the Baltimore Police Department concluded in what has been described as a damning report, saying: “We found that BPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of serious violations of the U.S. Constitution and federal law that has disproportionately harmed Baltimore’s African-American community and eroded the public’s trust in the police.”
While a consent decree was reached in a binding effort to address the deep-seated issues in the BPD, Baltimore residents have not exactly been given great reason to believe that it’s working. Since this consent decree, there have been several scandals within the Baltimore Police Department, from video footage of cops planting drugs, to federal indictments of several officers for robbing civilians of over $280,000 over the course of five years.
Just this month Officer Caesar Goodman Jr. received zero administrative consequences for being involved in the killing of Freddie Gray.
The police are ruthless; we know this to be true. As Keith Davis Jr.’s story tells us, they are especially ruthless when they are covering their tracks. This has led many Baltimore residents to question whether there’s something more happening beneath the surface in this case.
Why and how would an officer, an 18-year veteran, be killed with his own gun? And what was the “suspicious” behavior the officers observed that caused them to approach the supposed gunman?
Often, in Baltimore, being poor and black is enough for one to be labeled “suspicious.”
I personally am worried that the BPD will go to any lengths to say they have found the perpetrator, even if it means carelessly framing someone for a crime they did not commit. This could especially prove true if there was some foul play happening between these officers and the suspects.
I could be wrong; after all, I know very little about this man. But it remains true that the absolute, unquestioned reverence with which Suiter has been immediately treated by Baltimore is in stark contrast with the ambivalence most victims of violence in this city receive.
There is no reason for a neighborhood to become a militarized occupied territory. Residents should not have to show their IDs every time they want to enter their own homes or endure having their doors knocked on multiple times a day or being patted down by police officers.
Quite frankly? The occupation of the Harlem Park neighborhood feels less like a reputable institution carrying out a search for justice, and much more like an illegal gang terrorizing ordinary people in an effort to reassert their bruised dominance.
I called my mother and she said to me: “If the BPD cared about police brutality as much as they care about this, the issue would be over. Police violence would be no longer be a problem.”
If the BPD, and all Baltimore City elected officials, cared about ordinary citizens – especially black citizens – as much as they care about the police, our crime rates would be exponentially smaller. The victims of the 300+ homicides in Baltimore this year would have received just as much attention and compassion as Detective Suiter.
But Baltimore has made itself clear. The police, the government, and many of its (white) residents value the lives of police officers far more than they’ve ever cared about Baltimore’s ordinary people.
It’s time for this to end. Stop the police from terrorizing every-day citizens as they try to go about their lives. Maybe take some of that $215,000 reward and put it towards Baltimore City schools, or also finding the perpetrators of some of the other tragic shootings that have occurred this year.
As I said at the beginning of this article, my heart goes out to the loved ones of Sean Suiter, it really does. But enough is enough. To use the death of a police detective as an excuse to justify unconstitutional activity, such as we have seen in West Baltimore, is abhorrent. To pay attention to soaring homicide rates only when it affects those in positions of power is disgusting.
Baltimore has a dark underbelly. This week it has been revealed once again, for all to see.