Originally published 20 January 2009
The first post on this blog. My what a journey it's been. - Ed.
The first post on this blog. My what a journey it's been. - Ed.
In a city riddled with allegations of government corruption, widespread incompetence, and an out of control crime problem, some police officers apparently have taken a novel approach to restoring peace and order to the slowly sinking ship that is Baltimore City; arrest law abiding citizens who aren't actually committing crimes. That way, when asked what is being done, they can point to numbers that don't tell the real story, then point out how many arrests have been made.
Remember how on the Titanic the musicians continued to play even as water filled the cabins and half the decks were already underwater? Well, in Baltimore the situation is similar. The truth is, things are far worse than anyone is willing to talk about, but meanwhile the masses live in a state of addled apathy.
“There are thousand of cases like this being thrown out every month,“In the month of February, we threw out 902 cases; in March, we threw out over 1,200 cases — that means 70 cases a day.” -- Margaret Burns, spokeswoman for the State’s Attorney’s Office
Baltimore Police have a history of locking folks up, just because. Sometimes merely asking a question of of an officer can land you in jail. Don't believe me, just check out this story from The Baltimore Examiner in 2006. In that story, a young couple, visiting from out of town was arrested for asking a cop for directions. Talk about rolling out the welcome mat. I wish I could tell you that this practice has stopped, but sadly, it is still going on, and apparently with a great degree of frequency.
"I Can Send Anyone To Prison Just Because I Don't Like Them"
Allow me to tell you the story of one James MacArthur. As a part time journalist with years of experience and a broad body of work in several fields, he is always on the lookout for story ideas. After learning his car was impounded and a trip to the Baltimore City impound lot would be necessary, he thought it would be a perfect chance for a story. After all this place is well known for lousy customer service. Of course, what he didn't know was, asking questions of Baltimore public officials is a jailable offense.
Never mind the First Amendment or anything like that, no, this is Baltimore City remember? It's the impound lot. The same place that is under ongoing investigation for all kinds of criminal activity. This place has been abusing the people of Baltimore for years. Thieves, liars and rude are just a few of the words that can be used to describe some of the folks working there.
Customer Service, Charm City Style
On 29 December 2008, MacArthur went to the impound lot for the purpose of retrieving his car. He felt the car was wrongfully impounded, and decided to document his experience for a future story. In the parking lot, while sitting in a car, using a cell phone camera, MacArthur began narrating.
Continuing to film,he walked into the lobby and was immediately met with loud protests from impound lot staff telling him he was not allowed to tape inside. MacArthur advised them he was an investigative journalist, and he was simply doing a story on Baltimore City government customer service. A staff member asked him for his name and contact information. MacArthur complied, giving them his cell phone number, and then took a number from a wall mounted dispenser, to be placed in que for customer service.
Waiting for his number to be called, he said there were several patrons in the lobby, some of them quite vocally agitated by the experience of dealing with the place. He told them he was a reporter and if they wanted to talk to him and share their experience, he'd be glad to meet them outside.
Suddenly a man from behind the counter came out and angrily confronted him. Never identifing himself as management, or an employee for that matter, and standing merely inches from MacArthur, he asked if there was a problem. Not knowing who the individual was, MacArthur asked him if he could identify himself. The man walked away disappearing back into the office.
At this point, MacArthur said he was there for no more than 5 minutes when his phone rang. On the line was Adrienne Barnes, Director of Communications for the Department Of Transportation, which the lot falls under. According to MacArthur, Barnes asked what was going on, and who he was working for. He told her he was doing a piece on customer service. She then asked how much longer he would be there taping, to which he replied, 10 minutes or so. Barnes said that would be fine, but the employees were kind of nervous and in the future she would appreciate being contacted in advance. MacArthur then told her, that as an investigative journalist, he prefers to show up unannounced, after all, it was a public building.
“Somewhere within the Police Department there is a policy or directive to increase the number of arrests..." -- Margaret Burns, spokeswoman for the State’s Attorney’s Office
While standing outside near the entrance, still on the phone with Barnes, four officers, one with a nightstick in his hand, marched past MacArthur and went inside. MacArthur ended the call with Barnes telling her the were police on scene. He then went back into the building at which point the officers immediately surrounded him. The lead officer, identified as Officer Michael Maurice, of the Baltimore Police asked him to step outside. MacArthur says he feared going outside with the four officers. Their aggressive posture and demeanor made him feel that he was in danger of bodily harm and therefore, would only be safe if he remained in view of other people.
Don't You Dare Question Me
Officer Maurice asked MacArthur a second time to step outside, to which MacArthur replied "why?" Maurice said he wanted to talk to him and there were too many people in the lobby for him to do so. MacArthur then suggested they could step to the side while remaining in the lobby to talk.
At that point, Officer Maurice handcuffed MacArthur and told him he was under arrest for disturbing the peace. It is interesting to note that on the charging the documents, the official charge is listed as trespassing. Trespassing in a public place no less.
While this sort of thing happens often in this city, it is not often we get to see video from a cell phone, of a journalist getting arrested simply for asking a question. This I suppose is the new strategy for fighting crime. Speaking about another incident Burns said “nuisance arrests” waste city resources that could be better used to fight violent crime.
Can anyone tell me where the life vests are? We're going down, and we're going down fast!
Troy Harris, spokesman for Baltimore City Police was contacted concerning this story, he declined to comment, stating that it is an open case and an ongoing investigation. Yeah, and I'm sure the investigation involves more police resources that could be better spent.
-- A big thank you to Adam Meister, from BaltimoreExaminer.com for helping with this story. We will continue to follow this with updates as needed.
Researcher, independent investigative journalist, and entrepreneur, A.F. James MacArthur has been a member of the underground news network for over 20 years. During this time, he's been a frequent subject of attack by government officials under the guise of law enforcement. He's often boycotted from being given any credit for his work by mainstream media.
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