By JOHN LESLIE
Two Baltimore police detectives, Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, were convicted in a federal trial last month that resulted from an investigation into the police department’s corrupt “Gun Trace Task Force.” A total of eight members of the Baltimore police department were originally accused, with six of them pleading guilty before going to trial. As many as a dozen other officers have been linked to the corruption.
The scandal in Baltimore extended to Philadelphia, where a Philly cop has been accused taking part in a drug trafficking scheme with the Baltimore cops. The Philadelphia officer, Eric Snell, allegedly resold heroin and cocaine stolen by the Baltimore cops.
The Baltimore squad repeatedly violated the civil rights of suspects, entered homes without search warrants, and shook down dealers for money and drugs in what was described by the acting Police Commissioner, Darryl De Sousa, as “some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement.”
Despite the prosecution of a few bad cops, the systemic problems and culture of impunity remain. On March 6, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner revealed the names of 66 Philly cops and ex-cops (including 29 people involved in hard-core criminal behavior) who are considered so corrupt, racist, or tainted in some way that they can’t testify in court without prosecutors seeking permission from the DA’s office. At least one, a homicide detective, Phillip Nordo, was dismissed from the force for “misconduct.” A city defense attorney expressed concern about Nordo’s involvement in a case involving one of his clients, Darnell Powell, in a 2015 murder case. Nordo apparently put money in the jail commissary account of a witness against Powell without revealing the deposits.
Police corruption and criminality is nothing new in Philadelphia. In a previous article, Socialist Action reported on past Philly PD scandals: “In 1995, scandal rocked the city when 39th District cops were accused of framing suspects, violating civil rights, violence, and theft of money. In all, seven Philly cops were convicted. As many as 300 cases were overturned and about 100 people released from prison for being framed by corrupt cops.
“A key witness for the government against the 39th District cops was long-time police informant Pamela Jenkins. Jenkins, a prostitute, had been a confidential informant and girlfriend of one of the accused officers, Thomas Ryan. Jenkins had previously testified against Mumia Abu-Jamal in his frame-up trial for the murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner. Jenkins later recanted her testimony in Mumia’s case.
“In May, 2015, six Philly narcotics officers, Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman, and John Speiser were found not guilty in a federal trial. They had been accused of faking and planting evidence, theft of drugs and money and of framing suspects. A seventh officer, Jeffrey Walker, took a plea deal and agreed to testify against the others. After their acquittal, the six got their jobs back. (One was subsequently fired after failing a drug test.)
“More than 1000 convictions have been thrown out in the wake of the drug squad case, with more than 200 remaining to be reviewed. This case will cost city taxpayers an estimated $24 million, as the city settles lawsuits brought by the victims of police corruption.
“In April 2015, a 19-year veteran of the force, Christopher Hulmes, was arrested for perjury and making false reports. Former DA Seth Williams let Hulmes get off with pre-trial intervention and the promise not to return to law enforcement. The district attorney’s office stated that more than 500 cases involving Hulmes were under review.”
The extent of the corruption scandal in Baltimore has impelled one state legislator, Delegate Bilal Ali, to advocate the break-up of the Baltimore PD, a force still feeling the after-effects of the police murder of Freddie Gray in 2015 and the resulting uprising of Black youth. What Delegate Ali is advocating is modeled on the way the Camden, N.J., police department was disbanded and replaced with a new force in 2013. The new Camden force is held up as an example of “community policing.” Politicians and police officials in Maryland are pushing back against this proposal.
Disbanding and replacing a police force, while it may have a temporary beneficial effect, does not alter the fundamental role police play in capitalist society. Police are the enforcers of the dominant social and economic order.
Mumia Abu-Jamal pointed out: “Police are the employed servants of the state, and as such the instruments of state policy. And what is the state? Marx and Engels said: ‘the executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.’ Thus, police serve the ownership and wealth classes of their societies” (“To Protect and Serve Whom?” by Mumia Abu-Jamal).
Housebroken police review boards aren’t sufficient, and District Attorneys’ offices across the country have proven incapable to standing up to the pressure exerted by the police unions. Cop unions, the “Blue Klux Klan,” representing cops and corrections officers, are a reactionary intrusion into the labor movement, and should be excluded from it.
Police are part of the machinery of the mass incarceration regime that targets Black and Brown people and the poor. Disbanding and replacing urban police forces is a gimmick and not a real solution to the problems faced by the victims of a racist criminal justice system. The fight for police abolition is necessarily tied to the struggle to end mass incarceration and the fight against police violence against people of color.