By Joel E. Gordon
“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” – Unknown
When earlier this year, former Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa – a thirty-year veteran of the department – made a brief speech to say he was sorry about how police have treated black communities since the nation’s founding at a hip-hop show of Eric B & Rakim, he surely wasn’t speaking for the majority of rank and file officers and their families who have sacrificed for the City of Baltimore, some of whom have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The police commissioner said while being booed by the crowd, “I want to take about 20 seconds to apologize for all the things the police have done dating back 200 years. Two hundred years ago all the way to civil rights. All the way to the ’80s where crack was prevalent in the cities and it affected disproportionately African-American men. All the way to the ’90s. All the way to the 2000s when we had zero tolerance. I want to take the time to apologize for what policing did and I promise you we’re going to make a change in the future.”
It should be noted that the Baltimore City Police Department in its current form was officially established by an act of the Maryland State Legislature on March 16, 1853, far less than 200 years ago. But I digress…
The news of the commissioner’s comments spread quickly and sent a shockwave throughout social media. Numerous retirees and former Baltimore police officers began posting their length of service to the City of Baltimore and its citizens to Facebook with hashtags such as #nothingtoapologizefor, #noapologies, #sorrynotsorry and #notmyapology
The chatter on social media regarding the speech given by Commissioner De Sousa apparently received the attention of the former commissioner himself. Commissioner De Sousa appeared to be inclined to make another apology, this time to past and present members of the Baltimore City Police Department. Commissioner De Sousa reportedly contacted both Baltimore Police Retired Benevolent Association President Daryl Buhrman and Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 President Gene Ryan regarding making amends for what he said. The former commissioner is reported to have said that he opened his mouth and the wrong words came out. Never ruin an apology with an excuse, especially such an unacceptable one.
Too little; Too late
During my time as a Baltimore City police officer, I stood with the great and sat with the broken. I worked, as did many of my fellow officers, to improve the quality of life in the areas of the city to which I was assigned. I counseled, consoled, fought (and with occasional personal injury) to help others and maintain order. I used the tools available to me to keep good law-abiding citizens safe and in the best living environment possible whether it was by arresting criminal offenders, clearing corners of loiterers in known open-air drug markets (now a consent decree violation), or monitoring the activity of known criminals including drug dealers, purse snatchers, and juvenile gang members. Crime reduction in my primary area of responsibility was my number one goal.
Unlike the former police commissioner, I was fortunate enough to never have had to use a level of force resulting in another’s death or involved in a police-involved shooting where an innocent bystander lost his life to a ricocheting bullet. I certainly was never forced to resign or indicted with failure to file U.S. Individual Tax Returns as was De Sousa, who’s charged with three misdemeanor counts.
Along with others, I know that my years of policing Baltimore’s inner city western district neighborhoods resulted in a positive, uplifting, not oppressive, outcome for the good, law-abiding citizens I served. I was one of the good guys. So were many others with whom I worked, learned from, mentored, and respected.
While some may had been willing to give the commissioner the benefit of a doubt as to his regret over his initial apology, I remained skeptical especially in the absence of a public repudiation of his initial remarks.
So to Darryl De Sousa, good riddance, the damage had already been done as a result of your ill-advised comments. I join the chorus of those who say although you may suddenly have had a newfound need to apologize for your or others’ career actions or for poor policy decisions or implementation by you or your predecessors, do not include me in the blanket apology for Baltimore and for policing that you made on the night of the hip-hop show.
In fact on many levels the City of Baltimore and its police department owes many apologies to me, my family, and other members of our large extended police family as does Darryl De Sousa… I have #nothingtoapologizefor
Joel E. Gordon is a proud former Field Training Officer with the Baltimore City Police Department and is a former Chief of Police for the city of Kingwood, West Virginia. He has also served as vice-chair of a regional narcotics task force. An award-winning journalist, he is author of the book Still Seeking Justice: One Officer’s Story and founded the Facebook group Police Authors Seeking Justice. Look him up at stillseekingjustice.com