Baltimore Police Forced Students Off Buses and Likely Violated Their 4Th Amendment Rights

Baltimore Riot Police
It is natural for animals, even highly-domesticated animals, to reach a point that they will lash out aggressively after being confined and abused. It is no different for human beings; even if they are not the direct target of abuse. Obviously people who have never been routinely targeted for abuse can say there is never an excuse for violence, especially against the authorities. However,  these are generally the same people who revere and praise so-called patriots for their acts of violence against England at the nation’s founding. For people of color who have either experienced or witnessed increasing law enforcement violence with impunity, it may seem like there is no recourse but to resort to violence; particularly if they are deliberately herded into an area and confined with the prospect of assault from riot-clad law enforcement.

After Baltimore police and a crowd of teens clashed near the Mondawmin Mall in northwest Baltimore after Freddie Gray’s funeral last week, conservative media reported the violence as a riot triggered by young thugs who spent the day looking for a reason to attack poor beleaguered, and entirely innocent, law enforcement. However, if mainstream media had reported what several school teachers and students’ parents saw with their own eyes, the public would be aware that police inflamed the situation and in fact, deliberately herded young people into a crowd they could use their riot gear against. To make matters worse, police likely violated many of the so-called rioters’ constitutional rights.

By the time schools released students at about 3:00 p.m. on the day of Freddie Gray’s funeral, police in riot gear had been assembled since about noon waiting for trouble. Several eyewitnesses in the Mondawmin neighborhood, including Frederick Douglass High School teachers and parents arriving to pick up their children from school, reported the riot police were stopping buses and forcing riders, including students who were trying to exit the area and get home, to disembark. The police also blockaded and shutdown roads in and around the Mondawmin Mall and Douglass High School which is across the street from the mall. Why?  To herd the young people, and corral them, into an area directly across from where riot police were gathered to prevent the after-school crowd from dispersing and flee the area.

A teacher at a school near the Mondawmin Mall and Frederick Douglass High School, Meghann Harris, described a scene that was corroborated by Douglass High teachers and parents. Harris reported that “police were forcing buses to stop and unload all their passengers. Then, Frederick Douglass High School students, in huge herds, were trying to leave on various buses but couldn’t catch any because they were all shut down. No kids were yet around except about 20, who were just standing around. The cops, on the other hand, were in full riot gear, marching toward any small social clique of students. It looked as if there were hundreds of cops.”

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One Douglass High School teacher, who was afraid to reveal their identity, shared a common story saying that “When school was winding down, many students were leaving early with their parents or of their own accord. Those who didn’t depart early were stranded. Many of the students still at school at that point wanted to get out of the area and avoid any violence. Some were requesting rides home from teachers. But by then, it was difficult to leave the neighborhood. I rode with another teacher home and we had to route our travel around the police in riot gear blocking the roads.”

One parent who picked up his children from a nearby school said that the kids who were stranded “across from the police were asking them ‘why can’t we get on the buses.’ The majority of those kids aren’t from around that neighborhood and they NEED those buses and trains in order to get home. If they (riot police) would’ve let the children go home, yesterday wouldn’t have even turned out like that.”

Yet another Baltimore teacher who was unafraid of revealing her identity, one Meg Gibson, described the same situation; “The riot police were already at the bus stop on the other side of the mall turning buses that transport the students away, not allowing students to board. They were waiting for the kids. Those kids were set up, they were treated like criminals before the first brick was thrown. With police unloading buses, and with the nearby metro station shut down, there were few ways for students to clear out.”

Now, according to a Supreme Court case there is something referred to as a “Terry stop” that allows law enforcement to briefly detain a person on reasonable suspicion of involvement in criminal activity, but short of probable cause to arrest. By all accounts, any law enforcement traffic stop is, for practical purposes, a Terry stop, and for the duration of a stop the driver and passengers are “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Under federal law, drivers and passengers may be ordered out of the vehicle without additional justification by the officer(s), but they are supposed to be allowed to leave after police are satisfied there is no involvement in criminal activity or probable cause for an arrest.

It is beyond reason, except for the purpose of creating a mob, that Baltimore riot police had any ‘reasonable suspicion’ that high school students already on buses attempting to leave school to go home were involved in any criminal activity. Unless, of course, “sitting on the bus while Black” is legitimately reasonable suspicion of criminal activity; it obviously is in Baltimore. Particularly when riot-clad police were assembled three hours prior to the end of school waiting for a crowd to materialize to incite violence by keeping students ‘corralled’ in a confined mall area. In fact, by stopping the buses and forcing the riders, whether they were students, young people, or adults to disembark, thus “seizing their persons” according to the 4th Amendment, the Baltimore police apparently violated the riders’ Constitutional rights.

Police may have had a reason to anticipate protests after Freddie Gray’s funeral, especially after investigators found their comrades-in-blue allegedly committed ‘depraved heart murder.’ However, they had no justification for stopping buses and forcing students to disembark to be ‘herded‘ into a confined area, or disallowing them to flee the area because all buses and trains were shut down by police. But this is 21st Century America and the concept of ‘reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity is whatever the people with badges, guns, and riot gear say it is; regardless of the Constitution or state legal statutes.

Hopefully, parents of the students forced off buses, illegally seized according to the 4th Amendment, and corralled across from a phalanx of well-armed riot police are seeking legal counsel for a class-action suit against Baltimore police. It is no stretch that their children’s civil rights were violated when they were forced off the bus and prohibited from fleeing for home to avoid riot-clad police looking for trouble, and not finding it created a mob they could attack.

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