Another Look At Baltimore

There have been several reviews of the situation in Baltimore recently.

Friday morning, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced the results of autopsy of Freddie Gray.

Freddie Gray’s fatal neck injury – a nearly severed spine – was the result of being handcuffed but not secured in the police wagon, according to the District Attorney.

Specifically, Gray was bound by his wrists and ankles and left stomach-down on the floor of the van as it drove around West Baltimore.

There have been concerns that Gray received what is known as a “rough ride” or “nickel ride,” where the driver intentionally drives in a reckless manner to throw around the prisoners in back.

At least two officers checked on Gray’s status during the drive, but they didn’t act when he said he couldn’t breathe.

Despite pleas and a “rapidly deteriorating” condition, he received no medical assistance. When Gray finally arrived at the station, he was in cardiac arrest.

Gray had been riding in a compartment on the right side of the van.

The Baltimore Police Department suggested—in a release to the media—that Gray had killed himself.  In a leaked memo, police said that the prisoner on the left side of the van claimed Gray injured himself on purpose.

According to The New York Times,  a prisoner was in the left compartment for part of the ride, but the two were separated by a wall. Reports say there was no camera on the inside of the van.

There’s more, though.  According to Mosby, the arrest itself was illegal. Police had no cause for detaining Gray, not even for possession of a weapon; the knife they found in his pocket was not a switchblade and thus was legal under Maryland law.

“No crime had been committed by Mr. Gray,” said Mosby.

In short, Gray was wrongly detained by police and fatally injured under their care. The six officers—Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., Officer William Porter, Lt. Brian Rice, Officer Edward Nero, Officer Garrett Miller, and Sgt. Alicia White—knew Gray needed medical help and chose not to act, ensuring his fate.  His death, said Mosby, was a “homicide.”

It is very rare for police to face criminal charges. “Among the thousands of fatal shootings at the hands of police since 2005,” notes the Washington Post in a recent look at police violence, “only 54 officers have been charged.”

In Maryland, with its high rate of “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement, police officers were charged with crimes in less than 2 percent of cases where a civilian died.  Gray’s death wasn’t a shooting. But these charges challenge the pattern.

Did more get done against Freddie Gray because of the leadership in Baltimore?

The choice to charge the officers was a legal one, states Slate Magazine.  However, it’s hard to dismiss the optics of Baltimore’s black leadership.  Compared with the leadership of a city like Ferguson, could it be that these leaders have closer ties to their constituents and a better finger on the pulse of the community?  Between the protests and the riots and the general discontent, officials had to have known that no charges would turn a volatile situation dangerous, according to Slate.

There’s no guarantee the charges will stick.  Take the case of the killer of Rekia Boyd—an off-duty Chicago cop who fired into a group of people, believing one had reached for a gun, and killed the unarmed Boyd.  He was charged with involuntary manslaughter.

He was acquitted.

But if the problem of police violence is, in part, a problem of accountability, then the charges are important, regardless of what comes next.

In so many words, the city of Baltimore has said that these officers were wrong: and that Freddie Gray’s life mattered and that wearing a badge doesn’t mean you’re not responsible.