Root and branch

I’m sure most of you have heard the legend that Scipio Aemilianus sowed the fields of Carthage with salt at the end of the Third Punic War (c. 146 BC) to ensure that nothing would ever grow there again. This is, as you probably also knew, fiction, a legend invented in the 19th century as far as anybody can tell. Not only would ruining arable land have been an incredibly stupid thing for the constantly grain-hungry Romans to have done, but we know that Carthage was rebuilt on the same site by Julius Caesar, and by the late imperial period it was the second-largest city in the western half of the empire. Needless to say, that couldn’t have happened if the surrounding farmland was no longer able to yield crops. There was, apparently, an earlier Near Eastern ritual about throwing salt (or earth, or weeds) on the ruins of a conquered city–but there’s no indication that this was done systematically in order to ruin the city’s farmland (which, again, would have been pretty dumb–fertile land was too valuable to waste). Nevertheless, “salting the earth” has become a metaphor for completely eradicating a thing so that nothing can grow in its wake.

I mention this only to say that somebody needs to tear the Baltimore Police Department out by the roots and then salt the earth behind them. If this Justice Department report is even half accurate, it’s going to take some massive work to completely rebuild the culture of the department. Here’s a taste:

Officers frequently used excessive force in situations that did not call for aggressive measures, the report said, and routinely retaliated against residents who were criticizing or being disrespectful of police for exercising their right to free speech and free assembly.

The report found that officers used excessive force against individuals with mental health disabilities or in crisis. Because of “a lack of training and improper tactics,” police ended up in “unnecessarily violent confrontations with these vulnerable individuals,” the report said.

It noted that officers used unreasonable force against juveniles as well, often relying on the “same aggressive tactics they use with adults.”

The investigation concluded that deeply entrenched problems were allowed to fester because the department did not properly oversee, train or hold officers accountable. For example, the report said, the department lacks systems to deter and detect improper conduct, and it fails to collect and analyze data that might root out abuses or abusers.

Most of the headlines from the report have to do with charges of departmental racism and excessive use of force, seeing as how this investigation was prompted by the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, but the excerpts that caught my eye on Twitter had to do with sexual assault cases:

These aren’t isolated bad apples; it’s the department that’s rotten.


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