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Crime & Justiceby Fern Shen11:33 amApr 6, 20170

Sandtown leader comes to testify: “We’ve seen the brutality”

Elder C.W. Harris and others arrive for a public hearing on the Baltimore police reform consent decree

Above: Elder C.W. Harris speaks with reporters outside U.S. District Court in Baltimore. (Fern Shen)

Witnesses shook off the rain and walked one-by-one into federal court in Baltimore today to testify on the Justice Department’s police reform consent decree with the city.

Elder C.W. Harris, explaining that he comes “from Freddie Gray’s neighborhood,” had a message that aligned with those that other witnesses said they came to deliver:

“We are fed up with the injustice in our urban communities.”

“We need to have a better relationship with our officers and go in a different direction,” said Harris, a longtime activist in the Sandtown-Winchester community.

“We have seen much tragedy, and I’ve been a part of some of that myself. We’ve seen the brutality from our officials – my family has.”

Harris, the founder of Newborn Ministries and a fixture in his struggling West Baltimore community for decades, paused to recount this recent personal story.

“My son was pulled over [by police] for no reason . . . he was trying to get home to use the bathroom,” Harris recalled.

He said a pastor, who happened to live across the street from where his son was stopped, pleaded with the officers to let him go inside and use the bathroom.

“The officer wouldn’t do it. He had to relieve himself right in front of them,” Harris said. “The whole thing was very embarrassing. It shouldn’t happen.”

Harris praised the consent decree process, initiated by the Obama Administration’s Justice Department and agreed to by city officials and the Baltimore Police Department.

“It’s wonderful that we’re doing this and it’s high time we are doing it,” he said. “We’re tough and we’re going to make sure justice is done and our officials do the work they need to do.”

“We would like to move forward”

But inside the courthouse, officials from the Trump Administration were arguing before U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar against the consent decree, saying they have “grave concerns” about whether it will improve public safety.

Police reform is “really the job of local officials,” said John Gore, deputy assistant attorney general in the agency’s Civil Rights Division.

Gore argued on behalf of the agency’s motion for a 90-day pause in the consent decree process, a delay he said was needed to fully review it.

But acting City Solicitor David Ralph said the delay is unnecessary. “We would like to move forward,” Ralph said.

Acting city solicitor David Ralph heads to federal court to oppose the Justice Department's motion seeking to

Acting City Solicitor David Ralph heads to federal court to oppose the Justice Department’s motion seeking to “pause” the Baltimore police reform consent decree. (Fern Shen)

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