Sanders compares poverty in Baltimore to ‘Palestine’


Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a campaign stop in Baltimore compared poverty in areas of the city to conditions “in the West Bank in Palestine.”

“Poverty in Baltimore, and around this country, is a death sentence,” Sanders, the Independent governor of Vermont, said Saturday. RealClearPolitics published a video of the speech on its website.

“Fifteen neighborhoods in Baltimore have lower life expectancies than North Korea. Two have a higher infant mortality rate than the West Bank in Palestine… Baltimore teenagers between the ages of fifteen and nineteen face poorer health conditions and a worse economic outlook than those in distressed cities in Nigeria, India, China and South Africa,” Sanders said.

Maryland is one of five states holding primary elections on Tuesday. In addition to Maryland, voters will go to the polls in Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

How Jews are trying to make things better after Baltimore


From roundtable discussions to protests and prayers to candid talk with law enforcement officials, American Jewish communities are joining in the debate about community policing in the wake of several high-profile deaths of unarmed black men while in police custody.

Officials were short on specifics, but several told JTA that protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray on April 19 have sparked a determination to confront the tensions between police and minority communities.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella public policy body, last week called for a “new national conversation” about police tactics.

“At this critical time in our nation’s history it is abundantly clear that a conversation not only needs to be had between law enforcement and disenfranchised communities — particularly the African American community, but within our own communities,” JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow said in a statement.

In several communities, Jewish organizations with strong ties to both the African-American community and law enforcement see themselves as well positioned to help bridge differences.

In Baltimore, where violent protests led the mayor to impose a curfew on the city for several days following Gray’s death, the local chapter of Jews United for Justice appealed to its members in the legal profession to volunteer “as a legal observer, jail care, or hotline volunteer” during the protests.

In Detroit, the Michigan Round Table, an umbrella body for minorities in which local Jewish groups take part, called an emergency meeting following the Baltimore protests. Heidi Budaj, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the meeting was mainly an opportunity to share reactions to what was unfolding in the Maryland city.

“These incidents are bringing to the forefront in our discussions feelings that may have been hidden for many, many years,” Budaj said. “All of us want to resolve any issues before it turns into Ferguson or Baltimore.”

Through its various law enforcement training programs addressing bias and hate crimes, among other topics, the ADL has long forged close relations with local police departments. At its national conference here over the weekend, the ADL featured a session about police-community relations and the organization’s role in improving them.

In Detroit, Budaj said the Jewish community is also part of a coalition, Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust, that has held monthly meetings with area police about police brutality and other “touchy issues.” The group rallied members, including 14 rabbis from Baltimore and Washington, to join in protests in Baltimore on May 1.

In Ferguson, a city near St. Louis, protests following the shooting last summer of Michael Brown by a local police officer were a major catalyst for a renewed national debate about police relations with the African-American community.

“What we’re focusing on is healing what’s broken and building a St. Louis that is safe, equal and just for all,” said Batya Abramson-Goldstein, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in St. Louis, which helps organize an annual 9/11 commemorative concert that last year made reconciliation its focus.

The Ferguson protests also drew attention to the increased militarization of local police departments.

“To suggest we need police looking like they did in Ferguson, it’s outrageous,” Gutow said. “When you see the blue uniform of police it should be a sign of friendship.”

The expanded availability of military-grade hardware to local police departments coincided with a growing concern about counterterrorism following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. John Cohen, who until last year was a senior counterterrorism official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the war footing adopted by police departments after the attacks put community policing on the back burner.

After race riots in the early 1990s, “there really was a broad and energized movement within the policing discipline to expand local community cooperation focused on preventing crime, improving life,” said Cohen, now a professor at Rutgers University’s School of Criminal Justice in New Jersey who is helping to direct a project examining attacks on faith communities. But after 9/11, he said, “there was a shift in priorities.”

Jewish groups “benefited greatly” from the shift, according to Paul Goldenberg, the director of the Secure Community Network, the security arm of the national Jewish community. Concerned that Jewish institutions were prime targets for terrorism, Jewish groups won significant grant money from the Department of Homeland Security — including 97 percent of all funds doled out in 2012 under the department’s Non-Profit Security Grant Program, according to a report that year in the Forward.

Goldenberg praised law enforcement agencies for the “extraordinary amount of time” spent assisting Jewish communities. A degree of militarization was inevitable, he said, to face terrorists at home and abroad.

“Police officers a decade ago were carrying 357s with six shots and rounds on heir belts, and they found themselves being confronted by adversaries with automatic weapons,” Goldenberg said. “The paradigm has changed.”

Six Baltimore cops charged in death of Gray, one with murder


A Baltimore police officer was charged with murder and five others with lesser charges in the death of a black man who suffered a critical neck injury while riding inside a police van, the city's chief prosecutor said on Friday.

Freddie Gray, who died in hospital a week after his arrest on April 12, was in handcuffs and shackles but otherwise was not restrained inside the van, a violation of police department policy, prosecutor Marilyn Mosby said at a news conference.

The Maryland state medical examiner had ruled Gray's death a homicide, Mosby said. The officer charged with murder was the driver of the vehicle. She said the officers failed to give Gray the medical attention he asked for and that his arrest was unlawful.

The death of 25-year-old Gray has become the latest flashpoint in a national outcry over the treatment of African-Americans and other minority groups by U.S. law enforcement.

“To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America, I heard your call for 'no justice, no peace.' Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man,” said Mosby, a 35-year-old African-American who took office in January.

The decision to bring charges and the speed at which Mosby made the announcement, a day after the police department handed over an internal report, seemed to catch Baltimore and the country by surprise.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said five of the six officers were under arrest.

The charges brought jubilation and relief to people on the streets of West Baltimore, the neighborhood where angry people looted, burned cars and clashed with police on Monday night.

“I am shocked that they were charged but I am happy they were charged,” said James Crump, 46, a medical technician. “People are happy and celebrating, and it's not even New Year's Eve.”

Baltimore endured a night of rioting after Gray's funeral on Monday, and protests spread to other major cities in a reprise of demonstrations set off by police killings last year of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, New York and elsewhere.

After Mosby spoke, members of the gang Bloods, Crips and Black Guerrilla Family stood at the center of a Baltimore intersection holding up bandannas tied together to show unity. Gang members were part of a force of volunteer peace keepers after Monday's violence.

RANGE OF CHARGES

Charges against the six police officers range from second-degree “depraved heart” murder to manslaughter to assault and misconduct in office.

Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., the driver of the police vehicle, faces a maximum penalty of 30 years if convicted on the murder count. Other offenses carry prison terms of between three years to 10 years.

Goodson also faces a charge of involuntary manslaughter, as are three others: Sgt. Alicia D. White, Officer William G. Porter and Lt. Brian Rice. All six face lesser charges, including Officer Edward M. Nero and Officer Garrett E. Miller.

In Ferguson and New York last year, grand juries decided against charging officers who were involved in the deaths of two unarmed black men. The news triggered rioting in the St. Louis suburb and days of protest marches in New York and other cities.

President Barack Obama took the unusual step of commenting on charges in an open case, highlighting the importance that the issue of police conduct toward minority groups has assumed over the past year.

“It is absolutely vital that the truth comes out in what happened to Freddie Gray,” Obama said. “I think what the people in Baltimore want more than anything else is the truth. That's what people in our country expect.”

Mosby promptly rejected a call by the union representing the officers for the appointment of a special prosecutor.

In an open letter, the Fraternal Order of Police, Baltimore City Lodge No. 3, said Mosby had conflicts of interest because she is married to a city councilman with political aspirations and knows a Gray family lawyer. The union said the officers were only doing their jobs and were not responsible for Gray's death.

Representatives of Gray's family were not immediately available for comment.

MEDICAL EXAMINER RULES DEATH A HOMICIDE

Mosby said the fatal injury occurred after the van stopped to allow officers to remove Gray, shackle his legs and put him back inside, one of four stops between the arrest and the van's arrival at the a booking center. Officers failed to secure Gray in seat restraints at every stage of the ride, she said.

“Mr. Gray suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained inside of the BPD wagon,” said Mosby, whose family includes generations of law enforcement officers.

Gray was no longer breathing when he was finally removed from the van, Mosby said. She also said that Gray's arrest was illegal. Officers had said that he was carrying a switchblade knife in violation of the law, but the prosecutor said it was in fact a folding knife that was legal to carry.

Mosby said her office had been conducting a parallel investigation while awaiting the findings of the internal police probe.

Baltimore begins clean-up after riot over police-custody death


Baltimore residents on Tuesday began to clear the wreckage of rioting and fires that erupted after the funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died in police custody, while the city's mayor defended local law enforcement's light initial response.

Acrid smoke hung over streets where violence broke out just blocks from Freddie Gray's funeral and spread through much of the poor West Baltimore neighborhood. Nineteen buildings and 144 vehicles were set on fire, and 202 people were arrested, according to the mayor's office.

Police said 15 officers were injured, six seriously, in Monday's unrest, which spread throughout the city as police initially looked on but did not interfere as rioters torched vehicles and later businesses.

Looters had ransacked stores, pharmacies and a shopping mall and clashed with police in riot gear in the most violent unrest in the United States since Ferguson, Missouri, was torn by gunshots and arson in late 2014.

Gray's death gave new energy to the public outcry that flared last year after police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, New York City and elsewhere.

“It's a very delicate balancing act, when we have to make sure that we're managing but not increasing and escalating the problem,” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told reporters on Tuesday.

Police in Ferguson came under intense criticism last year for quickly adopting a militarized posture, using armored vehicles, showing heavy weapons and deploying tear gas in a forceful response that some said escalated tensions in the St. Louis suburb.

New York's police department took a more flexible approach in protests later in the year, monitoring marches that crisscrossed the city but largely averting the kind of violence seen in Ferguson and Baltimore.

For nearly a week after Gray died from a spinal injury on April 19, protests in Baltimore had been peaceful.

'HERE TO HELP OUT, MAN'

On Tuesday, volunteers in Baltimore swept up charred debris in front of a CVS pharmacy as dozens of police officers in riot gear stood by and firefighters worked to damp down the embers.

“I'm just here to help out, man,” said Shaun Boyd, 30, as he swept up broken glass. “It's the city I'm from.”

National Guard troops on Tuesday began to stage around the city, including in front of the police station where officers were bringing Gray at the time he was injured.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, declared a state of emergency on Monday and Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, imposed a one-week curfew in the largely black city starting Tuesday night, with exceptions for work and medical emergencies.

Baltimore-based fund manager T. Rowe Price Group Inc said it would close its downtown office on Tuesday. Legg Mason, also headquartered downtown, said its office would be open, but it was encouraging employees to work from home.

Schools were closed on Tuesday in the city of 620,000 people, 40 miles (64 km) from the nation's capital.

A day after rioters hit a mall in West Baltimore, the Security Square Mall outside the city closed after reports that protesters could be targeting it.

“When you see the destruction you've also got to realize there's pain, there's pain behind a lot of this,” said U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat who represents the region hit by the rioting.

The mayor, he said, should “assure us that the police department be looked at from top to bottom, everything from parking tickets straight up to indictments for murder.”

CAUGHT OFF-GUARD

Gray was arrested on April 12 while running from officers. He was transported to the police station in a van, with no seat restraint and suffered the spinal injury that led to his death a week later. A lawyer for Gray's family says his spine was 80 percent severed at the neck while in custody.

Six officers have been suspended, and the U.S. Justice Department is investigating possible civil rights violations.

Much of Monday's rioting occurred in a neighborhood where more than a third of families live in poverty. Parts of it had not been rebuilt since the 1968 rioting that swept across the United States after the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

Deadly confrontations between mostly white U.S. police and black men, and the subsequent unrest, will be among the challenges facing U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who was sworn in on Monday and condemned the “senseless acts of violence.”

In 1992, more than 50 people in Los Angeles were killed in violence set off by the acquittal of four police officers who beat black motorist Rodney King. Dozens died in 1968 riots.

Rashid Khan, 49, and his neighbors were cleaning up his King's Grocery Mart on Tuesday after looters caused what he estimated at $20,000 to $30,000 in damage.

Khan said he believed people from outside the neighborhood had caused the damage.

“Neighborhood protect me,” Khan said.