Can a former police officer effect greater reforms from outside the force? John Lingan profiles Michael A. Wood Jr., a veteran of the Baltimore Police Department who has become an increasingly vocal advocate for police reform. Convincing cops to act compassionately is one thing, but Wood knows that his fight is bigger than that. He wants to explain how corporate interests control politics, perpetuating a destructive war on drugs.
On paper, Michael A. Wood Jr. is the perfect candidate to change the system from the inside. “I am the prototype” of a trustworthy cop, he says: idealistic, college-educated, military-trained, white.
Born and raised in Maryland, about 25 miles northeast of the neighborhood where Freddie Gray was killed, Wood dreamed of a law-enforcement career from childhood. But there were no police in the family, and he knew he lacked the proper discipline, so Wood enlisted in the Marine Corps.
Upon leaving the service, he enrolled in the Baltimore Police Academy, but he noticed something was amiss before he even finished class.
“We had people in Baltimore with only GEDs—people who can’t write anything,” Wood says of his classmates at the Academy. “They can’t understand the concepts. They can’t understand what a crime is, what probable cause is.”
Nevertheless, he began his career in 2003, an eager-to-please 23-year-old. Before long, he witnessed the first of many incidents that he would later share on Twitter. It came during a quiet moment on patrol. Another detective was exiting a restaurant when he accidentally bumped shoulders with a woman walking in.
“I expected him to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and hold the door for her,” Wood says. “But he turned and just cracked her across the face. And no one else responded.”
As a fellow officer, “I didn’t see that the thing was appalling. I thought, ‘Man, that dude’s an asshole. Why did he do that?’ But I didn’t see the systemic part—that we were covering that up.”
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