In my last two posts, I have focused on Baltimore in the context of a Twitter war between the president and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings. The first dealt with Congress's responsibility for the conditions of the detention of alien minors (the point of the Twitter interchange to begin with), while the second had to do with the effect of immigration on Baltimore itself. This post is prompted by directions that the mayor of Baltimore has recently given city employees not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, and the inconsistency between those directions and the mayor's public pleas about law-enforcement generally.
At the end of my last post, I noted:
Just to close the loop, Mexican drug cartels are exploiting weaknesses in our immigration laws and resources, both killing Baltimoreans with drugs and placing migrants in danger.
So, how has Baltimore Mayor Jack Young responded? On August 7, 2019, he signed "an executive order directing city agencies to protect immigrants" and "approv[ing] funding for lawyers to represent residents facing deportation." I wish I were making this up.
With respect to that executive order: "It prevents Baltimore City from assisting in immigration enforcement or intimidate [sic] a resident based on their status."
As my hometown paper, the Baltimore Sun, reported:
The Democratic mayor took the steps after immigrant communities have faced the prospect in recent weeks of federal raids promised by Republican President Donald Trump.
"As a Welcoming City, we firmly believe in respecting the rights and dignity of New Americans," Young said in a statement. "As such, we would like to ensure that the newest members of our community are extended the same rights and protections the rest of our residents and visitors enjoy."
The mayor's office said the order is designed to encourage immigrants who are the victims of crime or witnesses to feel comfortable dealing with the police. It builds on a policy Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison set out last month, prohibiting city officers from telling immigration agents where people they're looking for are.
As an aside to that excerpt, I will note that the Sun took great pains to note the political affiliations of both the mayor and the president. I assume that the paper has respect for the intelligence of its readers, who know that the mayor (like every other elected official in the city) is a Democrat and that the president is a Republican. In this context, therefore, I can only assume that the paper is signaling that the mayor's action is politically motivated. Which it plainly is, raising the question of whether city funds (like for press conferences) should be spent for political purposes. But I digress.
There is also this, from WBAL TV, the NBC affiliate in Baltimore:
Baltimore City has a new policy addressing immigrants that tries to assure them the city will not cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — but the city is limited in what it can do.
Speaking at City Hall, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison stressed the distance the city is trying to put between its local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement conducted by ICE.
"Our policy, it emphatically says we are not cooperating with ICE. I have not been contacted by ICE. I do not have any information that anyone in my department has been contacted by ICE," Harrison said. "We only arrest people for criminal violations and we do not ask about immigration status."
I will get back the last point in the first paragraph in a moment, but note that the police commissioner has also taken great pains to make clear that neither he nor his officers will cooperate with immigration enforcement.
Contrast that with other statements that both Mayor Young and Commissioner Harrison have made about cooperation with law-enforcement themselves. On June 19, 2019, WBAL radio (sister station of the aforementioned NBC affiliate) reported:
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young expressed frustration Wednesday with rising violence in the city, and with residents he says do not cooperate with police.
There have been 143 homicides this year, including 19 this month. There have also been 18 nonfatal shootings so far in June.
"People in the African American neighborhoods need to stand up, and say enough is enough, and start turning these folks in," Young told reporters at City Hall. "Everybody knows what's going on, they are in your families, turn them in."
Young said he is "sick and tired" of getting notices of shootings and homicides in the city. He says police and city officials cannot solve crimes on their own, they need the help of residents.
"It takes the community to help us out," Young said. "I mean, everybody wants to say, 'We're not doing anything.' My question is what are we doing as a community to say enough is enough to start reporting and turning these people in?"
To reiterate, the mayor is "sick and tired" of crime, law enforcement needs the public's support to solve crimes, and it is the expectation of the mayor that the citizens of Baltimore will provide that support, even if it means turning in members of their own families. I concur with those statements wholeheartedly.
As for Commissioner Harrison, consider his comments the day after a "chaotic shooting attack on a crowd enjoying a weekend cookout" in the city in April 2019: "It is only with community help that we will be able to identify who did this and hold them accountable."
In May, both Young and Harrison "went door to door to meet with neighbors in South Baltimore, hoping a witness with information would come forward" following a separate incident in which five people were shot, including a 12-month old, a two-year old, and their mother.
Baltimore suffers from a "stop snitching" problem as it relates to witnesses to crimes, best characterized by two videos that were created by Ronnie "Skinny Suge" Thomas in 2004 and 2007. As an opinion piece in USA Today from June 2015 explained:
For years, federal law enforcement officials have worked mightily to break up Baltimore's drug trade and imprison its leaders. The "Stop Snitching" videos were a not-so-subtle message to inner city residents not to give the feds a helping hand.
Or, as ABC affiliate WJZ described those videos: "Police believed the DVDs were a form of witness intimidation and popularized violence in Baltimore."
Part of the reason that such intimidation is effective is because Baltimore has shown an inability to protect those who do step forward. Take the Dawson murder case:
In 2002, Angela Dawson, along with her husband and five children were killed when their home was firebombed by a drug dealer. According to investigators, Darrell Brooks did it in retaliation against Angela Dawson who had reported him to police. Brooks is serving life in prison without parole.
Or the murder of Kendal Fenwick:
Kendal Fenwick was gunned down right outside of his home. Now police say his killer is caught.
Investigators say 21-year-old Devante Brim is the one who fired the fatal shot that killed young father Kendal Fenwick.
"Devante Brim is the poster child of a violent repeat offender in Baltimore," Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said.
Friends say Fenwick was in a dispute with local drug dealers for building a fence around his home to keep his children away from their business. He was shot outside his house November 9 [, 2015] as his children hid inside.
How bad is the problem? So bad that Baltimore State's Attorney:
Marilyn Mosby, has even started a TV, radio and billboard campaign intended to encourage witnesses to come forward. She says some one third of criminal cases dropped by prosecutors are impacted by witnesses and victims who avoid court.
The reactions of Young and Harrison are understandable. They expect, and need, cooperation from the public to solve crimes, even if it means that those members of the public who do come forward put their lives at risk.
Such cooperation, however, only extends to laws those public officials want enforced. They have publicly stated their refusal to provide such cooperation when it comes to laws they don't like (or don't consider politically popular among their constituents): the immigration laws of the United States.
If you were a mother of five, or a father, who had information about some heinous murder (or shooting, or beating, or robbery), and were faced with the option of doing your civic duty of providing that information to the police at the risk of having your house firebombed or being shot to death, or of simply staying silent, what message are the mayor and police commissioner sending you when they refuse cooperation to law enforcement themselves? To ask the question is to answer it.
Mosby, however, if anything, is worse. Her office issued a white paper under her name in January 2019 about racial disparities and marijuana prosecutions. Its conclusion:
While contemporary attitudes and public policy toward marijuana have changed dramatically in the past few years, the enforcement of marijuana laws remains grossly disproportionate in its impact on communities of color. Moreover, prosecuting marijuana possession has not been shown to significantly improve public safety or public health outcomes in communities, and the resources saved from prosecuting such cases can be redirected to prosecuting drug kingpins and addressing other significant crimes, including crimes of violence.
The [Baltimore City State's Attorney's Office] understands this and, coupled with the overwhelming evidence showing that the War on Marijuana has only served to further intensify existing racial biases across our country's criminal justice system without securing any significant net gains, the Baltimore City State's Attorney stands ready to use her prosecutorial discretion to change how marijuana laws are enforced in Baltimore City and, in so doing, re-balance the justice system one individual, one family, at a time.
I have no opinion about her findings, or her subsequent actions, which can be stated thusly: I'm not going to prosecute marijuana possession, because those prosecutions do no good, and have a discriminatory impact.
I do have the following opinion: Inequality based on immutable characteristics (such as race) in law-enforcement and prosecutions are wrong, and should be addressed and eliminated. I hope every American feels the same.
Note, however, that Mosby's own actions show she does not. Consider the following press release from her office in May 2017:
State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby has instructed her prosecutors to strongly consider their prosecutorial discretion when handling minor, non-violent criminal cases involving immigrant victims, witness and defendants.
"As the current administration in Washington continues to increase its efforts to enforce immigration laws, we as prosecutors are the torch-bearers of justice in this city, thereby we must utilize our prosecutorial discretion as we do in every case by considering the unintended collateral consequences that our decisions have on our immigrant population," said Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
The Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City is still prioritizing public safety with this directive only pertaining to minor, non-violent crimes such as trespassing, loitering, minor drug possession, and petty theft.
So, if you are an African-American male born in Baltimore City (all three immutable characteristics), you will be treated differently when it comes to prosecutorial discretion under this policy from a person who is an alien (which is not an immutable characteristic). Specifically, you will be treated more harshly, because you do not get the special protection it provides. And why? What is the societal good that is achieved from such blatant discrimination?
She doesn't like the way that Donald Trump enforces the immigration laws, and states as much. To reiterate:
As the current administration in Washington continues to increase its efforts to enforce immigration laws, we as prosecutors are the torch-bearers of justice in this city, thereby we must utilize our prosecutorial discretion as we do in every case by considering the unintended collateral consequences that our decisions have on our immigrant population. [Emphasis added.]
Not that, as a practical matter, the current administration's enforcement of the immigration laws (in the interior of the United States — like Baltimore — at least) differs significantly from its enforcement by the past administration. I know: As an immigration judge during the Obama administration (well, the first four years of that administration, at least), I heard cases involving aliens who had been accused of trespassing, drug possession, and petty theft (loitering is not a basis of removability, but I saw aliens who had entered illegally and who came to ICE attention because of such crimes).
Mosby has been state's attorney in Baltimore since January 8, 2015 — that is during the Obama administration. Some combination of those crimes could land you in immigration court even then. Where was the discriminatory "prosecutorial discretion" order from her before January 20, 2017? Don't bother looking.
Back to Young and Harrison and their counterproductive order on immigrants. It is all for show. In the thousands of cases I heard (and argued), not one involved a person who came to the attention of the immigration authorities because they were the witness to, or victim of, a crime. In fact, many victims are eligible for U visas.
With respect to the criminals, as WBAL TV explains:
[Baltimore does] not control Central Booking, which is run by the state. The facility sends fingerprints of arrestees to other agencies, including ICE.
"All of our operational polices are leading up to arrest and transport. Once we transport, we do not control that state agency's building or its policies about what happens inside," Harrison said.
The state is controlled by Governor Larry Hogan, who, while a Republican, has expressed his distaste for the president. He has also spoken out in favor of doing everything he can to keep his constituents safe, however.
At least somebody is.