BALTIMORE (AP) — Antoinette Perrine has barricaded her front door since her brother was killed three weeks ago on a basketball court near her home in the Harlem Park neighborhood of West Baltimore. She already has iron bars outside her windows and added metal slabs on the inside to deflect the gunfire.
“I’m afraid to go outside,” said Perrine, 47. “It’s so bad, people are afraid to let their kids outside. People wake up with shots through their windows. Police used to sit on every corner, on the top of the block. These days? They’re nowhere.”
Perrine’s brother is one of 36 people killed in Baltimore so far this month, already the highest homicide count for May since 1999. But while homicides are spiking, arrests have plunged more than 50 percent compared to last year.
The drop in arrests followed the death of Freddie Gray from injuries he suffered in police custody. Gray’s death sparked protests against the police and some rioting, and led to the indictment of six officers.
Now West Baltimore residents worry they’ve been abandoned by the officers they once accused of harassing them. In recent weeks, some neighborhoods have become like the Wild West without a lawman around, residents said.
“Before it was over-policing. Now there’s no police,” said Donnail “Dreads” Lee, 34, who lives in the Gilmor Homes, the public housing complex where Gray, 25, was arrested.
“I haven’t seen the police since the riots,” Lee said. “People feel as though they can do things and get away with it. I see people walking with guns almost every single day, because they know the police aren’t pulling them up like they used to.”
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said last week his officers “are not holding back” from policing tough neighborhoods, but they are encountering dangerous hostility in the Western District.
“Our officers tell me that when officers pull up, they have 30 to 50 people surrounding them at any time,” Batts said.
At a City Council meeting Wednesday, Batts said officers have expressed concern they could be arrested for making mistakes.
“What is happening, there is a lot of levels of confusion in the police organization. There are people who have pain, there are people who are hurt, there are people who are frustrated, there are people who are angry,” Batts said. “There are people, and they’ve said this to me, ‘If I get out of my car and make a stop for a reasonable suspicion that leads to probable cause but I make a mistake on it, will I be arrested?’ They pull up to a scene and another officer has done something that they don’t know, it may be illegal, will they be arrested for it? Those are things they are asking.”
Protesters said Gray’s death is emblematic of a pattern of police violence and brutality against impoverished African-Americans in Baltimore. In October, Batts and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake invited the U.S. Justice Department to participate in a collaborative review of the police department’s policies. The fallout from Gray’s death prompted the mayor to ask U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch for a full-fledged probe into whether the department employs discriminatory policing, excessive force and unconstitutional searches and arrests.
Baltimore was seeing a slight rise in homicides this year even before Gray’s death April 19. But the 36 homicides so far in May is a major spike, after 22 in April, 15 in March, 13 in February and 23 in January.
Ten of May’s homicides happened in the Western District, which has had as many homicides in the first five months of this year as it did all of last year.
Non-fatal shootings are spiking as well. So far in May there have been 91 — 58 of them in the Western District.
And the arrest rate has plummeted.
The statistics showed that even before Gray’s death, police were making between 25 and 28 percent fewer arrests each month than they made in the same month last year. But in May arrests declined far more sharply.
(Photo Source: AP)