Baltimore Residents from Rep. Elijah Cummings to Local Activist Speak Out on Being Stopped by Police
Democracy Now! spoke with Maryland Congressmember Elijah Cummings and local activist Ralikh Hayes about their own experiences with police in Baltimore. Cummings says he has been stopped "many times"; Hayes says at least 20 times; meanwhile, reporter Baynard Woods, who is white, says he has never been stopped.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: During the Democratic National Convention, I caught up with Maryland Congressmember Elijah Cummings, who represents the 7th Congressional District in Baltimore, and I asked him about policing in Baltimore.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: When I talk to police officers in Baltimore, they tell me that they know of people that shouldn’t be on the force. The other thing that we have to acknowledge is that black men are dying, that black mothers are afraid for their sons and are afraid for their husbands and nephews. But the fact is, is that we have to talk together. You know, we have to do what we did at the convention tonight: had the police present and tell what their concerns are, but at the same time have those people who are simply asking for accountability and respect from the police to be able to voice their concerns. And hopefully we have a mutual thing going on there. The police cannot do their jobs without the cooperation of the community, and the community certainly needs the police. OK?
AMY GOODMAN: Have you ever been stopped by the police over the years?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS: Many times. Many times. Many times. And keep in mind what then—as a younger—I got stopped a lot more as a younger man. I’ll never forget one time I was fortunate enough to get an Acura automobile, and I was being stopped almost every week. I was about 32, and I was being stopped every week. AMY GOODMAN: That’s the congressmember, Elijah Cummings, speaking about his own experiences. Ralikh, as you listen to him, your comments on what’s happening at the federal level—he’s a congressman—if you’re satisfied with what he’s doing in his community, in your community, in Baltimore?
RALIKH HAYES: As of this moment, I am not satisfied with any black elected official that has not signed on for the Vision for Black Lives platform, which is a united front platform from the Movement for Black Lives team, built by over 30 organizations. If he wants my support, that’s how you get it. As far as his story about constantly getting stopped in Baltimore, that’s his story. That’s my story. That’s the story of every black man and person, really, in Baltimore City, particularly trans folk and black men. We also—
AMY GOODMAN: Ralikh, how many times have you been stopped?
RALIKH HAYES: It has to be over 20 at this point.
AMY GOODMAN: On what grounds?
RALIKH HAYES: It has to be. There’s various times. I’d just be walking around my neighborhood, and I will get stopped as—you know, search me. Like, "Do you live around here?" "Yes, I do." It has lessened recently—well, not recently, but in the last three years or so, because I temporarily served on the Baltimore City Youth Commission, and that’s like a "Oh, you’re one of the good blacks. We can let you go."
BAYNARD WOODS: And by comparison, I’ve been stopped zero times.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Baynard Woods, you—
RALIKH HAYES: And most of those don’t—
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Ralikh. RALIKH HAYES: I was—most of those, I can honestly say, probably never exist on paper. I never got a citation. I may have gotten two citizen citations and a few traffic stops in my life, but the rest of them are directly informal interactions.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Baynard Woods, you have looked at particularly gender bias and trans bias on the part of the police. Explain.
BAYNARD WOODS: Yeah, so there are just some horrible allegations in the report. They go—they don’t go as far as saying that gender bias violates federal law, but then they point out a number of areas that they find very troubling in terms of gender bias. I mean, in one case, the report cites a police officer who was regularly having sex with a sex worker for U.S. currency and for immunity from prosecution. There are cases where they’re not investigating sexual assault claims. A member of the State’s Attorney’s Office calls a woman who had made a sexual assault report a "conniving whore," and the police officer writes back, "LMAO, I agree." And another police officer said that—who was dealing with sexual assault crimes, that "We don’t have any victims, and all of our cases are"—and then he uses an un-radio-friendly expletive. But it’s just a systematic—and I think if you separated that out, you would find that many of those cases, they don’t look at race and gender together. But many of those cases are black women, and that trans women, being in a place, in an area like a bus stop, and just being there, can be suspicion of soliciting or prostitution. So it takes that loitering aspect and pushes it another step further in really criminalizing being in public as an African American in Baltimore.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to—
RALIKH HAYES: And actually, you said something—
AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Ralikh, and we’re going to wrap up with your comment.
RALIKH HAYES: You said something—you said something really key—right?—which is like the collusion between the State’s Attorney’s Office, and I would also add the FOP in there, in how it, you know, pretty much provides—they provide amnesty for these officers—
AMY GOODMAN: The Fraternal Order of Police.
RALIKH HAYES: —and don’t allow—yeah, they don’t allow the transparency necessary for accountability, which is why we also would really like a DOJ investigation into the State’s Attorney’s Office. And the FOP should be divested from immediately.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. We will certainly continue to follow this story. Baynard Woods is a journalist who writes for The Guardian. We’ll link to your pieces. And Ralikh Hayes, activist, coordinator of Baltimore Bloc, speaking to us from Baltimore.