Hillary Clinton calls for police body cameras after Baltimore riots

Democrat says US must face ‘hard truths about race’ as city remains under curfew

 

Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 presidential election, has called for the widespread use of police body cameras and an end to excessive prison sentences in the aftermath of the Baltimore riots.

“We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America,” Ms Clinton said in a speech at New York’s Columbia University.

“There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes,” she said, calling on Congress to help “end the era of mass incarceration”.

Ms Clinton addressed the violence in Baltimore, Maryland, where rioters looted stores and burned buildings to the ground on Monday after the funeral of a 25-year-old black man, Freddie Gray, who died after suffering injuries while in police custody.

“There is something wrong when the trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve breaks down as far as it has in many of our communities,” she said.

Ms Clinton said body-worn cameras for police should be “the norm everywhere”.

“That will improve transparency and accountability; it will help protect good people on both sides of the lens.”

A requirement that police wear body cameras has been one of the issues in the debate over policing tactics following the killing of black men by white officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York, among other places, last year.

Other potential presidential candidates, including Republican senator Rand Paul, have also called for measures to reform the criminal justice system.

Bipartisan attempts in Congress to lower the US’s high rates of incarceration have gathered pace in recent weeks.

Baltimore on edge

Baltimore remained on edge today, with police in riot gear deployed near the site of rioting, as citizens expressed anger over Freddie Gray’s death.

The city saw less violence on Tuesday night, as a new overnight curfew took effect following Monday’s rioting, which saw protesters clash with local police.

The smell of smoke still hung in the air near a west Baltimore CVS pharmacy that was torched two days earlier, while residents of the area said they wanted to see legal action against the six police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray two weeks earlier.

“The thing that makes me angry about this is he didn’t do anything,” said landscaper Levi Artes (45), as he stood near a transit station.

“He didn’t sell any drugs, he wasn’t fighting with anyone, he just tried to avoid the police.

“If I killed somebody, I’d be in jail now.”

Gray died in a Baltimore hospital on April 19th of spinal injuries sustained while he was in police custody. He had been arrested after fleeing from police in a high-crime area. He was carrying a switchblade knife at the time.

Gray’s death has renewed a national movement against law enforcement’s use of lethal force, which protesters say is disproportionately exercised against minorities.

Baltimore police have said they will conclude their investigation by the end of the week, when the results will be turned over to state prosecutors and followed by an independent review.

“The six officers should be arrested and jailed,” said Gray’s friend Ashley Cain.

The US department of justice is conducting a separate probe into possible civil rights violations in the city of 620,000 people.

Schools reopened today after the 10pm to 5am curfew was lifted. The city’s Major League baseball team, the Baltimore Orioles, was set to play today, though no fans would be admitted to the stadium.

Curfew

Shortly after the curfew began late on Tuesday night, police in riot gear fired rubber bullets and lobbed gas canisters at a few hundred protesters who stood in front of the burned-out pharmacy in the city, which is just 64km from Washington DC.

Commissioner Anthony Batts told reporters around midnight only 10 people had been arrested, adding: “The curfew is in fact working.”

In Chicago on Tuesday, about 500 people demonstrated outside police headquarters and marched in solidarity with the people of Baltimore, chanting “Stop police violence”.

At least one person was arrested, but the event was mostly peaceful.

St Louis media reported that two people were injured overnight following gunfire in nearby Ferguson, during a protest near where unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by police last August. It was not clear if the shootings were linked or connected to the demonstration.

Monday’s rioting in Baltimore followed a week of largely peaceful protests in the city, where almost a quarter of the residents live below the poverty line.

The neighbourhood that saw the worst of the violence was already filled with many burned-out buildings and vacant lots that had not been rebuilt since the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Residents said relations with police had long been strained, and that Gray’s death was a flashpoint.

“They’re supposed to protect and serve, but they harass us,” said community college student Dayrick Lucas. “I’m afraid of the police.”

In an interview on The Steve Harvey Morning Show, president Barack Obama said the Baltimore riots show that police departments need to build more trust in black communities.

He called on police departments “to hold accountable people when they do something wrong” and said attorney general Loretta Lynch, the top US law enforcement official, is reaching out to mayors about resources to retrain police.

Mr Obama also said underlying social issues such as poor education, drugs and limited job opportunities must be addressed.

Reuters