The astonishing true story of “one of the most startling police corruption scandals in a generation” (The New York Times), from the Pulitzer Prize–nominated reporter who exposed a gang of criminal cops and their yearslong plunder of an American city
“A work of journalism that not only chronicles the rise and fall of a corrupt police unit but can stand as the inevitable coda to the half-century of disaster that is the American drug war.”—David Simon, author of Homicide, co-author of The Corner, and creator of The Wire
Baltimore, 2015. Riots are erupting across the city as citizens demand justice for Freddie Gray, a twenty-five-year-old Black man who has died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody. Drug and violent crime are surging, and Baltimore will reach its highest murder count in more than two decades: 342 homicides in a single year, in a city of just 600,000 people. Facing pressure from the mayor’s office—as well as a federal investigation of the department over Gray’s death—Baltimore police commanders turn to a rank-and-file hero, Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, and his elite plainclothes unit, the Gun Trace Task Force, to help get guns and drugs off the street.
But behind these new efforts, a criminal conspiracy of unprecedented scale was unfolding within the police department. Entrusted with fixing the city’s drug and gun crisis, Jenkins chose to exploit it instead. With other members of the empowered Gun Trace Task Force, Jenkins stole from Baltimore’s citizens—skimming from drug busts, pocketing thousands in cash found in private homes, and planting fake evidence to throw Internal Affairs off their scent. Their brazen crime spree would go unchecked for years. The results were countless wrongful convictions, the death of an innocent civilian, and the mysterious death of one cop who was shot in the head, killed just a day before he was scheduled to testify against the unit.
In this urgent book, award-winning investigative journalist Justin Fenton distills hundreds of interviews, thousands of court documents, and countless hours of video footage to present the definitive account of the entire scandal. The result is an astounding, riveting feat of reportage about a rogue police unit, the city they held hostage, and the ongoing struggle between American law enforcement and the communities they are charged to serve.
About the Author
A crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun, Justin Fenton was part of the Pulitzer Prize finalist staff recognized for their coverage of the Baltimore riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray. This is his first book.
“Fenton populates his narrative with a network of officers, informants and street dealers, all with different motivations and interests. . . . The overall effect is to capture the disorienting, churning quality of a city where the good guys and bad guys aren’t easily distinguished. . . . [Fenton] shows how, in our zeal to combat crime, we have allowed institutions to produce it.”—The New York Times Book Review “A standout examination of the failures of policing, laid out in context with greater systemic failures . . . We Own This City is a sobering and necessary account of one dramatic way that trust was destroyed, but it is as much a damning indictment of how that destruction grew out of a mixture of negligence, incompetence and hubris.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A remarkable story about the real-life collision of corruption, criminality, and racial profiling. Justin Fenton tells a well-written, wrenching narrative about a dark chapter in not only Baltimore’s history but in the legacy of disconnect between American citizens and those who are sworn to protect and serve them. This book is a must-read.”—Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore and Five Days
“In We Own This City, Justin Fenton has produced a work of journalism that not only chronicles the rise and fall of a corrupt police unit but can stand as the inevitable coda to the half-century of disaster that is the American drug war. Born of fearmongering and race-baiting, that conflict has now, in the end, not only dehumanized millions and savaged cities but has also, with some irony, destroyed police work itself. Baltimore, and by extension urban America, has been crawling into this abyss for decades, and nothing, not even utter failure, was going to stop us. We have arrived.”—David Simon, author of Homicide, co-author of The Corner, and creator of The Wire
“A masterful account of how police corruption takes root in a Baltimore plagued by crooked cops, oblivious leaders, and beleaguered citizens. The scandal at its heart is shocking in the sheer scope of its venality, and Fenton’s years of reporting lays it bare in novelistic, riveting detail. Here is a writer with a singular command of his story, spinning a dark tale so deftly that it’s impossible to look away.”—Evan Ratliff, author of The Mastermind
“A tale of chaos and corruption, We Own This City is a meticulously researched account in which one of our foremost criminal justice reporters unwinds one of the biggest scandals in the history of American policing. Understanding this scandal and all its implications requires an understanding of Baltimore—and fortunately, Justin Fenton has chosen to walk us through it, revealing the rot inside of a department and the context by which we begin to understand the protests still raging in American streets.”—Wesley Lowery, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author of They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement
“Baltimore Sun reporter Fenton, whose coverage of the Baltimore riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray led to a Pulitzer Prize nomination, debuts with a searing look at that city’s recent police corruption scandal. . . . Fenton’s detailed narrative makes the tragic consequences of the [Gun Trace Task Force’s] graft palpable. Fans of TV series such as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire based on journalist David Simon’s groundbreaking coverage of Baltimore will be engrossed.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)