Tuesday, April 21, 2015

30 Minutes in Baltimore - The Death of Freddie Gray

Freddie Gray, 25, died Sunday
Brooklyn. Queens. Philadelphia. Cleveland. Ferguson. Chicago. Miami. San Francisco. Los Angeles. Charleston. Tulsa.

The list of American cities where unarmed African-American boys and men have lost their lives during encounters with members of law enforcement doesn't seem to keep pace with prosecutions of those police officers responsible for unjustified use of deadly force.

Will that change with the city of Baltimore now that the disturbing case of Freddie Gray has been thrust into the media spotlight?

From the terse, guarded statements released by Baltimore PD, it's going to take time to unravel the truth.

The facts are still murky, but as you've probably heard the end result is all too clear; and shocking by any standards of a modern civilized society.

At 8:54am on Sunday April 12th Gray was arrested by members of the Baltimore PD mounted on bicycles before being transferred to a police wagon to be transported to the police station three blocks away.

At 9:24am police called paramedics to the police station of the western district where Gray was found with three broken vertebrae in his neck; a neck injury so severe it almost severed his spinal cord.

He lapsed into a coma and eventually died in the hospital this past Sunday April 19th.

So what happened during the 30 minutes when Gray was locked in the back of that police wagon?

According to an article by Justin Fenton and Jessica Anderson posted on the Website of the Baltimore Sun earlier this evening, the Baltimore police are still being vague about why they arrested Gray in the first place.

In documents filed with the district court, officer Garret Miller states that officers chased Gray after he, "fled unprovoked upon noticing police presence."

Not to be flippant, but given the recent high-profile deaths of any number of young black men at the hands of police, and given Baltimore PD's tense relationship with the largely African-American community it serves, is it really surprising that Freddie Gray ran?

Police statements offer the usual assortment of "facts" typically offered up to justify excessive use of force or a violation of a defendant's rights. We've yet to hear from the four officers involved in the incident; perhaps they "felt threatened".

In a press conference, deputy police commissioner Jerry Rodriguez stated that Gray was in a high-crime area where drug trafficking was known to occur; so not only are some Baltimore residents trapped in a cycle of poverty, their being locked by geographic and economic boundaries in high-crime neighborhoods is in itself, justification for police to stop them. 

Was Freddie Gray criminalized simply for walking around in his neighborhood?

Once he was stopped, police claim to have found a switchblade knife clipped to the INSIDE of his pants pocket; so he was arrested.

Is there any proof the knife was his? If it did belong to Gray, by the police's own statement, it wasn't even visible when they saw him.

And even if it was his knife, if you've watched HBO's groundbreaking series "The Wire" anyone walking through Baltimore's west side would probably be carrying something to protect themselves.

Regardless the police court statement goes on to state that, "The defendant was arrested without force or incident...During transport to Western District via wagon transport the defendant suffered a medical emergency and was immediately transported to Shock Trauma via medic."

Remember, he was arrested three blocks from the station; what were the police doing for 30 minutes with Gray already handcuffed and locked in the back of the police wagon?

According to members of his family who saw him in the hospital last week, Gray's voice box was damaged and his brain was swollen.

Gray's lawyer, William Murphy, Jr., speaking on behalf of the family said, “We believe the police are keeping the circumstances of Freddie’s death a secret until they develop a version of events that will absolve them of all responsibility.”

Until the truth comes out those 30 minutes Freddie Gray spent in the back of that police van are essentially "missing" in time.

At least one of the four Baltimore police officers who've been placed on desk duty knows what happened but unfortunately the wheels of justice turn slowly when it's the word of four cops against a dead black defendant in this nation.

But the wheels do turn. For the sake of justice and the rule of law, hopefully technology (video, CCTV, radio transmissions or cell phone video), science, facts and a visible public outcry will allow the dead to speak.

And while the Baltimore PD will try to vilify him and slander his character, hopefully the media will help remind the public that this victim of such horrific and unexplainable violence was a son, the brother of a twin sister and a friend; a 25 year-old guy who loved to joke around and was generous to those he knew.

The fact that Freddie Gray won't have an opportunity to testify about those 30 minutes in the back of that police wagon is not only a sad measure of the state of law enforcement in America, it offers us insight into how black humanity is perceived - and the value of black life in the 21st century here in the greatest nation in the world.

I think a quote from his distraught sister Carolina sums it up best, “If someone has surrendered and you’ve put the handcuffs on him, what is the point of you beating them?"

That's a question we can ask, but the law enforcement community and the court system in this country is going to have to provide the answer.

And it's going to take a lot longer than 30 minutes.

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