There was, you might remember, over a week of protests and violence in Baltimore MD at the end of April of this year. The precipitating events were, first the coma, and then the death of a man, Freddie Gray, while in police custody alongside a complete inability or unwillingness of the Baltimore Police Department to explain the injuries, coma and death. I’ve been waiting for the media to do some form of analysis about what really happened but it seems they are too intent upon chasing the next adrenaline rush to look back.
This diary is an attempt to do what I can to help make black lives matter. I don’t agree with violence but I do, wholly, concur with the peaceful protesters in Baltimore who faced great initial indifference from the BPD and the wholly inadequate and inconsistent response to the arrest, coma and death of Freddie Gray made by the department. I also accuse the media of sensationalizing the death and the resulting protest, while (perhaps all too conveniently) forgetting the details of the precipitating event. Hell, not even going back and correcting the incorrect details laid out in the first, second and even third round of reporting, makes me sad.
What follows is, I hope, a description of actual events, a discussion of purported events and motives and an analysis that, while divorced from the protests, might help us to both understand the protests and the current climate in which, it is purported, that black lives matter less… All information from wikipedia and/or links derived from wikipedia. That I have to sift through it to get answers is a shame on our media.
First a chronology of actual events. The chronology omits all details which are possibly in doubt or in dispute but which will be discussed later.
During a routing patrol, three police officers on bicycle patrol see Freddie Gray, who immediately takes off running. The police, on bicycles, give chase and eventually capture Gray.
Gray is arrested on the charge that the knife he is carrying is illegal. A police wagon is dispatched and he is placed in the wagon. He is handcuffed. He is not buckled into the seat. At some point, either at the beginning or during the ride to the BPD intake station, his feet are shackled to the floor. Approximately 40 to 45 minutes after he is placed in the police wagon, and at the time the wagon arrived at the western station that was apparently the initial destination, a call is sent for a trauma unit and Gray is worked upon by paramedics at the scene and, after some 20 minutes, taken to a trauma hospital and is reported to be non-responsive.
Gray is in a coma for a week. During that time he has multiple surgeries and heroic efforts to save his life are taken. They are, ultimately, unsuccessful. Gray dies a week after the arrest.
The medical examiner determines that Freddie Gray was the victim of homicide. Hs voice-box was crushed and several vertebrate severed as a result of being handcuffed and shackled to the floor without being buckled into the seat. He is dead because he was not secured in the back of the van.
That’s what happened.
Here’s what’s purported:
Witnesses claim that Gray was pinned by two police in an apparently very painful position and then dragged and ‘screaming in pain’ prior to being placed in the van. Video was taken and a witness alleges that Gray’s leg was clearly broken. Other witnesses claim that the police used their batons on Gray. However, the resulting, very serious, charges do not appear to rely upon the witnesses testimony or the claims of initial brutality either during or immediately following the arrest. I have not read the medical examiners report but no mention, in the media, has been made of injuries cited in the report, outside of those to his voice box and spinal cord, sustained in the van at the time of transport.
The police claim the arrest was made, not on the fact of Gray’s immediate flight upon espying the police, but on the fact that he carried a knife. Initially they reported the knife to be illegal but the particular knife he carried, as has since been upheld by the DA in Baltimore, was both legal to carry and the cops should have known that. One of the counts against the arresting officers was ‘false arrest’.
That the police gave him a ‘rough ride’ without shackling him down. The charge against the driver is the most serious: second degree “depraved heart” murder and involuntary manslaughter. Nobody has yet determined adequately if a ‘rough ride’ occurred or if an ordinary ride was rough enough cause the damage done to Gray’s voice box and spinal cord.
The police alleged that Gray was combative and ‘irate’ and that they stopped several times to further make attempts to subdue him and/or ‘check on him’. The charges alleged that they should have sought medical attention for Gray well before they eventually did so and that he did not receive prompt care.
Here’s what I think happened:
Freddie Gray ran when he saw the police. Nobody knows why he ran. The police chased him and caught him. Rather than simply let him go with no reason I believe they trump’d up the charge of an illegal knife in the hopes (I’m guessing) of getting him to the station to apply more pressure on him to explain why he ran. Three officers on the initial arrest, two more called in, including a Sargent, and then a driver of the van. Six in all. At least someone should have known that the knife was not illegal. I suspect all of them knew but knew, also, that they could muddy the waters on it and get away with it. Maybe Gray was selling drugs. Maybe they were just tweaked that he ran. Maybe the cops just didn’t want to look like they weren’t doing their job. But for this decision, however, Freddie Gray would probably be alive today. All else that occurred stems from the on-scene officers decision to make an arrest on grounds that turned out to be very flimsy… The media doesn’t make much of this because, I believe, it is altogether too common across the entire union.
Then the BPD, effectively, doubled down. They stonewalled. They prevaricated. When faced with a crowd of people wanting to know how an apparently healthy man (he ran pretty quickly didn’t he?) could end up in a coma after police custody… They released incomplete and contradictory information. They, it certainly looks like, tried to circle the wagons and tried to protect their own. Then he died and they still couldn’t explain it. Well, that certainly didn’t work out all that well for all concerned.
I think prevarication is at the heart of this: the notion of easy evasion, whether it be about the legality of a knife or the timeline of a transport; it’s a fundamentally dishonest method of either serving or protecting, but it seems their first line of defense. And Freddie Gray is dead because of it. And, for about a week a city burned because of it. And others are dead, some even dying today, because of it. You can see this in the attempted character assassination of Michael Brown; or on the video of a cop, who just shot a man in the back, claiming the man reached for his taser; or the chokehold death of Eric Garner on the suspicion of selling cigarettes… any number of prevarications follow police misconduct. Any time, in fact, a cop is accused of misconduct the first thing people do is to search for a plausible reason to discount the accusation. Once a plausible reason is found, however untrue, the story recedes from the public imagination.
Freddie Gray had a record for drug possession. He surely wasn’t a saint, but the extent to which he was a sinner doesn’t justify either his death or evading responsibility for his death. Or even a false arrest. The police in this instance weren’t, I firmly believe, directly motivated by racism. They were, however, motivated by a desire — perhaps even ingrained in their training– to, by any means, remain at the top of some arbitrary hierarchy of power that is a legacy of racism and is why black lives don’t matter. Any police department that evades the truth to control their power and maintain their moral (sic) authority will, axiomatically, deprive the lowest amongst us of their fundamental rights, even their lives. In Baltimore… In Ferguson… In Staten Island… most everywhere in the US, the lowest amongst us, through no fault of their own, are black.