The Gun Trace Task Force trial revealed in great detail the often cruel and impunitive tactics used by police. It has finally kicked off a conversation in Baltimore about radical reformation of the Baltimore Police Department, with some caling for disbanding the current department and in some circles—certainly more circles than say, a year ago—abolishing policing altogether. The trial also offered up plenty of novelistic detail, both absurd (cops planning a robbery while guzzling Twisted Tea) and terrifying (BB guns in gloveboxes, there to plant in case you shoot someone and have to justify it). Below are 10 books, nonfiction and some fiction, that may help you better understand this city’s massive police scandal, the precarious place policing is in right now, and how we got here.
“Clockers” by Richard Price: “They all looked like bums, except they were healthy bums, six-foot, two-hundred-pound white bums with lead saps and Glock Nineteens on their hips,” is how Richard Price describes some plainclothes police (“knockos”) a few pages into his sprawling, fictional look into the forever war between drug cops and drug dealers. He could’ve been describing Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and Det. Daniel Hersl as they bluffed their way into a Canton hotel to rob its tenants. Price’s 1992 novel, which he researched for a decade—Price clearly brought the observations he gleaned researching “Clockers” to his work on “The Wire” as well—is the most electric and devastating look at how drug squads operate. Read it and then watch Spike Lee’s tone poem-like film adaptation.
“Snitch: Informants, Cooperators & the Corruption of Justice” by Ethan Brown: A thoughtful overview of the so-called “Stop Snitching” movement, which has its origins in Baltimore and continues to be offered up as evidence of an ethical deficit among heavily policed communities. Ethan Brown reads it quite differently: “Stop Snitching,” which as we saw during the GTTF trial is alive and well among the police, exists in black communities due to a profound distrust of police and the system. Meanwhile, outrageous drug-sentencing guidelines have created a whole industry of informants ready to say anything on behalf of the government to reduce their own sentences, Brown argues. Oh, and federally-indicted corrupt cops William King and Antonio Murray—from the mid-2000s, trust-shattering BPD scandal—pop up here too.
- “All Shot Up” by Chester Himes
- “The Black Book: Reflections from the Baltimore Grassroots” by Lawrence Grandpre and Dayvon Love
- “Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion” by Gary Webb
- “Freaky Deaky” by Elmore Leonard
- “The History of the Black Guerrilla Family” by Gabe Morales
- “Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther” by Eddie Conway and Dominique Stevenson
- “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
- “Our Enemies In Blue: Power and Police in America” by Kristian Williams