I first met Anthony Barksdale in the summer of 2007. My partner and I were sitting in our parked car in the driveway of Green Mount Cemetery, a high-crime area in the center of Baltimore. Most nights that summer were spent chasing off loiterers from vacant houses, breaking up dice games, and performing some low-level drug enforcement — a lot of hassling, but relatively few arrests. It was the dead of night, square in the middle of our latest 16-hour shift; we were taking a quick break.
We both noticed an unmarked SUV crawl past us. When the driver slowed down to stare into our car, we immediately recognized him as Anthony Barksdale, the Baltimore Police Department’s deputy of operations. He swung his car around and pulled up next to us. My partner rolled down his window and greeted Barksdale with a deferential “Sir.” I don’t recall the exact conversation all these years later, but I do remember Barksdale asking, in a tone that wasn’t free of accusation, what we were doing in an idle car. After first calling our lieutenant, Barksdale told us that it was time to get back to work. That was it; he was back on the road in no time (and we received a prompt scolding from that embarrassed lieutenant). And so our night of corner clearing and petty arrests continued.
Hardly the “surgical” form of policing attributed to Barksdale in Alec MacGillis’ 8,000-word piece on the rise in crime in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, which appears in this week’s New York Times Magazine (co-published with ProPublica).
MacGillis set out to examine why exactly Baltimore “unraveled” following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray and the protests that followed. Despite its length, the story offers a perfunctory diagnosis, chalking up the rise in crimes mainly to officer “pullback” — that is, according to the Times piece, “a monthslong retreat from policing, a protest that was at once undeclared and unmistakably deliberate” — and the resulting sense among criminals that they would face no consequences for their law-breaking.