Not engaging with protesters on the day of Freddie Gray’s funeral was not a deliberate police slow-down, but a tactic used to protect officers and citizens, Baltimore police commanders tell the Baltimore Sun.
The practice of standing down while protesters “looted, raided business and attacked officers,” the Baltimore Sun writes, was a way to prioritize life over property. In an interview with the paper, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts and six other top commanders defended the tactic, denying that they told police not to interfere for appearances, even as the city erupted in chaos.
Protests spread throughout the city after 25-year-old Gray died from a “high energy impact” while in police custody. The six officers involved in his arrest and death have been indicted and charged. They are currently awaiting trial.
According to the Sun:
More than two months after riots broke out across Baltimore, top brass and rank-and-file officers continue to spar over how platoons of officers were deployed that day. About 160 officers were injured in the riots and businesses suffered millions of dollars in damage.
Batts has repeatedly denied issuing a “stand down” order — akin to ordering a withdrawal — while officers say they were in effect given such an order, either over the radio or in person, when they were told “do not engage” or “hold the line.”
Commanders told The Sun that they asked officers to “hold the line” as part of an overall deployment strategy to create a barrier between rioters and police operations and potentially vulnerable people. If officers broke lines during a face-off with rock-throwing protesters, for instance, they could be isolated and surrounded by mobs. And if officers broke the line to make arrests, they might have been forced to guard them amid all the chaos when transport vans weren’t available.
Members of the police union who believe they should have been allowed to charge and arrest protesters, however, are not convinced. The union has requested radio transmissions and text messages between police commanders and City Hall to determine if the withdrawal was handed down from the mayor in an effort to make Baltimore police look less aggressive than police in Ferguson, who were combative with protesters after the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown Jr.
The police union’s president, Lt. Gene Ryan, said the Police Department could clear up any misconceptions or rumors by releasing the requested communications. “If they have nothing to hide — and they always talk about being transparent — how come they haven’t given me the tapes of the radio transmissions?” Ryan said. “If they have nothing to hide, why not give me what we asked them for?”
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has denied the allegations. The police union is expected to release an “after action report” that details the first-hand experiences of officers during the city’s unrest.
SOURCE: Baltimore Sun | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty