Monday, September 20, 2010

The State's Attorney's election: what was at stake?

It's a bright new day in Baltimore. Gregg Bernstein, a white Jewish guy, won the State's Attorney's election, despite running in a city which is 65% African-American. And, in one of life's ironies, his incumbent opponent conceded on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur--the day of Atonement.

So, what was at stake, and what was it portending for Baltimore's future? Well, if Ms. Jessamy, the incumbent, had won, we would have gotten at least 4 more years of criminal "processing". Many, but not all, serious crimes were treated as paperwork to be processed. If one believed Page Croyder, a former State's Attorney, she had no interest in the war room--a regular meeting where, supposedly, the players in the criminal justice system came together to try to figure out how to combat these dangerous, repeated criminals which were destroying neighborhoods in our city and our poor, beleaguered city's reputation.

Buz also put a sign for Bernstein in the front yard of his North Baltimore row house, since he is not the police commissioner, he was able to do it without any controversy. I voted for (along with my beautiful wife) Bernstein, and supported him, because, in addition to the factors above:
  • Ms. Jessamy always seemed to be in a nasty, killer/attack mode. She looked like she was not a nice person and not easy to deal with.
  • And though I have compassion for her coming of age during the civil rights movement, with her, as with Faulkner, the past never seemed to be dead--it wasn't even past. She seemed to believe that all defendants were victims of society and police mistreatment. That the police must cross all the T's and dot all the i's, or she would not proceed. She did this in the face of overwhelming evidence that hardened, nasty criminals would most often target black people with vicious crimes, and intimidation--discounting the safety of the people she was sworn to protect.
  • She publicly announced how many "servings" of illegal drugs would have to be possessed by a defendant before she would proceed with charges of felony distributing--even if the drugs were sold to an undercover police officer or an informant. If you didn't have or sell x number, well, it was simple possession. And all the druggies, and their lawyers, knew it.
  • Her posturing, through her spokeswoman, about the police making thousands of illegal arrests when, in fact, the arrests met the standard of probable cause (mostly), but the State's Attorney's office created the new category of "abated by arrest", did not prosecute a legal arrest, but felt the arrest and brief incarceration took care of the matter. The result: the vast majority of people arrested for crimes of disorder, leaving our city feeling unsafe and out of control, now believed they were "victims" of an evil, out-of-control, racist, police force. When her office was just managing the numbers, she made a goblin and enemy out of the cops--instead of ne'er do wells who mess things up for Baltimore's law-abiding residents--by dealing drugs, drinking, fighting, creating disturbances, littering, and urinating on the street.
  • She has never gotten along with any police commissioner--except, perhaps, to some extent with Lenny Hamm. All the rest were enemies--filled with incompetent staff.
  • She did not fire, or even publicly chastise, her spokeswoman, Margaret Burns, for her insensitive remarks around the plea-bargain of the killers of Zach Sowers. "he was sleeping like a baby" and "he may have hit his head on the bumper of a car". Extremely insensitive remarks, which had to be listened to by the victim's wife and family. (Now, poor ole Buz will go out on a limb and say that, in this case, he actually agreed with the plea bargain, because the state did not have much evidence at all, and we'd rather get a conviction for something than nothing at all--but Burns didn't say that.)
  • That she seemed to take no responsibility at all for the shortcomings of the criminal justice system in Baltimore--unlike the police commissioner, who often said we've got to work harder.
  • She assumed no leadership role in try to fix Baltimore's broken criminal justice system; "everything all right; we're doing a fine job!" seemed to be all she was saying. Most Baltimorons like me and the ones I talked to didn't seem to agree.