The disproportionate number of unsolved Black homicides nationwide raises questions about the arrest priorities of police departments.
A group in Baltimore that calls itself Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughters United shined a spotlight Wednesday on the issue in their city when they unveiled their mobile billboard, the Baltimore Sun reported.
The message on the billboard reads, “Mayor Pugh, stop pot arrests. Solve murders instead.” Most killings in Baltimore remain unsolved, the newspaper noted.
Baltimore is far from alone. The Washington Post analyzed data from 55 of the nation’s largest cities over the past decade and broke down homicide arrest rates by race, in a study the newspaper published in July 2018. It showed the extent to which police investigators undervalue Black lives.
The police were least likely to make an arrest in cases involving African-American homicide. Black victims accounted for more than 18,600 of the nearly 26,000 killings in 52 of those cities. Authorities put someone behind bars in 63 percent of cases involving a white victim, but just 47 percent of the times when the victim was Black.
Part of the frustration in Baltimore stems from the city’s former acting police commissioner defying the marijuana arrest reform issued in January by the Baltimore’s state attorney.
Former acting Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said his officers will continue to make arrests for illegal marijuana possession under state law. Tuggle made his position on the issue clear just hours after Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that her office will no longer prosecute any marijuana possession arrests and seek to vacate thousands of cases. Tuggle said arrests will stop only if state lawmakers legalize marijuana possession.
Mosby responded that if the police file a marijuana possession case her office would “release them without charges.”
In issuing the reform, Mosby joined a national trend toward scaling back marijuana arrests in states where possession of the drug remains illegal. Mosby added, “Prosecuting these cases has no public safety value, disproportionately impacts communities of color and erodes public trust, and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources.”
Many agree that those resources would be better spent on solving homicide cases. Police departments deny that race has anything to do with the problem.
“We don’t care what color you are. Sometimes, because a case goes unsolved, people get the perception that we forget about their loved ones . . . We never forget about them,” former Police Commissioner William Evans of Boston, which had the widest gap in arrest rates between Blacks and whites, told The Post.
However, Black activists point out that there’s a long history of distrusting the police in African-American communities. “Black people have experienced police officers more as profilers and brutalizers, as opposed to investigators, and it takes investigators to solve very difficult homicide cases,” Ibram Kendi, an American University professor, said.
Distrust of the police is a significant problem in Baltimore that current acting Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has vowed to address.