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The Baltimore riots are about more than Freddie Gray

This piece originally appeared on TouchVision.

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The riots in Baltimore are about more than Freddie Gray. They are also being caused by systemic problems that have gone unaddressed for years in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The lack of attention to these problems has left the people that live there angry and frustrated. The death of a black man in police custody was as much a culmination of these ongoing issues as it was a tragedy.

For years there has been a general mistrust of the police, especially among black residents of Baltimore. That feeling only grew last September when the Baltimore Sun published an investigation into police misconduct. The report confirmed what many already knew or suspected. The city was dealing with a lot of police brutality cases. From 2011 to 2014 more than a hundred people either won in court or settled cases related to excessive force by officers. The city paid more than $5.7 million to victims and another $5.8 million to outside law firms in legal fees. The settlements included a clause preventing victims from talking about the cases publicly or in the media. However, their stories spread through the community by word of mouth. That led to a lot of mistrust, disrespect and hatred of the police.

Beyond the community’s relationship with officers, the Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park neighborhood where Gray lived is in desperate need of help. The Justice Policy Institute and Prison Policy Initiative say the neighborhood is stuck in a cycle of incarceration, poverty and lost opportunity. The two groups studied the area from 2008 to 2012 and found several social and economic barriers there.

Their report found more than half of the people living in the neighborhood didn’t have a job. Those who did only earned a median income of a little more than $24,000. To compare, the city of Baltimore as a whole had a median income of around $40,000. The rate of violent crime in the neighborhood was also sixty-three percent higher than the city overall and only about half of high school-aged kids attended classes on a regular basis.

The Justice Policy Institute and Prison Policy Initiative have ideas to help the city. They suggest diverting some of the money spent arresting and incarcerating people to programs to help the neighborhood. In February 2015 there were 458 neighborhood residents in prison at a cost of nearly $17 million. The groups say that would be enough to pay for drug treatment programs for 3,771 people, employment training for 3,389 people, housing for 13,535 families or GED courses for 16,946 students.

This research has been around for about three years, so we have to wonder what it will take for Baltimore to make changes. Hopefully the city will be held accountable by the constant news coverage of the city, just as some officers are being held accountable by video. The anger over the death of Freddie Gray will subside eventually, but unless major changes are made the ongoing problems in Baltimore will not.

This piece originally appeared on TouchVision.

Follow Stephen Dix on Twitter at @DixSt and TouchVision at @TouchVisionTV.

Posted in JPI in the News, Criminal Justice News

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