By Duane Paul Murphy
Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis discussed the 2015 Baltimore riots over Freddie Gray’s death and the impact it has on the city of Baltimore, at the Pryzbyla Center on Tuesday evening. The event was moderated by associate professor of sociology Brandon Vaidyanathan and organized by the university’s Institute for Human Ecology.
Prior to becoming Baltimore’s 39th Police Commissioner in 2015, Davis was assistant chief of police for more than 20 years at the Prince George’s County Police Department between 1992 and 2013, and chief of police at the Anne Arundel County Police Department from 2013 to 2014. Davis was fired in 2018 by the city’s mayor Catherine E. Pugh due to recent increases in homicides citywide.
Davis discussed his early years as a policeman during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s when urban crime, violence, and illegal drug abuse were high, especially in the DMV and Baltimore metropolitan areas. Davis highlighted that zero tolerance policing, extreme toughness on crime policies, and over-policing in lower income and non-white neighborhoods were likely to widen the trust gap between police authorities and these particular communities. Davis also believes that historical housing and business development discrimination against poor and non-white communities in Baltimore. He referred the troubled eastern and western portions of the city as “violent kidneys.”
When bringing up the recent 2015 riots, Davis admitted that after years of trust issues between police and non-white communities of color, the causes of riots were “an awakening of sorts that policing, at least in a city like Baltimore, had been getting it wrong for far too long and there was a collective awakening to do things differently” when it comes to improving public safety. Davis also discussed the impact the riots and Gray’s death had on similar cases nationwide including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Gardner in New York City, and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
During the question and answer portion of the event, when asked if abolishing housing and business development discrimination would curb income and racial inequalities, Davis said that despite these policies being abolished decades ago, segregation between working class non-white communities and upper middle or middle class white communities continue to exist.
Students in attendance enjoyed Davis’ perspective on policing and public safety as well as the status of urban living nationwide.
“This conference appeared really interesting to me as it helped me better my understanding of this event, which was also covered by the French media,” said French foreign exchange undergraduate student Marine Joclas. “I also liked the way Mr. Davis outlined not only the situational and cyclical factors, but also the structural ones, which helps me contrast them with the mechanisms resulting in the 2005 French riots.”