Baltimore Seethes Over Freddie Gray
Baltimore is bracing for a new round of protests following the death last Sunday of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man.
The chronology of the events that led to Gray’s death remains a mystery. What’s clear is that he was familiar to police in his Baltimore neighborhood. Early on the morning of April 12, Gray was stopped by police, apparently for carrying a switchblade. Officers requested a van to take him to the police station. In a civilian’s cell phone video of the encounter, officers can be seen putting Gray into the police van. Gray, who suffered from asthma, asked for an inhaler, according to a Baltimore Sun account. It’s unclear what happened in the van. Within two days, Gray had undergone surgery on his spine. His relatives said he suffered fractured vertebrae and a crushed larynx. By Sunday, he was dead.
On Tuesday, the Baltimore Police Department announced that six officers involved with Gray’s arrest had been suspended with pay. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it had opened an investigation into the case.
Gray has become the latest symbol of the fractured relationship between America’s law enforcement authorities and black communities, particularly black men. Earlier in April, Walter Scott, a 50-year-old unarmed black man, was fatally shot by a white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina; video of the encounter caused nationwide outrage. Last year, the police shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked protests around the country. So did the case of Eric Garner, a black man who died at the hands of New York City police officers. To underscore the point, this week The New York Times published data showing that 1.5 million black men between the ages of 25 and 54 are, in effect, “missing”—either dead or in prison.
One noteworthy point that separates Gray’s case from the others is that Baltimore’s leadership is predominantly black. In Ferguson, for instance, a DOJ investigation found that routine and systemic racial discrimination provided the context for Brown’s death last August. Baltimore will be a test of how—and if—black leadership can mitigate the impact of institutional dysfunction.