As a Baltimore resident in good standing with no criminal record, I've dutifully shown up for jury duty year after year. It's not something I'm longing to do — I have no burning desire to stand in judgment of someone accused of wrongdoing. But someone has to do it. I show up ready to do my duty under our law. Why not? We've got the best justice system in the world, right?
I've never been chosen to serve on a jury, though. I don't know what it is; maybe I look like the type of person who wouldn't "understand" the defendant. I'm middle-aged and probably look like I'm not going to be easily persuaded one way or the other without substantial facts.
The last time I showed up for jury duty, we were called to a courtroom with the possibility of being selected for the jury for a case ready to be tried. The judge asked all of us this question: "Would you tend to believe a police officer's testimony over a defendant's testimony?"
Several people raised their hands. They were immediately dismissed. I've talked to a lot of people who show up to serve for jury duty, and most, if not all, do not want to serve. Some told me how to get out of it — when the judge asks if anyone will judge anyone on the basis of race, or have a problem with the police, they said to stand up and say "yes," and you'll be dismissed.
I did not raise my hand when asked by the judge if I would tend to believe police officers over what the defendant said. That's because I believe I'm fair, even though in truth, I'd tend to give weight to the police officer. Let's be honest, who do you believe, the good guy or the bad guy? After all, even though people are innocent until proven guilty, I've always thought it was hard not to give some credibility to an officer of the law.
After the latest developments with our police force, I'm not so sure. Recently, a Baltimore policeman, Officer Daniel G. Redd, was arrested and charged with conducting heroin deals while in uniform at the Northwest District Station. Not only that, but Officer Redd has been under suspicion for years. And this week, the head of the city's Internal Affairs Division — an old buddy of Officer Redd — was replaced.
As many as 50 officers may have been involved in a kickback scheme with a towing company that has led to the dismissal and indictment of 17 Baltimore policemen, several of whom have pleaded guilty. In 2006, a police sergeant and six plainclothes officers in the Southeastern District were accused of embellishing or making up cases to obtain arrest warrants. None of the officers were charged with crimes, and it's unclear what, if anything, happened with the internal investigation.
I know, or hope, that most police officers are performing their duties by the strict letter of the law and are truly out there to serve and protect. My hat's off to them. But the cases of corruption in the department threaten to eliminate any presumption of trust the public has for police officers — and to take down our entire criminal justice system with it.
I am a supporter of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, but she needs to put a stop to police criminal activity now. Swift and strict disciplinary action is in order. Police corruption is a spreading cancer on our city and has to be eradicated. The mayor needs to stop the internal investigations, take police suspected of wrongdoing off the street and slam them with a tough outside investigation. She needs to pull corruption out by the roots and make an example of any police profiting off their position for all the world to see.
Until she does, yes, I'll show up for jury duty. I'll stand up and tell the judge I don't believe anyone. I'll probably be put on the jury and be elected the jury foreman and come back with a verdict of: "We find no one guilty and wish no harm to anyone because we don't believe anyone anymore."
Tom Fink lives in Baltimore. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.