Life Behind The Badge In Baltimore: One Officer Speaks Out On Corruption & Systematic Racism (Video)

Underneath Hip-Hop’s umbrella, there have been numerous artists and activists who have entered the discussions on the dark cloud of police brutality that has been hanging over the nation. Rapper Big Pooh, Killer Mike, J-Live, Talib Kweli, and countless others have taken action, whether it be behind a beat, in an interview, or protesting on the front lines to call for change. Earlier this summer, however, a surprising voice came forward to speak out against the alleged illicit conduct of police officers. His story has been particularly compelling because he, himself, spent an extended amount of time with the Baltimore Police Department. That organization came under fire and intense scrutiny after the death of Freddie Gray who died in April, after suffering a severed spinal cord, while in police custody.

The officer, Michael A. Wood, Jr., served on the Baltimore Police Department for over 11 years after a stint in the United States Marine Corp. Wood left with a shoulder injury and extensive knowledge of the inner workings of the Baltimore police force. His actions as an activist against his former employer began on Twitter. The LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) speaker began tweeting about several atrocities he claims he saw his fellow officers do to citizens during his tenure, thus sparking a conversation that very few people have heard from an actual member of the force.

Wood recently sat down with Joe Rogan on The Joe Rogan Experience, for nearly two-and-a-half hours. The conversation between the two is wildly in-depth and covers a wide range of topics, including police corruption, systematic racism by law enforcement officers in Baltimore, the prison industry, as well as the deaths of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray. After a brief exchange about the beginning of Michael Wood’s career, the floodgates open for a no holds barred dialogue.

The meat of the conversation begins at around the 10:00 mark when Rogan asks Wood to describe the scene in Baltimore for those who did not grow up there. This is where viewers can begin to see how a cycle of police brutality and systematic racism could gain traction and the amount of time over which it spans. Like anywhere else, Wood admits that Baltimore is largely good, however, it is filled with micro communities that were set up by racist laws against minorities some one hundred years ago that disallowed individuals to buy property in certain areas, fostering segregation. Today, those minority communities are still largely underdeveloped, poor, and riddled with gang culture and violence. As a result, these areas are heavily trafficked by police, causing a cycle of young kids going from grade school directly to prison. This cycle can be seen in cities across America, from Cleveland, to Compton, and Ferguson. Wood admits he is a party to this problem as well, but says he is actively pursuing avenues for change. How he believes society can fix these issues is detailed further throughout the interview.

Below is a list of related topics, time-stamped for easier access:

(15:00) In order to change, Wood believes that police officers need to start treating citizens like they are people and this starts with empathy and acknowledgement.

(22:00) Wood discusses the positive effects of American citizens owning or having access to video recording devices that keep more officers at bay in terms of abusing their power.

(30:00) Wood talks about the rush of being a police officer who catches criminals. “It was fucking fun. I lived for the car chase. Think about this, if you’re in a police car and you have the lights and sirens…and you’re going through your side roads and you’re chasing this guy, there is no adrenaline rush that’s ever compared to that. You live for it. It’s incredible, it’s amazing. I didn’t really care why. Give me the car chase.”

(35:00) Wood states that 90% of the arrests made are drug-related and more specifically he notes how the war on drugs is failing, not only the people, but the police departments as well. He makes connections to the failure of prohibition of alcohol and the gang violence that followed its illegality. In addition, Wood talks about his first arrest, sneaking into the empty homes of others in the projects to watch for dealers selling drugs.

(45:00) Wood says that he would leave a post or a beat that had less crime to go to another neighborhood to “poach” other arrests to meet quotas that, otherwise unmet, could result in the termination of his position. In places where he personally brought crime numbers down, Wood says that his bosses would ridicule him instead of congratulate him for creating a safer environment.

(50:00) Wood admits he and other officers would “punk” the biggest, baddest guys in the neighborhood to instill fear in the citizens around them.

(1:00:00) Wood further discusses his belief that the war on drugs is futile, mentionining a situation in which his team took down an entire gang of drug dealers, only to have another group enter the void immediately after.

(1:05:00) Wood addresses the recent firing of former Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts. Batts, as told by Wood, threw his commanders under the bus during the riots in Baltimore and never had control of the agency in any facet. Batts was also the former Police Chief of Oakland, and Wood connects the culture of police brutality between both cities.

(1:33:00) Wood details an action plan used to address the problems the Baltimore Police Department faced during the 1970s and cites the striking similarities to and lack of evolution in the action plan that their shift commander was using in 2010. “The same corners, the same response, the same plan. For forty years, nobody’s changed anything. You have the same corners being the same problem, the same families doing the same things and the police are doing the same Goddamn things in response.”

(1:35:00) Wood speaks about the issues in Baltimore as they compare to Ferguson and the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. He openly describes what he believes was a cover up in Ferguson by the prosecutors who he says purposefully brought in witnesses who wouldn’t give the level of testimony that other witnesses would have been able to provide to indict Officer Darren Wilson. He states that had their been a trial and an indictment that Wilson would have ultimately been exonerated, but that the people needed to see more evidence. He goes on to state how fear is also a major factor in the loss of young Black lives. He says an officer can claim he was fearful of his life to pull the trigger on a citizen, and it is sanctioned by law. Due to this fact, and coupled with the systematic racism and policies in place in these departments, more and more officers are becoming afraid of everything. “Everybody has a gun. They feel like everybody is a threat… They shoot in a heartbeat because they are so afraid. Then they come behind, and cover it all up like nothing happened, and that’s when you get an uprising.”

(1:40:00) 12 year old Tamir Rice’s death in Cleveland is adamantly and passionately discussed by Wood. He says that Rice was unjustifiably murdered and that the lack of indictment against Officers Loehmann and Garmback is completely unreasonable. He also touches on how most of these major cities, from Philadelphia, to Cleveland, to Baltimore, and the like, are all dealing with the same issues.

The rest of the interview touches on subjects from the Confederate flag (1:44:00) and car chases Wood was a part of (1:55:00), to the unbelievably poor standards of self-defense training (and continued training) for American police officers (1:59:00). The topics that Wood discusses and the insights he reveals can be both infuriating and simultaneously rejuvenating, but overall, this is one talk that is well worth watching from start to finish.

As it stands, our nation seems to be at a crossroads. It will take more talking, more thinking, more questioning, and more understanding, but conversations such as these are the building blocks to a new approach to policing. With Michael A. Wood Jr’s open and explicit commentary, do you think it is possible for other officers to come forward with their story?

Related: Freeway Illuminates The Community, In Protest Of Police Brutality (Video)