City Hall demonstrators want Frazier out But mayor's office backs embattled commissioner

October 02, 1998|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A small group of protesters demanded at a City Hall rally yesterday that Baltimore's police commissioner resign or be fired, charging that he has failed to address racism and targets black officers for termination.

A Police Department spokesman dismissed the suggestion, and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's office defended Commissioner Thomas Frazier.

The protest group -- which included a minister, two fired police officers and a candidate for state Senate -- said that if Frazier doesn't quit or is not fired, it will seek to oust Schmoke from office.

The mayor's spokesman said his boss will not resign and called the protesters' demands unfair.

At the noontime rally, protesters singled out Schmoke in their comments, and some held signs calling for Schmoke and Frazier to step down.

"I do not understand how we have African-Americans in charge of this city and we have racism," said the Rev. John L. Wright, a city activist.

Clarence M. Mitchell IV, who is running for the 44th District state Senate seat, added, "We are tired of asking Frazier questions that he lies to. We are demanding that the mayor fire him."

The protest came two days after the release of a deposition taken in April and July in which Frazier testified that racial discrimination exists on his 3,200-member force, which is 36 percent black. The commissioner's critics have seized upon the admission as a rallying point for change.

Schmoke was flying back from a trip yesterday and could not be reached for comment. But his spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman, strongly endorsed Frazier and said the mayor's resignation is out of the question.

"The record will show [Frazier] has made progress and taken steps to address racism," Coleman said. "It is way too soon to give up on this police commissioner."

He said Frazier should be credited for honesty. "Had he stood up in the deposition and said there is no problem, then I think people would have a reason to gripe. He admitted there is a problem. What's wrong with that?"

The Police Department's chief spokesman, Robert W. Weinhold Jr., called the resignation demand "completely irresponsible and unfair. Commissioner Frazier and his entire leadership team are taking very positive and measurable steps toward internal reform."

The Vanguard Justice Society, which represents black officers, distanced itself from the protesters. Its president, Sgt. George Hite, said the board of directors would have to vote on the matter before the group takes a position.

Among the protesters' complaints was what they believe is a disproportionate number of black officers who have been terminated for misconduct. Mitchell suggested that disciplinary hearings should be suspended and asked that every termination case dating to 1993 be reviewed to determine whether black officers were wrongly fired.

Frazier had suspended department trial boards for 18 months, starting in 1996; the hearings resumed in November.

Gary May, the department's chief legal counsel, said the protesters' claims are off target.

May said that in the past 10 months, 28 officers have been fired for misconduct or resigned because of pending disciplinary action. Fourteen were white, and 14 were black. Four officers -- one white and three black -- were found not guilty.

Prosecutors dropped cases against 23 other officers -- 16 involving black officers and seven involving white officers. Also, May said, discrimination cases have been sustained against five white officers -- three of whom the department will seek to fire.

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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