Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake has lifted the citywide curfew, and the National Guard plans to implement a drawdown. Now is the time for Mayor Rawlings Blake to put an end to Baltimore police militarization.
The response to the killing of Michael Brown last year in Ferguson opened up a national conversation around police militarization and how militarized police disproportionately affect communities of color. Thanks to the wars on drugs and crime, police militarization has been one of the most unnoticed developments of our lifetime. Police militarization has been the state’s tactic to clamp down on dissent and directly target communities of color with racially biased policing and excessive use of force.
In a nighttime drug raid, a black 7-year-old girl, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, slept on her grandmother’s couch as half a dozen masked officers of Detroit’s version of SWAT—Special Response Team—held their guns drawn at the door. The SWAT team threw a flash-bang grenade through the window that landed next to Aiyana, burning her blanket. Officer Joseph Weekley, fired a single shot at Aiyana’s head. Most recently in February, a mentally ill black woman died in Fairfax County jail when a sheriff’s deputy shocked her four times. These practices are far too common and are perpetuated by a failure to hold police officers accountable for excessive use of force against black and brown communities.
The Baltimore Uprising
Young black people in Baltimore have been at the forefront of the uprising. Like Ferguson, Baltimore has seen a deployment of militarized policing used upon predominately poor, young black people amid a national movement scrutinizing the militarization of law enforcement. This is not new. As Baltimore pastor Rev. Graylan Hagler pointed out, law enforcement agencies, who have engaged in training sessions in Israel for United States cops, have a history of dehumanizing black communities.
The heavy militarized police presence itself instigated ongoing violence and agitation. Police were openly deployed in riot gear from the start at the protests—armed with batons, tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. The police became an invading force in occupied poor black communities in Baltimore, turning their neighborhoods into foxholes of a war zone.