Black Lives Matter, Baltimore edition: what really happened to Freddie Gray.

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.


18 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Unless it was a huge machete...

    …strapped to Freddie Gray like a sidearm, I have a hard time believing that cops passing by saw that he was carrying a knife. My own suspicion runs toward the idea that the cops reacted to him fleeing. Whenever I watch police dramas and the cops identify themselves and someone runs the other way I think you idiot – nothing says “I’m guilty of something” like running from the cops!

    • I could run in the other direction

      every time I see a cruiser and I wouldn’t be breaking a single law.

    • ...

      My own suspicion runs toward the idea that the cops reacted to him fleeing.

      I’m uncertain what you think is different from what I wrote, to wit:

      “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

      • I don't necessarily think it's different.

        I was just saying of the scenarios you lay out that’s the one that makes sense, though the trumping up an accusation is going too far.

        • Here's the thing...

          though the trumping up an accusation is going too far.

          …Before I wrote this diary I, like perhaps most people, thought that this whole thing was a more or less legitimate arrest and it was the transport that had gone wrong. The whole Black Lives Matter has prompted me to be more careful about the assumptions I make and in reviewing this issue I was — not a little bit — flabbergasted to find out that the whole thing was was rotten from the get go. And even more astounded that the media hasn’t dug into this further.

          Perhaps you didn’t read the part where I wrote that the charges leveled against the police officers included ‘false arrest.’

          It was a false arrest.

          You can sell me on the idea that one, maybe even two, police officers might have made a mistake about the legality of the knife, but SIX?? But if the six were in agreement about the illegality of the knife — and the legality of the knife was not otherwise in doubt (as the DA has stated) — then it is not, in fact, going “too far” to accuse them of trumping up the charge.

          • Oops - big misunderstanding!

            I wasn’t saying you went too far by accusing the cops of trumping up the charge, but rather the cops went too far by trumping up a charge against Freddie Grey in order to get him to talk.

    • Again ...

      As a white, you are not afraid of police and are accustomed to being treated with a degree of respect when the police show an interest in you. The experience of young black males is just the opposite. In the culture of today’s America, black men are accustomed to being harassed, abused, beaten, and killed regardless of their guilt or innocence.

      For young black men, nothing says “Something really BAD is about to happen to me” like a cop looking your way. When viewed through that lens (rather than the lens of racist police dramas), running away is the best response — especially when innocent.

      • And just makes matters worse once the cops do catch them

        FWIW, the TV scenarios very often feature a white guy doing the running, and with the exception of Walker Texas Ranger usually end with a procedurally valid arrest rather than police brutality regardless of the suspect’s race.

        • Nah, man, TV cop shows are making cops look less professional

          I caught the ending of Hawaii Five-Oh recently, and the hero cop of the show (whatever bland guy is in Jack Lord’s role) just got tired of running after an unarmed suspect and shot the guy in the leg.
          It’s not just Chuck Norris anymore.

        • You miss the point

          Most of the suspects in in “police TV” are black. The typical formula is good, well-behaved cops chase big bad dangerous black suspects. After sufficient sirens, running, yelling, and so on, the suspect is “apprehended”, put in cuffs, and led away to jail.

          What you do NOT see on “police TV” is white suspects being arrested for embezzlement, white suspects being arrested for fraud, white suspects being arrested for domestic abuse, and so on. “White collar” crime is still committed largely by whites — white collar criminals generally don’t get chased down and cuffed in the street. Thus, white-collar crime doesn’t make for “interesting” TV.

          The message, to the overwhelmingly white audience, is “criminals are mostly black and mostly dangerous”.

          Of course the arrests on police TV are “procedurally valid”. The genre exists to glorify police.

          • There's no doubt it's from a police point of view.

            For example, while in the real world I’m glad NYC has dialed back the stop and frisk there was dialogue on an episode of SVU complaining about it and since the TV audience knows who the bad guys are they are also more sympathetic. I haven’t actually kept a racial count of suspects on TV – have you? Are there stats on that? I see white perps on these shows all the time. The Law & Order series does actually go after embezzlement (especially Criminal Intent) and domestic abuse (especially SVU). I still have no reason not to believe that the vast majority of cops do their jobs appropriately and it’s the bad ones that make the news.

    • The knife was similar to

      a switchblade, which is illegal. But it’s not a switchblade, it’s a spring-assisted knife, which is slightly different. They had no idea he had the knife when they started chasing him.

  2. What the police did is based on

    case law. What the police were claiming they did was a Terry stop. In the United States, a “Terry stop” is a brief detention of a person by police on reasonable suspicion of involvement in criminal activity but short of probable cause to arrest. It’s based on Terry v. Ohio. It’s the law that underpins stop-and-frisk stops. If the police have reason to stop a person, they can frisk him enough to make sure he doesn’t have weapons. That’s the law, right or wrong. Every cop knows the case law on this.

    The legal problem for the cops is the fact that Freddie Gray wasn’t involved in criminal activity. Looking at a cop and running is not criminal activity. In other circumstances, the cops woulda/coulda made some shit up. Described his behavior as suspicious post hoc, make it their word against his.

    Because they didn’ t know about the knife, because Freddie Gray wasn’t involved in criminal activity, because running doesn’t qualify as suspicious, they had no right to detain him.

  3. Some racism involved

    The police in this instance weren’t, I firmly believe, directly motivated by racism.

    I’m not sure I quite agree with this; it may depend on your definition of racism. If, to you, racism means active and willful treatment of black people as inferior – a proactive thing, like cross-burning, the no, it wasn’t motivated by racism.

    However to me, racism means an underlying belief that a black person is somehow inferior – either mentally so, or “more likely” to behave a certain way. I think that this falls into that category.

    A few things have been circulating recently which really illustrate this type of racism. One is the video of open-carrying white man versus an open-carrying black man in Oregon:

    The short-story is that the white person was calmly approached by the police and asked questions; the black person was swarmed by the police, ordered to lay on the ground, and treated like a threat.

    There have been a number of cases where white people acting in a threatening manner with guns were treated with kid gloves by the police. Here is just one:

    A third example was in Washington DC, where a white woman confronted a black (!) police officer about the arrest of a black man. I have seen plenty of instances where, if a black woman does the same thing, they get arrested for something like public disturbance or obstructing justice. It is interesting that the officer in question was black; maybe an anomaly in that this particular officer treats everyone nicely when questioned, but could also be an instance of a pernicious belief that black people are “more likely to be” wrong and not deserving of respect.

    Now anecdotes do not equate to proof. There may be instances where black people acting in a threatening manner with a gun were also treated with kid gloves, and where white people open carrying were treated as major threats. Maybe the media is filtering those out, maybe because it isn’t that sensational, however I haven’t seen anything along those lines.

    That is the racism that seems to be present among the police – maybe calling it “racism” is too strong, but when the police use their “hunches” to treat people differently, that is where the problems start. They will definitely argue that they should be free to do this because their lives are on the line, but if the police are that afraid when they make a traffic stop, they should follow the same procedure for everyone – pull the person out of the car, handcuff them, throw them on the hood, and search the car for weapons. When the average white man starts getting treated like that, surely the police will be told to change their tune.

    And that is the ultimate issue here, that when black people complain about police treatment, the underlying assumption is that they are simply wrong – and they must prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are right.

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Sat 29 Apr 7:18 PM