In highlighting the theme of criminal injustice, the National Historic Landmark program Civil Rights Framework notes the history of criminal injustice, police violence and brutality in the United States has “revealed how minority groups were categorized as antisocial and a menace to society.” African-Americans in Baltimore have fought against discrimination by the police, injustice before criminal courts and juries, and mistreatment within the prison system. This theme is closely associated with Baltimore’s police stations, court houses, jails, along with the homes of advocates of criminal justice reform, lawyers, and others.
Police brutality in Baltimore’s historically African-American neighborhoods has been a near constant challenge since the 1860s. Black communities have been underpoliced as the police or courts discriminate by not pursuing justice for black victims or not protecting black people in their custody from mistreatment while incarcerated. They have also been overpoliced with African-Americans particularly subject to police violence and brutality, false arrest, discriminatory sentencing. Concerned not just with local issues, however, black Baltimoreans have pushed for fairness in communities around the state particularly in the sustained campaigns against lynching in southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, and discrimination in the application of the death penalty.
- 1831 – 1870
- 1870 – 1905
- 1905 – 1929
- 1929 – 1954
- 1954 – 1968
- 1968 – 1976
- 1976 – Present
1831 – 1870
According to the Baltimore City Archives, in their summary of police records:
“The first police force for Baltimore Town was created in 1784. Constables were appointed and given police powers to keep the peace. The State Legislature on March 16, 1853, passed a bill, “to provide for the better security … in the City of Baltimore.” This statute provided that police officers should be armed and that a badge and commission be furnished each member.”
In 1793, the United States Congress passed the nation’s first fugitive slave law allowing for the prosecution of “runaways” and their return to the slave-holders who claimed them. In 1796, Maryland courts declared that black testimony would be inadmissible in freedom suits undermining the ability of enslaved African-Americans to claim their freedom based on their descent from white women (an option available since 1786).
The Baltimore Jail was first established and built in 1801. During the early 19th century, the city used the Jail to hold enslaved people who had escaped to Baltimore or who were captured while traveling through the area on their way to a free state. The Jail was rebuilt in 1858-59. The state established the Maryland Penitentiary on an adjacent site on Forrest Street in 1811.
March 9, 1826: Maryland transfers control of the Baltimore police to the Mayor
On March 9, 1826, the state transferred control of the local police to Baltimore’s Mayor with a new ordinance that required the appointment of officers for the Eastern, Middle and Western Districts. The Eastern District occupied a building at 1621 Bank Street dating from around 1822 that remained in use up through 1959. The Middle District (later renamed the Central District) occupied a building at Holiday and Saratoga Streets built in 1802 that the police continued to occupied until 1870. The Western District operated in a building on Greene Street between Baltimore Street, and Belvidere Street. On February 18, 1845, the Southern District was established and moved into a station house at Montgomery and Sharp Streets, where it remained until 1896.
In the wake of Nat Turner’s Rebellion, a slave revolt which took place on August 21, 1831 in Southampton, Virginia, Maryland joined other Southern states in passing legislation that placed new restrictions on free blacks. This 1832 law prohibited free African-Americans from entering the state, barred free blacks from owning firearms without a certificate from county officials, and outlawed the sale of alcohol, powder, and shot to blacks. The legislation even took away the right of African-American to hold religious meetings without the presence of a white minister.
The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842) upheld the Federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 and struck down a Pennsylvania state law prohibiting African-Americans blacks from being transported out of Pennsylvania back into slavery. In 1846, Rev. Charles Torrey, an abolitionist and conductor on the “Underground Railroad,” died in the Maryland Penitentiary after his arrest and imprisonment for aiding, enticing or assisting enslaved blacks to run away.
Seth Rockman describes the challenges facing free people of color at the hands of the city watch in this period, writing:
Consider two sets of petitions arriving at city hall in the 1830s. The first came from free people of color facing legal discrimination in trying to earn a living. To work past an evening curfew, hack driver Alexander Henson needed a white patron to testify he was “a sober, Honest man and worthy of the privilege he asks for.” David Roberts worked in the daytime as a porter and at night as an oyster shucker in a restaurant, but walking home late at night, he was “molested by the watch.” A white patron also had to petition on his behalf for a passport. Similar requests arrived for waiter Benjamin Ford and beer bottler Perry Boudley, whose brewery shift ran from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m.[@rockman_scraping_2010, 253]
September 18, 1850: Congress passes the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850
Such conditions became even worse with the passage of the infamous Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 – legislation passed by Congress on September 18, 1850 in an attempt to stem the tide of enslaved people escaped from bondage in the South including many who (with support from abolitionists citizens and sympathetic local courts) had been able to live free in the north.
Baltimore’s courts, jails and police officers played an active role in enforcing this new legislation. They also began to professionalize in this same period. On March 16, 1853, the Maryland legislature passed a bill, “To provide for the better security for the citizens and property in the City of Baltimore,” that established new requirements that all Baltimore police officers be armed and be furnished with a badge and commission.
The significant association between Baltimore’s jails and courts and efforts to suppress abolition work in the South dated back to the early 19th century. Additional research is needed on individuals such as Elisha Tyson - a Quaker merchant and influential abolitionist - whose summer home is still located in the Stone Hill neighborhood. Elisa Tyson’s life is chronicled in the Life of Elisha Tyson, the philanthropist published 1825.
Writing in the 1883 History of the colored race in America, William T. Alexander observed a “remarkable” growth in the “activity and universality of slave hunting” under the new law. The examples Alexander highlighted included James Hamlet captured in New York City at the request of a Baltimore slave-holder and the murder of William Smith in Pennsylvania by a Baltimore police officer :
“That Act became a law on the 18th of September and, within ten days thereafter, a colored man named James Hamlet had been seized in the city of New York and very summarily dispatched to a woman in Baltimore, who claimed him as her slave. […][@alexander_history_1887]
“The needless brutality with which these seizures were often made tended to intensify the popular repugnance which they occasioned. In repeated instances, the first notice the alleged fugitive had of his peril was given him by a blow on the head, sometimes with a club or stick of wood; and being thus knocked down, he was carried bleeding and insensible, before the facile commissioner, who made short work of identifying him and earning his ten dollars by remanding him into slavery. In Columbia, Penn., March, 1852, a colored person named William Smith was seized as a fugitive by a Baltimore police officer, while working in a lumber yard, and, attempting to escape the officer drew a pistol and shot him dead.”[@alexander_history_1887, 208]
At the outset of the Civil War, Union troops occupied Baltimore City taking control of the Baltimore City police on June 27, 1861, two months after the Pratt Street riot where Baltimoreans sympathetic to the Confederacy attacked the Union Army as they passed through the city. In March 1862, the military turned authority over the police department to the state of Maryland.
1867: Board of Police Commissioners established
Following the end of the Civil War, in 1867, the Maryland state legislature established a Board of Police Commissioners (Chapter 367, Acts of 1867). Between 1867 and 1920, Maryland’s governor appointed the members of the Board of Police Commissioners.
Richard Paul Fuke comments extensively on the relationship between the police and African Americans in Baltimore during and after the Civil War in Imperfect equality: African Americans and the confines of white racial attitudes in post-emancipation Maryland, writing:
Beginning immediately after emancipation, black Baltimoreans fell afoul of the law in unprecedented numbers, a fact that exacerbated tensions both within the black community and between it and neighboring whites. Between 1864 and 1870, a growing number of blacks were charged with petty theft, assault, and disorderly conduct. The picture that emerged from the records of the justice of the peace, the Baltimore Criminal Court, and the city jail was clearly that of people chronically at odds with the police and the justice system. […] Unable to cope with the increased case load, and hard-pressed to find additional jail cells, city officials dismissed many such charges, especially those against minors, and accepted them as an unavoidable consequence of black migration and the shortage of incarceration space. [@fuke_imperfect_1999, 127-128]
In a context where conservative newspapers like the Baltimore Gazette charged the relationship between black migrants and crime was determined by the “inherent shortcomings,” Fuke concluded that:
The degree and intensity of public attention to migration, poverty and crime and whites’ explanation of the relationship of each to the other made it difficult for blacks to defend themselves. Nor was it made any easier when the city’s main law enforcement agency—the police—operated on the basis of such assumptions. From the start, the police were quick to call attention to the presence of rural migrants, to seek their remove to the counties from whence they came, and—when that failed to keep a close eye on their behavior. Such vigilance led to constant police scrutiny of the black community and the instant deployment of armed squads whenever blacks participated in public occasions either on their own or with whites. In short, the actions of the police served as a constant reminder of white Baltimoreans’ perception of not only blacks’ place in the community, but also of the connection between it and civic disorder. [@fuke_imperfect_1999, 130]
September 1867: Policeman Frey shoots and kills Eliza Taylor
Historian Richard Paul Fuke noted the “fatal police shooting of Eliza Taylor, a black woman, in September 1867,” quoting the Baltimore American:
A colored woman was killed under circumstances which show the spirit of hate and oppression cherished toward that portion of the population by many of the police. [@fuke_imperfect_1999, 131]
The police officer involved in the shooting was acquitted of murder prompting criticism from a convention of black leaders in Baltimore, as the Baltimore American reported:
The President [George A. Hackett] stated the object of the meeting, quoting the Declaration of Independence in proof of the fact that the colored people have no friends in Baltimore in the Governor or the police, and cited the action of the Grand Jury in discharging the Policeman Frey, charged with the murder of the colored woman, Eliza Taylor, as a specimen of the justice which is meted out to colored people in this city. [@fuke_imperfect_1999, 131]
1870: House of Reformation and Instruction for Colored Children established
The expansion of police action against black Baltimoreans also included new and expanded detention facilities. In one example, according to the Maryland State Archives:
The House of Reformation and Instruction for Colored Children was incorporated in 1870 (Chapter 392, Acts of 1870), perhaps in response to the “Memorial of the Grand Jury of Baltimore City Praying that a Place of Punishment may be Provided for Minor Colored Children” (House Documents, X, February 5, 1867). The Governor appointed two of sixteen managers; buildings and grounds were tax-free; a report to the General Assembly was required; and, contingent on $30,000 from private subscriptions, an appropriation of $5,000 was allotted annually for two years.
This growth continued, in 1882, according to the Maryland State Archives:
In 1882, the Industrial Home for Colored Girls was established and given tax-exempt status (Chapter 291, Acts of 1882). The Governor appointed two of its eleven managers.
1870 – 1905
1870: Baltimore Police disarm black “military companies,” challenge public assembly
According to local historian De Francias Folsom (whose account seems to rest solely on an obituary for Police Marshal John T. Gray) noted that the city’s police played a prominent role during the celebratory parade and political rally that followed the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, to prevent violent attacks on black participants:
In Baltimore, as well as in all the other Southern cities, certain classes of the white population still harbored a bitter feeling against the negroes, intensified by the offensive manner in which many of the latter had conducted themselves since their emancipation. The law abiding citizens, therefore looked with trepidation upon the preparations of the colored folk for this jubilee, and Marshal Gray took every precaution for the prevention of an outbreak.
However, it soon became clear that the Baltimore police saw black political and military organizations as the more significant threat to public order. Folsom recalls how black men in Baltimore organized “dozens of military companies,” armed with “old army muskets” and drilled on Baltimore’s streets. After a young man was purportedly shot by member of one of these black regiments, Marshal John T. Gray attacks one of the companies (unclear if it was the same group implicated in the shooting), arrests their officers, and disarms the men.
While the accuracy of this account has not been fully verified, the efforts to undermine black political power and public assembly in Baltimore prefigures the eventual destruction of the “Negro Militias” that formed during Reconstruction in several Southern states to protect free African-Americans and support new Republican state governments against the armed insurgency and terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan and the White League.
During the decades after the Civil War, the Baltimore City Police Department frequently broke up public assemblies by African-Americans, as Jeffrey Richardson Brackett noted in his study of Colored People of Maryland since the War, writing:
“In this respect, again, the strong influence of the clergy and intelligent leaders, ambitious for the race, seems to be bearing fruit in a general progress. The expensive social and the promenade are less popular, and the entertainments and picnics that are held are, as a rule, more creditable. The cake-walks and drum-corp matches and there were nine colored drum-corps, a few years ago used often to end with necessary interference of the police, and the patrol-wagon has sometimes been summoned to the assembly halls. One who has for years played a violin at dances of the colored people, recalls, with a laugh, how he often had to retreat for safety beneath the stage, and bears witness to the improvement, now. But there is still vast room for improvement.”[@brackett_notes_1890, 59]
A powerful example of the consequences of this practice can be found in the case of Daniel Brown’s shooting by Baltimore police officer Patrick McDonald in July 1875.
1874: Northwestern District station house erected on Pennsylvania Avenue
Around this same time, the Police department expanded in 1874 with the construction of the Northwestern District station house at Pennsylvania Avenue and Lambert Street and the Northeastern District Station House opened at Ashland and Chew Streets (Durham). In 1876, the Western District Station moved from its prior location on Greene Street between Baltimore Street and Belvidere Street to a new building on Pine Street. The police continued to use that location from 1876 up until August 31, 1959 when they opened a new station at Riggs Avenue and Mount Street (1034 N. Mount Street).
This expansion continued in 1884 when, on July 17, 1884, the Southwestern District station house opened at Calhoun and Pratt Streets. The Northwestern, Northeastern and Southwestern stations remained in operation up through the late 1950s, when the Northwestern district offices moved to Reisterstown Road, the Northeastern district offices to 1900 Argonne Drive, and the Southwestern district offices to 424 Font Hill Avenue.
July 31, 1875: Daniel Brown killed by Baltimore police officer Patrick McDonald
In the early morning hours of Saturday, July 31, 1875, Baltimore Police officer Patrick McDonald shot and killed Daniel Brown at his home on Tyson Street. The Baltimore Sun described the shooting in an account published on August 2:
Saturday morning, shortly before two o’clock, Daniel Brown, colored, of No. 41 Tyson street, was shot in the head by police officer Patrick McDonald, of the northwestern district, and in about half an hour died from the effects of the wound. A party or sociable entertainment was going on in Brown’s house, and complaint of the noise having been made to policeman McDonald, he went to the place. Words were exchanged at the door of the house between the officer outside and the people inside. The result was that Brown was “tapped on the head” by the policeman’s club. The policeman went into the house, and there, it is alleged, shot and killed Brown without provocation. Policeman McDonald on the other hand asserts that the shooting was in self-defense. He avers that he felt his life to be in imminent peril! A coroner’s jury, after examining over a dozen witnesses rendered a verdict that “Daniel Brown came to his death by a pistolshot from the hands of policeman Patrick McDonald,” and on the commitment of Coroner Ogle the accused was sent to jail by Captain Earhart.
The initial argument between McDonald and Brown started with McDonald’s demand to see a permit for the party (commonly known as a “cake-walk”). Mary Parker, a resident of 232 North Charles Street, testified “she was in the front room at Brown’s” continuing:
“Brown said he paid rent for the house . The officer said he “need’nt be so - saucy.” Brown had his head out the door. The officer caught Brown and struck him over the head with his club. He staggered and fell toward a closet in the front room. The police now followed his his pistol in his hand and Mrs. Brown behind him, begging him not to shoot. She said, “He is my husband” and the officer, saying he didn’t care a d-n,” fired. Brown never spoke after he was struck on the head. John Greason begged the officer not to shoot. The officer said the would kill every black -.”
The Baltimore Sun described Brown writing:
“Daniel Brown, the deceased, was a dark mulatto, thirty-seven years of age, and leaves a wife but no children. He was industrious and sober, quite intelligent and strong in urging his own way. In the daytime of late he was employed as a laborer, and occasionally at night worked in Woods, Weeks & Co,’s sugar refinery.”
The Sun continued to provide detailed coverage of McDonald’s trial from mid to late November.
On November 24, 1875, the jury returned the verdict: “Not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter.”
The protests against the murder had a lasting legacy two generations later, as Juan Williams described, In Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary:
Despite the racial tension in the city, Thurgood’s father had very good white friends, including a local policeman, Captain Cook, who occasionally came by to spend some time with Willie Marshall. According to Thurgood, his dad had no hostile feelings toward whites in Baltimore. When Captain Cook knocked at the door, Thurgood knew to go get his father because the policeman would never come in without Willie Marshall’s personal invitation. His father had set down a rule—if any policeman entered his house without permission, he would kill him. This rule applying even to friends, reflected a widespread concern among black Baltimoreans about the power of an all-white police force. Willie’s hard-nosed stance came from an 1875 incident. Norma’s father had been the leader of a citywide protest against a policeman who shot and killed a black man after forcing his way into the man’s house. [@williams_thurgood_2011, 36]
July 19, 1884: Police officer F.L. Kruse shoots and kills John Wesley Green
On July 24, 1884, the Baltimore Sun reported:
Police officer F.L. Kruse, of the Western district, who shot John Wesley Green, colored in the back and fatally injured him last Saturday night, was exonerated by the police board yesterday, and was patrolling his beat last night. […] Commissioners Milroy and Herbert voted to exonerate the officer, Mr. Colton dissenting. Mr. Colton said: “The officer did not see Green commit any offense and he did not have a warrant of law to arrest him. I consider the taking of human life too serious a matter to justify the officer in using his pistol in this case.”
The Baltimore Police developed new equipment and techniques along with new facilities. The city’s first patrol wagon started service on October 26, 1885 (making Baltimore only the second city in the country to use patrol wagons after Chicago). In 1896, the city police opened the Bertillon Bureau to take photographs and measurements of prisoners and attempt to identify them on the basis of a detailed physical description, and photographs. In practice, the Bertillion system was already suffering from criticism as most police department began shifting to using fingerprints by the early 1900s.
In 1896, the Southern District Police Station moved from their location at Montgomery and Sharp Streets to Ostend Street and Patapsco Street where they remained up until 1985.
1880: Strauder v. West Virginia overturns prohibition on black jurors
The Supreme Court decision in the case of Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880) overturning a prohibition of African-Americans serving on juries in West Virginia finally won African-Americans in Baltimore the right to serve on juries in Maryland.
1885: Everett J. Waring admitted to practice law in Baltimore
In 1885, Everett J. Waring was admitted to practice law in Baltimore and became an active supporter of the city’s Civil Rights movement. The Road from Frederick to Thurgoodfrom the Maryland State Archives profiles Waring writing:
Waring’s participation in Baltimore community affairs began as soon as he arrived there, and by the time he left, Waring was known as “a leader for many years among his race.” While living in Washington D. C., Waring attended Howard University Law School and did “considerable lecturing.” He received his law degree in 1885, and shortly thereafter Reverend Harvey Johnson recruited Waring to come to Baltimore. Johnson was the founder of the Mutual Brotherhood of Liberty, a group formed to advocate and facilitate fair treatment for African Americans. The Brotherhood had been fighting Maryland’s law restricting African Americans from practicing law in state courts, and needed a qualified African American lawyer like Waring to present to the Baltimore City Superior Court bar for admission. The bar accepted Waring, and he became an attorney for the Brotherhood. During his tenure with the group, Waring “challenged segregation on steamships, discrimination in insurance, and handled several racial issue cases.” He also argued for the hiring of black schoolteachers, the desegregation of juries, and the eradication of lynching. Waring belonged to several fraternal and philanthropic organizations, including the Odd Fellows and the St. James Beneficial Society in Baltimore, and the Knights of Pythias in Philadelphia. When nationally prominent civil rights leader Ida Wells came to Baltimore, he chaired the meeting at which she spoke. In addition, Waring was responsible for the formation of the Lexington Savings Bank, the first bank in Maryland originated and run by African Americans.
1905 – 1929
Some have attributed broader changes in the technology of policing and the relationship between police officers and local communities (e.g. the advent of motorized vehicles, the development of more efficient mass transportation systems, police officers not living in the same jurisdiction in which they patrolled) in creating a “breakdown in police–community relations.”
In 1912, the Baltimore police acquired the first motorized transport wagons replacing the horse-drawn wagons. On May 29, 1914, the police organized the “Motor Unit” with just five members: Officers Schleigh, Bateman, Pepersack, Vocke and Louis.
In 1921, Maryland’s Commissioner of Motor Vehicles organized a new force of officers, deputized by county sheriffs with the statewide jurisdiction to enforce traffic and criminal laws. This followed a national trend as 23 states had already established a state law enforcement agencies or programs between 1915 and 1921. This effort was motivated by concern about “lawlessness” following WWI.
In 1935, Maryland established the State Police as a distinct government agency funded by revenue from the Department of Commissioner of Motor Vehicles.
1907: Police magistrate Bill Garland expands racial disparaty in criminal sentencing
A Baltimore Sun profile of former police magistrate Bill Garland published 1907 highlights changing expectations around race, crime and sentencing in the early 1900s:
When Mr. Garland was police magistrate he distinguished himself by sentencing a negro brought before him to five years imprisonment. The case created quite a lot of comment at the time, and it was though that the sentence was the longest ever imposed by a police magistrate. The charge against the negro was “indecent assault.” Many people claimed that the punishment was excessive and that it went beyond the powers of the police magistrate. Finally the case was laid before Judge Dennis, who upheld Mr. Garland.
Naught disturbed by the clamor his first decision had aroused, “King Bill” imposed the same sentence upon another negro who was brought before him for a like offense not three weeks after the noise of the first had died away. There was little comment upon this, however. The people were becoming used to hearing of wild and woolly things from the Third ward of the city, nor did they express surprise when news of other sentences of two, three and four years were at odd times after this wafted to them.
The profile of Garland also highlights the complex relationship between criminal justice and local politics. Garland was prominent in his campaign against the election of President Theodore Roosevelt, employing a “panorama” with racist illustrations that he displayed at meetings and events across the state. The Baltimore Sun described a relevant illustration, writing:
The sixth and last picture is the one with which “King Bill” used to catch the galleries. It is called “Assault,” and shows a negro with his hand on a white girl’s throat. Mr. Garland always used to show this “Assault” picture last, and never failed to draw a storm of roars. For each picture he had comments in his best and raciest style, and always held his audience enthralled. The “Panorama,” as the whole series was called, had its initial shoring in Baltimore in Mr. Garland’s own bailiwick. So successful was it that it, with its inventor, was sent for a long tour of the eastern and southern counties.
February 1918: Black soldier brutally beaten by Baltimore police officer
On February 16, 1918, the Baltimore Sun praised Judge Stanton for his role in protesting a recent incident of police brutality:
“Judge Stanton has rendered a service in calling the attention of the Police Commissioners to the alleged brutality of a policeman in dealing with a soldier who resisted arrest… In this case, we are sorry to say, the soldier behaved like a rowdy. But, for all that, the policeman who undertook to arrest him was not justified in treating him brutally. He could have managed him, we imagine, without resorting to methods which excited indignation in the minds of spectators. The patrolman was in civilian clothes at the time and the soldier naturally did not recognize his authority. Discretion is a virtue that is as important as valor or as muscle on the part of a police officer. We think the Commissioners should look into this incident carefully.”
African-Americans faced a terrible series of anti-black riots in cities around the country. In 1917, riots in East St. Louis, Illinois Riot killed at least 39 black people and 8 white, injured hundreds, and caused millions of damages. In 1917, followed in 1919 by riots in Washington, DC and Chicago, Illinois, and, in 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and, in 1923, Elaine, Arkansas.
June 1, 1918: Baltimore police shoot and kill a “colored man on Pennsylvania avenue”
On June 7, 1918, the Afro American reported on a shooting involving multiple Baltimore City police officers that resulted in the death of one man:
The fatal shooting of a colored man on Pennsylvania avenue by the police last Saturday night and the severe wounding of another, has aroused a great deal of comment this week. It appears that some colored men were disorderly and the police grabbed one. While dragging him to the call box some one hit the policeman with a chair. Despite the crowded condition of Pennsylvania avenue at that time, it is said the police began shooting, with the result that one man lay dead and another seriously wounded. The man killed it is averred by some was not the man who hit the policeman. A ban has been placed on pedestrians, and any who stop to talk this Saturday may be arrested. Some of the police, it is alleged are gloating over the killing of the man. They look forward to making a harvest in arrests this [Saturday] night, it is being claimed.
Pennsylvania avenue has been what some call an “indicted street” since the recent large influx from the South and many have been arrested on Saturday nights and charged with loitering. A decade ago the police indiscriminately arrested colored men and women who happened to stop even for conversation. They were invariable fined notwithstanding character witnesses appeared the next morning in a number of instances and attested to the good habits on those taken in.
1920: Board of Police Commissioners established, Charles D. Gaither appointed first Police Commissioner
In 1920, the Board of Police Commissioners was established and General Charles D. Gaither was appointed as the first Police Commissioner.
The conduct of officers under Gaither’s oversight proved to be a powerful influence on a young Thurgood Marshall who, from his classroom, had a close-up view of the Northwestern District Police Station as a student at the Colored High School on Pennsylvania Avenue in the early 1920s. In Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary, Juan Williams writes:
Sitting in a second-floor classroom and next to the window, he had a bird’s-eye view of the Northwest Baltimore police station. He could see prisoners, mostly black, being brought in by the all-white police. Often he could even hear as black suspects were questioned about crimes and sometimes hit with a club or brass knuckles to loosen up a confession. Essie Hughes remembered Thurgood being so fascinated by the goings-on in the jailhouse that teachers sometimes had to tell him to pull down the window shades. [@williams_thurgood_2011, 40]
Williams continued to quote Marshall’s recollection of what he heard, writing:
“We could hear police in there beating the hell out of people, saying, ‘Black boy, why don’t you just shut your goddamned mouth, you’re going to talk yourself into the electric chair.’”[@williams_thurgood_2011, 40]
Neither the original Colored High School building or the Northwest Police Station building are still extant. Williams further notes the powerful influence of Thurgood Marshall’s father—Willie Marshall—who when he “wasn’t working on the trains” was “a regular figure in the rear of courtrooms, a hat perched on his lap as he watched trials.”
1925: Conference of AME Ministers organizes to secure appointment of black police officers
In 1925, the Conference of AME Ministers sets up a committee to consider the best way to place black officers on the police force.[@farrar_baltimore_1998, 112]
1926: Afro reports on discrimination and capital punishment
In a 1926 report on capital punishment in Maryland the Afro-American newspaper pointed out that from 1903 to 1926 nine of ten men executed in Maryland for murder or rape were black and called for an end to the death penalty.[@farrar_baltimore_1998, 115-117]
May 31, 1926: Police officer James O. Jones beats Henry Boyer
On June 12, 1926, the Afro-American reported on an efforts by Baptist ministers in Baltimore to protest the actions of Baltimore police officer James O. Jones in “beating up” Henry Boyer, writing:
What they termed the most brutal abuse of police authority and wanton disregard for the rights of citizens was brought out in the Monday Baptist Ministers’ meeting when the Rev J.C. Sweeney described the act of Officer James O. Jones beating up Henry Boyer on Winchester street May 31.
According to a version of the affair, as stated by the Rev. Mr. Sweeney and the boy in question, Officer Jones of the Northwestern district used his espantoon on young Boyer when he “sassed” him when told to move on from the corner of Stricker and Winchester streets.
Boyer stated that when he did not move fast enough the officer seized him and he asked that before he was arrested he be allowed to send word to his mother. He was then beaten up until he was “bloody” he declared. At the station house the officer said Boyer “sassed” him and resisted arrest…
When the case was brought up in the Criminal Court Wednesday Judge O’Dunne told the officer that “sassing” an officer would not be considered a disturbance of the public peace in his court. “It might be a disturbance of the peace of the officer, but did not constitute a breach of the law against the public,” he stated. He held the boy’s case under advisement.
The practice of beating up citizens and then preferring charges of resisting arrest against them was also discussed by the ministers. It was pointed out that efficient officers were always able to arrest even criminals without the use of their sticks, and that even an amateur officer ought to be able to take a lad to the station house without having to “subdue” him by battering his head up. Another practice which is said to be common among some officers is to mete punishment themselves for things said to them by those they arrest. This punishment is against the law, it is said, and those so treated should take their cases always to the Criminal Court, it was advised.
1927: Clubbing of Henry Simuels prompts protest
On April 27, 1927, the Afro reported on “RAISE PROTEST OVER POLICE BRUTALITY: Commissioner Gaither Asked To Investigate Unprovoked Clubbing Of Henry Simuels”:
Police Commissioner Gaither has been asked to investigate what is claimed to have been a brutal and unprovoked attack on Henry Simuels, 804 N [… incomplete transcription]
1929 – 1954
March 17, 1930: Baltimore police officer Herman Trautner kills Roosevelt Yates
On March 22, 1930, the Afro reported on the death of Roosevelt Yates after he was shot and killed by Herman Trautner in his home at 905 Bennett Place:
Police here chalked up another victim when Officer Herman Trautner shot and fatally wounded Roosevelt Yates during arrest of the latter at his home, 905 Bennett Place, Monday. [Trautner] shot Roosevelt in the chest after the latter had grabbed the officer’s espantoon before it landed in a blow on his head, it was said. In his report, officer Trautner declared that he shot in self defense when Yates started towards him with the night stick after wresting it from his hand in a struggle.
On March 29, 1930, the Afro reflect on the killing as a pattern of brutality by the Baltimore police:
Baltimore police killed their eight victim in six years last week when Officer Herman Trautner, white, killed Roosevelt Yates, an unarmed man he was seeking to arrest. Five others had been killed by policemen in fifteen years previously. As a result of these thirteen shootings, only one policeman has been punished. […]
The trouble is police brutality in Baltimore has gone as far as some people are going to stand. Men and women are usually willing to be arrested but not clubbed by police. This is especially true as to those persons who are engaged in a mere wordy brawl.
Of the eight men killed, five have been murdered by police of the Northwestern district, administered by Captain Charles Lastner. As the AFRO has repeatedly pointed out, the difference between the conduct of Baltimore police in the Northwestern district and the Southeastern district is the difference between right and wrong. If police can be gentlemen in southeast Baltimore, they can be gentlemen in the northwestern part of the city.
Every unnecessary drop of blood shed by murderous police we place at the doors of, first, Captain Lastner who is responsible for directions given his own men, and secondly, Police Commissioner Gaither who permits Captain Lastner to continue his policy of “shoot first, investigate and explain later.”
September 1, 1930: William Johnson dies after assault by police officer Harry Holley
On September 6, 1930, the Afro-American reported on the NAACP protesting to the governor after an assault on William Johnson by police officer Harry Holley left Johnson unconscious for two weeks before dying at the University Hospital:
At an inquest at the Western police station Thursday night, Officer Harry Holly was exonerated in the killing of William Johnson who died after being struck with a blackjack by the officer. Fourteen witnesses testified that the officer brutally assaulted Johnson without provocation. One white man and the officer testified for the defense. The death of William Johnson, 137 W. Camden Street, on September 1 at University Hospital after being hit with a blackjack by Policeman Harry Holley, white, of the Western district, aroused the city this week.
March 25, 1931 : Scottsboro Boys are arrested, taken to Scottsboro, Alabama
1931: Maryland Training School for Colored Girls established
According to the Maryland State Archives:
When Maryland, in 1931, established the Maryland Training School for Colored Girls as a reformatory, superseding the Industrial Home for Colored Girls, it too came under the oversight of the State Superintendent of Schools (Chapter 367, Acts of 1931). The State completed its acquisition of private reform schools in 1937 by taking over the House of Reformation at Cheltenham as the State reformatory for black boys and renaming it Cheltenham School for Boys (Chapter 70, Acts of 1937).
December 12, 1931: Lynching of Matthew Williams covered in the Afro-American
Afro publishes “Maryland’s Shame Edition,” covering the lynching of Matthew Williams in Salisbury, Maryland.[@farrar_baltimore_1998]
1932: Grand Jury recommends hiring black police
On May 21, 1932, the Baltimore Sun reported under the headline, WOULD COLORED POLICE REDUCE CRIME?: Grand Jury’s Proposal of Colored Police Officers Awakens Fight for Representation in Baltimore’s Police Department, writing:
The recommendation of the retiring January term of the grand jury, that colored patrolmen and policewomen be appointed in colored sections of Baltimore, recalls [… incomplete transcription]
1933: George Armwood lynched
City editor William N. Jones assigned reporters Ralph Matthews Sr., Clarence Mitchell, Levi Jolley, and photographer Paul Henderson to cover the Armwood lynching. They all carried guns to protect themselves from potential lynchers. Their mission was to report the lynching against all odds. The intrepid Afro team drove from Baltimore to Princess Anne (an almost 400 mile round trip in the era before the construction of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge). One there the reporters interviewed Armwood’s mother, helped bury Armwood’s body, interviewed local black leaders, and attended the coroner’s inquest.[@farrar_baltimore_1998]
October 28, 1933: Euel Lee executed
1936: Governor Nice speech at City-Wide Young People’s Forum
On Feb 22, 1936, the Baltimore Sun reported on how the Young People’s Forum “Launches Drive for police Appointments,” writing:
“In a spirited meeting to which it had invited George Brennan, white, secretary to Comissioner Charles Gaither [… incomplete transcription]”
In a speech before the City-Wide Young People’s Forum, Governor Nice promised to appoint a police commissioner who would not discriminate against black people in hiring police officers.[@farrar_baltimore_1998]
In Street Justice: A History of Police Violence in New York City historian Marilynn S. Johnson noted:
“In the landmark Brown v. Mississippi case in 1936, however, the Supreme Court excluded the confessions of three black murder suspects who had been tortured by Mississippi police. In a horrific case of racist southern justice, police openly admitted whipping the defendants and stringing up one of them on a lynch rope to force a confession. Shocked by this brutal treatment, the justices were even more outraged that the Mississippi high court had condoned such police torture. In ruling the confessions inadmissible, the court extended the common law rule to state and local cases under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In the 1940s, the Supreme Court expanded this precedent to cases involving prolonged police grilling and psychological coercion as well.”
December 1937: Baltimore Police appoint Violet Hill Whyte as the first black police officer
Baltimore Police Department hires Violet Hill Whyte as the first black police officer.
July 1938: Police Commissioner William Lawson appoints the first black male police officers
Police Commissioner William Lawson appointed Walter T. Eubanks, Jr., Harry S. Scott, Milton Gardner, and J. Hiram Butler, Jr., from a list of police candidates. The three officers were forced only to wear plain-clothes (a policy similar to Louisville, KY which appointed plain-clothes black police officers in 1928). Anticipating this change, the League of Colored Republican Voters had sponsored a school to prepare blacks Baltimoreans for the police examination.[@farrar_baltimore_1998]
February 21, 1942: Police officer Edward R. Bender kills Thomas Broadus
On February 7, 1942, the Afro reported on the death of Thomas Broadus after he was shot and killed by Edward R. Bender:
In the presence of scores of persons who were passing along Baltimore’s busy Pennsylvania Avenue late Saturday night, Patrolman Edward Bender, Northwestern district officer, shot and killed Private Thomas Broadus, 26, Pittsburgh, a member of the 1322nd Service Unit at Fort George G. Meade. Witnesses said that Patrolman Bender (who is the same policeman that killed Charles Parker, 24, of 217 Colvin Street, February 14, 1940) then keep the crowd at bay by brandishing his revolver until other policeman arrived in several radio cars. The unconscious form of the soldier, drafted nine months ago, was placed in a patrol wagon, witnesses said, and taken to Provident Hospital, where it was pronounced dead five minutes after being admitted.
By late April of 1942, protests over the shooting sparked Baltimore Civil Rights advocates to organize the March on Annapolis with around 1,800 African Americans traveling to the state capital to protest police brutality and racial discrimination. The march forced the Baltimore police to appoint the city’s first uniformed black police officers and led Governor Herbert R. O’Conor to appoint a statewide Commission on Problems Affecting the Negro Population.
On May 9, 1942, the Afro reported – “Mrs. Bauernschmidt Urges Uniformed Colored Police, Member on School Board” – writing:
“The following is the speech given by Mrs. Marie O. Bauernschmidt, white, over Station WBAL on Monday evening, the fourth in a series of weekly talks made over the station”
On September 25, 1942, the Afro reported that the commission released a report urging the Bender case to be reopened:
Charging that there is prima facie evidence that the killing by Patrolman Edward R. Bender, of the Northwestern district, of a Negro soldier last February “was unlawful,” a subcommittee of the State Commission to Study Colored Problems yesterday recommended the case be resubmitted to the grand jury. In a report highly critical of the administration of Robert F. Stanton as Police Commissioner, the subcommittee also characterized as “unsatisfactory” the handling of the case by J. Bernard Wells, State’s Attorney.
1943: Black police officers placed in uniform assignments
In the summer of 1944, Baltimore’s first police (segregated white) boys’ club moved into the upper floors of the Southwestern District Police Station serving around 120 boys from eight to eighteen years old every day during the first few weeks after they opened. Police Commissioner Hamilton Atkinson placed the three of original four black officers into uniformed appointments, appointed two to begin patrolling in East Baltimore.^[See Explore Baltimore Heritage story on the Old Southwestern District Police Station.]
The city started four boys’ clubs in the 1940s, with a segregated facility for black children at the Northwestern District Police Station on Gold Street.
May 16, 1946: Wilbur Bundley shot and killed by patrolman Walter J. Weber
On June 10, 1946, the Baltimore Sun reported on the organized protests in response to the shooting of Wilbur Bundley by patrolman Walter J. Weber:
Calling for a more militant attitude by the Negroes of Baltimore in the maintenance of their constitutional rights and privileges, speakers at a meeting held in Leadenhall Baptist Church yesterday afternoon charged the city’s police with brutality toward both white and Negro citizens.
The speakers who included Leo V. Miller, a white member of the board of Crownsville State Hospital for Negroes, based their charge largely on the death of Wilbur Bundley, Negro, shot fatally on May 19 by Patrolman Walter J. Weber of the Southern district police. […]
Addison S. Pinkney, executive secretary of the Baltimore branch of the N.A.A.C.P., which, with the Citizens League of South Baltimore, sponsored yesterday’s meeting, said “We believe this case will stop police brutality in Baltimore both against whites and Negroes.”
“We serve notice on the authorities that we now are acting as a group and not as individuals” […] “This is the first case in the city where the force of the Negro population can be shown,” he added. “This is the best case we ever had.”
On June 9, 1946, a meeting at the Leadenhall Baptist Church in South Baltimore rallied citizens concerned about police brutality, as the Sun reported:
Calling for a more militant attitude by the Negroes of Baltimore in the maintenance of their constitutional rights and privileges, speakers at a meeting held in Leadenhall Baptist Church yesterday afternoon charged the city’s police with brutality toward both…
On August 22, 1946, George Cochran Doub campaigned as a Republican for the office of attorney general and highlighted the “too many complaints of brutality by policemen in Baltimore” as a violation of Citizens’ Rights. Doub eventually served as the United States Attorney for Maryland from 1953 to 1956. He then became the Assistant Attorney General responsible for the Justice Department’s civil division during President Eisenhower’s second term.
By 1950, the department had hired fifty black police officers hired and, upon Atkinson’s retirement in May 1950, the Afro praised his tenure as “one devoted to serving all regardless of race”[@farrar_baltimore_1998]
On May 16, 1950, a delegation of black Baltimoreans approached city police Commissioner Ober charging police brutality and identifying 16 cases for investigation, as the Sun reported:
Protests were made yesterday to Commissioner Beverly Ober regarding alleged Instances of police brutality in recent handling of Negro prisoners.
1954 – 1968
The Baltimore Jail expanded substantially during this period. In 1952, Baltimore voters approved a $6 million loan to build a new facility but, after concern over the proposed location near City Hospital (now Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center), the city opted to renovate the existing building. Work began on the planned $2 million project in 1962 requiring, according to the Baltimore Sun the “destruction of the interior of the building and the refacing of the exterior” to build a “gym, offices, and other improvements to accommodate an inmate population of 1,500.” The new expansion ultimately cost $3.8 million. Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin spoke at the dedication ceremony in 1967, noting:
“building a new structure is not enough. We need substantiative rehabilitation programs for these men. … They are an essential part of any crime-fighting program.”
June 22, 1964: Louis C. Petty dies after beating by police officers Glen Russell and Joseph Mulling
On June 23, 1964, the Baltimore Sun reported on the death of Louis C. Petty from injuries following a beating by two Baltimore City police officers:
A 44-year-old man, injured in a scuffle with a policeman Saturday, died last night, bringing demands from a city councilman for an investigation into charges of police brutality and protests from neighbors who witnessed the fray. The patrolman, Glen Russell, of the Southwestern district, was temporarily suspended by Chief Inspector George J. Murphy. Delegate Clarence M. Mitchell 3d (D., Fourth), said he had testimony from about fifteen eyewitnesses swearing that Patrolman Russell and Patrolman Joseph Mulling had beaten Louis C. Petty, 44, a Negro, of the 500 block Edgewood street, after they had arrested and handcuffed him. […] Petty died of head injuries yesterday afternoon in Franklin Square Hospital.
July 11, 1964: Vernon Leopold shot and killed by William Ray
On July 11, 1964, Vernon Leopold was shot and killed by Baltimore police officer William Ray, as the Baltimore Sun reported on July 18:
Vernon Leopold, 28, was the Negro shot July 11 by Patrolman William Ray, 31, a veteran of 10 years on the Baltimore force. Police said Ray was attacked by Leopold. The NAACP said Ray provoked Leopold.
On July 31, the Baltimore Sun reported on the testimony at a preliminary hearing on a charge of homicide against William Ray:
Defense and prosecution witnesses differed sharply yesterday on the question as to whether Patrolman William Ray was drunk July 11 when he shot and killed 28-year-old Vernon Leopold. A day-long stream of witnesses poured into an unusual hearing in Central Municipal Court that was partially designed to meet the mounting criticism against secret grand jury hearings of cases involving the use of police force against private citizens during arrests.
Witnesses and police officials who testified notably disagreed on whether William Ray was drunk at the time of shooting and on his role in provoking the conflict. Charges against William Ray were dismissed on July 31. The Maryland Conference of the NAACP responded by calling for a federal investigation of the Baltimore City Police Department, passing a resolution summarized by the Baltimore Sun on August 2:
Statements made on the character of Negro witnesses during the extraordinary twenty-hour preliminary hearing on homicide charges against Patrolman William Ray were criticized in yesterday’s resolution as: “…a deliberate effort to discredit the entire Negro community by creating the false impression that its leaders are without principle.” The patrolman’s attorney, Paul Berman, in his summation of his case, called the State’s witnesses “murderers, cutthroats, thieves… and now, deliberate, inspired, manufactured perjurers.”
On December 4, 1961, the Baltimore City Council initiated an investigation into alleged racial discrimination in the city’s Police Boys Clubs.
On September 18, 1962, the Baltimore Sun reported on demands by a N.A.A.C.P. Aide who sought a “Governor’s Group Like ‘42 Unit” writing:
Appointment of a blue-ribbon commission to investigate complaints of police brutality and discrimination against Negroes was demanded yesterday by an integrationist leader.
On October 10, 1965, the Baltimore Sun reported on the promotion of black officer Dennis P. Mello as the first African-American to be given the rank of captain:
Baltimore’s first Negro police captain, Dennis P. Mello, has attained his new rank and new position as head of the Westem police district because he is a Negro. Rather than as an exercise in reverse racial discrimination, his promotion may be viewed as an enlightened community experiment…
In 1966, the Baltimore City police finally became “fully integrated” according to the Baltimore Police History site that notes:
Prior to 1966, African American officers were limited to foot patrols as they were barred from the use of squad cars. These officers were quarantined in rank, barred from patrolling in white neighbourhoods, and would often only be given specialty assignments in positions in the Narcotics division or as undercover plainclothes officers. […] During this time African American officers were subject to racial slurs from white co-workers during roll call, and encountered degrading racial graffiti in the very districts/units they were assigned. During this time period, two future police commissioners of Baltimore, Bishop L. Robinson and Edward J. Tilghman were amongst Baltimore’s African American police officers.
In July 1967, again according to Baltimore Police History, the Baltimore City Police established the first of four “Community Relations Store Front Operations” noting, “The purpose of these centers is to reach the community on an intimate basis. This was the first such project in the Northeastern region of the United States.”
1968 – 1976
1971: Vanguard Justice Society founded
The Baltimore Police History site that notes:
In 1971, the Vanguard Justice Society was founded, an organization representing the rights and interests of the department’s African American officers. Throughout the 1970s, more African Americans advanced in the department with Black officers holding the positions of district commanders and chief of patrol. In 1984, in a political move by Mayor Donald Schaefer to give the majority African American population more power in the city, Bishop L. Robinson was named as Baltimore’s Police Commissioner. Robinson was the first African American police officer to command the department which was previously controlled by Irish American and Italian American police officers. Robinson was also the force’s first Black officer to command the Eastern District and the Patrol Division.
On August 31, 1969, the Baltimore Sun reported on protests by young people concerned about harassment by the police:
Two groups of Baltimore youths, who say they are denied places to congregate at night and are then harassed by police for loitering, marched in picket lines in two parts of the city yesterday.
In 1969, the Baltimore Community Relations Commission separated from the Police Department then, in 1974, rejoined the Complaint Evaluation Board, as the Baltimore Sun reported:
In a move to heal a longstanding rift with the Police Department, the Baltimore Community Relations Commission yesterday voted to rejoin on a trial basis the department’s Complaint Evaluation Board.
On July 27, 1971, according to Baltimore Police History website
the Community Relations and Youth Divisions were combined into a new division known as the Community Services Division. The creation of this division and the resulting centralization of Administrative functions provides an effective channel of communication between the Police Officer and the community he serves. The major thrust of our expanded Community Services function is aimed at our young people. It is the Division’s job to keep clear the channel of communication between officers and the community. The accomplishment of this mi88ion is aided by the division’s two Summer Camp operations located at Camp Perkins and Camp Ritchie. Also, our Officer Friendly Program geared for its first full year of operation.
In 1972, according to the Baltimore Sun “two black guards were promoted to captain at the Baltimore City Jail — the first such promotions in the jail’s history. By that year, 60 percent of the facility’s guards were black.”
Between 1968 and 1974, the Baltimore Police Department Inspectional Services Division (ISD) kept the homes of Parren Mitchell and other African-American politicians and activists under surveillance, illegally bugged home and office telephones, and placed paid informers in congressional campaigns. Beginning in 1971, Parren Mitchell began calling for the resignation of Baltimore Police Commissioner Donald Pomerleau. When the ISD surveillance program (and its close ties to the FBI) were revealed, Congressman Mitchell extended his criticism to the ISD.
After Pomerleau’s death in 1992, journalist Michael Olesker shared a memory of how the Police Commissioner tried to explain away the program and encourage Olesker to drop his investigation in a 1974 conversation:
…Pomerleau sitting behind his big desk, his head cocked to one side, and he said: “I know you’ve been told we’re collecting personal information on…” and he named several prominent politicians. “Forget it,” he said. ‘We’re not doing that.’ ‘Wait a minute,’ I said. ‘Are you telling me you’re not collecting personal information on any politicians?’ And here is precisely what Donald Pomerleau replied: ‘Just the blacks. Just the blacks. Just the blacks.’
Olesker continued his recollection: “I sat there not believing my ears: Not merely because he was verifying these acts but because, in his arrogance, he would assume he could tell me about it because we shared a skin tone. It was a lie, by the way. His minions were collecting stuff on all sorts of community leaders, and skin color didn’t much matter.”
1976 – Present
In Street Justice: A History of Police Violence in New York City historian Marilynn S. Johnson described the creation of new regulations in New York restricting the use of deadly force in 1972:
The positive experience of the NYPD and other departments that adopted such restrictions helped convince the Supreme Court to ban police use of deadly force against unarmed nonviolent suspects in its 1985 decision in Tennessee v. Garner. Based on Fourth Amendment protections against bodily seizure, the ruling invalidated laws in roughly half the states that permitted police to shoot unarmed nonviolent felons.
On August 23, 1978, the Baltimore Sun reported:
The Baltimore Community Relations Commission has scheduled a meeting with Mayor Schaefer and two days of public hearings to consider an apparent doubling of citizens complaints of police brutality and discourtesy.