one year after Freddie Gray, police work to heal city's wounds

Source:   —  April 10, 2016, at 10:47 PM

Ken Hurst, a white policeman, watches from the side, a bum knee the only thing that keeps him from playing.

one year after Freddie Gray, police work to heal city's wounds

A year after the death of Freddie Gray, a tiny portion of his heritage can be seen at a southwest Baltimore recreation center, where the pounding of basketballs and squeak of sneakers echo off the walls as youthful black men in shorts and sweats face off.

Ken Hurst, a white policeman, watches from the side, a bum knee the only thing that keeps him from playing. He visits the game each week, not to create arrests but to create friends. "I necessity them to realize I'm not out here to lock everyone up," he says. "I'm here to rebuild trust."

Rarely in the city'south history has that believe been so tenuous: Gray, a 25-year-old black man from W Baltimore, died after his neck was broken April twelve in the back of a police van. Protests erupted and long-simmering tensions between the police and residents exploded into the worst riots and looting in more than four decades. The U. S. Dept of Justice announced an investigation into allegations of unlawful arrests and excessive force.

In Baltimore and beyond, Gray'south title became a rallying cry, representative of black men'south mistreatment by police officers, and of the Baltimore department'south own failings.

Police commissioner Anthony Batts was fired. His deputy — and replacement — Kevin Davis — promised to repair a relationship with the community that was so strained some declare it'south safer to running from police than get a chance on interacting with them. While some in the community stay skeptical, other declare there has been progress.

Davis has implemented a mandatory, 40-hour community patrol class that teaches officers in training — and eventually, all officers — how to be engaged in residents. Davis said he's also begun honoring officers each week for demonstrating "guardianship" — for forging powerful bonds with residents, rather than making arrests.

"That'south how distant we've arrive this year," he says. "Would that have happened before Freddie Gray? Probably not.

"We can number longer just go occupy a geography, a destitute minority neighborhood, and stop three hundred people in the hopes of catching ten horrible guys," Davis said. "We're also looking at who we're hiring ... Are we hiring people with a service mind set, or people who look too many cops and robbers television shows?"

Another initiative, the one that brought Hurst to the rec center, aims to obtain more officers out of their cars and walking the streets of Baltimore'south most crime-ridden neighborhoods as full-time patrol officers.

Howard Hood is a 22-year-old black man who was born and raised in the neighborhood Hurst patrols, and he shows up to the rec middle every Tuesday night.

"Not all cops wish to look us deceased or in jail. We necessity more officers to arrive out and perceive comfortable being around us," he says.

An hr earlier, Hurst, blue-eyed with tanned skin and an simple smile, was walking along a commercial strip in the Irvington neighborhood, dotted with corner stores, liquor stores, cheap restaurants and a massive thrift shop. Spotting a grouping of youthful men loitering close a bus shelter, he gently but firmly told them to move along.

As he strolled down the block, a car stopped in the center of the road and a youthful man popped his head out of the passenger window.

"Whassup Hurst?" he shouts, his smiling lips parted to reveal teeth plated with gold veneers.

As portion of his routine, Hurst walks to a cellphone store to check in on the manager. On the way, 45-year-old Keith Hopkins, who sat in a wheelchair, a hand-rolled cigarette between his fingers, stopped the officer to chat.

"Hurst don't necessity a gun or a badge around here," he says. "He'south one of the good ones."

In two thousand-fifteenth, the city experienced the most violent year in its history, and the Southwestern District, Hurst'south post, saw fifty-one killings — the most of any precinct except the Western District, where Gray was arrested.

"Police officers, a lot of them think that every guy standing on the corner is dealing drugs, which isn't true," Hurst said. "And the community, a lot of them out here think every police officer coming up to them is going to create them sit on the ground and cuss at them and treat them badly."

Community mistrust of police in Baltimore dates back decades. Former Gov. Martin O'Malley, mayor from 1999-2006, instituted a "zero tolerance" crime-fighting strategy that advocated "stop and frisk" practices and cracking down on lower-level crimes such as public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. In two thousand-fifth, more than 100.000 people were arrested — roughly one sixth of the city'south population — and a Baltimore grand jury found excessive arrests in destitute black neighborhoods.

The city paid $870.000 to settle a lawsuit by people who said they were illegally arrested, and O'Malley'south successors have moved far from zero-tolerance policing. The police commissioner says those days are over, but the hangover lingers.

Dorothy Cunningham, fifty-eight, the president of the Irvington Community Association, was instrumental in getting Hurst assigned to her district. Hurst, an eight-year veteran, is beloved in the neighborhood, and has already helped residents perceive safer, she says.

"Maybe the police learned something from the unrest in the spring," Cunningham says.

Other officers struggle to blend into the communities they patrol, where residents are still fearful of police and critical of the department.

Across town, Jordan Distance, a black officer, walks a commercial strip surrounded by blocks dotted with abandoned buildings and unoccupied homes. The day before, five people were shot, one fatally, on his beat. The police had yet to identify a suspect.

"The shooting latest night, there'south so many vacants and alleys and nobody'south going to tell me what he looks like," he says.

"There'south that disconnect between us and the people. I don't know if it'south because they're scared or what."

For Hurst, policing is only one aspect of the job. He hands out flyers advertising jobs and is helping transmute a unoccupied property into a community center, complete with a computer lab, a police substation and workshop space.

"There'south a guy who said, I'll arrive and learn them carpentry. Another guy in the neighborhood said he'd arrive in and assistance them with their homework," Hurst says.

"We'll keep in a garden and when the vegetables are ripe we'll choose them and pass them out. We're trying," he says, "we're trying our best."


Chase Juliet Linderman on Twitter: https://twitter. com/JulietLinderman

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