In late June, a little more than a month after the uprisings involving the death of Freddie Gray, a series of tweets appeared from retired Baltimore police officer and former Sgt. Michael A. Wood Jr., who worked on the force 2003-2014, that started with: “I’m going to start Tweeting the things I’ve seen & participated in, in policing that is corrupt, intentional or not.”
Wood had spoken about police corruption previously, but these tweets went viral. They included discussion of incidents in which a police officer slapped a black woman in the face for accidentally bumping in to him, and kicking a handcuffed suspect in the face. Wood says that black people were specifically targeted and added, “All of these things that you suspected, it’s all real.”
Wood reveals more to The Root about police corruption and a system he feels is broken and needs an overhaul, not just repair.
The Root: What inspired you to reveal these stories?
Michael Wood: I had been talking for a long time, actually. I saw disparity and mismanagement in the ranks. I think when the commissioner came out with the denial of Freddie Gray or seeing the Tamir Rice video. The Tamir Rice video is unbelievable. They come out and say this is OK, and this is the epitome of not being OK. I think it was just a boiling over of frustration.
TR: What were some of the illegal tactics that specifically targeted black people?
MW: The car stops. What they did was, they just went from car stop to car stop intentionally targeting black males all [ages] 16-24. It’s impossible to drive legally; you touch the white line once and it’s illegal. The alternate thing is, that would never happen to me as a white male. I carried a gun almost every day for the last 15 years and never been approached. We stopped black males in the city thousands of times a day.
It’s not called out because it’s just so ingrained. We know blacks and whites use drugs at the same rate. If you’re targeting somebody, then you’re creating the stats.
TR: Was there someone giving these orders? Someone who was saying this is what you need to do in terms of quotas?
MW: They would do it on easy people. An old lady who wouldn’t fight you, and they would issue a warning and look like they did something for that day. You focus on 16-24 black males because they commit the crimes in this city. You look at the offenders: That’s profiling, that’s intelligent policing. That’s what you think. That’s not intelligent policing. You’re creating the criminal.
When I arrest a guy for a dime bag because I jack him up on a stop and frisk—which would never happen to me—he gets a fine. He can’t get the money for the fine together, so now they suspend his license. Well, he still has to drive to work, so he gets pulled over, and it goes on and on.
They reduce everything to numbers. You hear the mayor say we had two homicides yesterday. Why can’t you say, Tyrone West and Freddie Gray died yesterday? The whole mentality is, everything is a number … numbers, numbers. No humanity.
You’ll come up with an algorithm that says if you get more guns off the street, you’ll reduce crime by this number. It will become some anecdotal reference like that. And then it becomes an ideology that is actually true. They will keep going after these numbers, and they’ll say this is effective. Acceptable average working for me—you would have had to have at least 10 arrests a month for me not to get on you.
When we have politicians that represent the people, we can end the drug war. I am for complete legalization for every drug. Ninety percent of what I did was drug cases. Prison population is all drugs. Shootings are over drug profits.
TR: Tell me more about some of the tweets, starting with the one where you said officers “pissed and s—tted” on suspects’ clothes and beds during a raid.
MW: That was a one-off incident. It was a unit that we worked with. You do the raids simultaneously. They were searching one room, my team was searching another room and somebody brought it to my attention. There was some unit that did it as a joke, and they did it as a hearkening back to that.
TR: Slapping someone and kicking them in the face?
MW: I was a rookie and parked alongside the road. Detective was in a fried-chicken store. A young lady was walking up the stoop, and she was turned around looking at the cops and police cars because that’s what people do. The detective was walking out the door at the same time and they bumped, and the lady turned around and said, “Excuse me!” And he slapped her, implying that you don’t talk to me like that.
I was a scared rookie. I got in my car and got out of there. You don’t think police are bad; you think that guy is an a—hole. You’re told your whole life that police are the good guys. But it’s an us vs. them where we don’t see noncops as human beings.
Police are becoming so ingrained in the us vs. them and so fearful that they don’t trust white people, either. You’re starting to see deaths. Police are becoming so unprofessional. Now suddenly white people want to say something.
TR: And the tweet about cops manipulating the closed-circuit TV cameras?
MW: The Freddie Gray case had a suspicious one. You know the camera guy is watching. He is helping you chase the car. You also know something can go wrong when you make the interaction, so you’re thinking you may go a little too far, and I don’t want people to judge it. You’re expecting the guy will move the camera at the right time. The cameras have a joystick, so you can physically move a camera. I didn’t mind the camera. If I screwed up, the public can see I honestly screwed it up.
TR: Can you name names? Are they people who are still on the force? Anyone related to the recent cases of brutality? Or previous cases like Tyrone West, Anthony Anderson or Monae Turnage?
MW: My philosophy is that we need reform, not retribution. Those two officers in the cases I mentioned are already gone. I think we can fix it if we start to discuss it.
TR: Why do you think these cops keep getting off in these shooting cases?
MW: It’s the fear standard. All you have to do is be in fear of your life or the life of somebody else. That’s the legal standard. I don’t remember ever being in a situation of fearing for my life. So many of them are punks. It’s a fine line. You don’t want a bunch of superaggressive cops, but you do want some that have been through some s—t.
TR: Do you think you should be punished for any involvement you had in it?
MW: Sure, if they think that. It’s up to Marilyn Mosby; if she thinks that’s the appropriate thing to do, go for it. I don’t think it’s anything that’s going to help us. If you want to silence someone who is trying to fix it, I’m not sure if that’s a smart plan.
TR: Have they asked you to name names?
MW: I have not been contacted by a soul. Not the Police Department, not the Justice Department. Anybody in the criminal-justice system has not said a word to me. I am doing my Ph.D. now. My whole plan was just to go to academia and teach.
I would be willing to help with establishing outside investigations for these kinds of things. If the president wanted to do a federal program to really look at policing, I would join that. The problem is, if they acknowledge me, then they would have to admit that they were wrong and everybody would be accountable.
Whatever fruit you got out of this poisonous tree, it’s poisonous; we have to start all over.