Yesterday’s riots, looting and burning in Baltimore, MD, are being forcibly condemned by the city’s Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Maryland state governor Larry Hogan and virtually everyone who is breathing.  For the sake of argument, that’s a very understandable reaction to the gangs of youths who rampaged through West Baltimore streets following the funeral of Freddy Gray torching a couple of police cars, injuring 16 officers, setting fire to a CVS and several more establishments.  Baltimore’s Mayor has declared a state of emergency, instituted curfews and hundreds of Maryland State Police and 500 Maryland National Guard troopers – with another 5,000 available for deployment - are now patrolling the streets.  The situation is a mess.

 Lost in all the pubic condemnation, angst and teeth knashing over the riots, looting and flames however, is the reason why they might be taking place.  That reason is the death of 25 year old Freddie Gray last week under suspicious circumstances after his arrest on April 12.   His treatment in the hands of the police has all but disappeared from the airwaves in the tsunami of righteous condemnation over the riots.  The train of events in Baltimore are eerily similar to those in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown.  In that case, the Ferguson police department and its Chief of Police seemed to be stonewalling, giving out little or no information about the circumstances surrounding Brown’s shooting or the officer involved while ensuring that every known damaging piece of information about Brown was public knowledge.  Much the same is happening in Baltimore undoubtedly giving rise to increased public suspicion.

Baltimore, however, is a majority Black city, with a Black Mayor so one would think that these folks would have a better grip on how the lack of timely information tends to increase suspicion and tension among the public.  In this case, like Ferguson, the facts of how Freddy Gray managed to wind up with 80% of his spine severed at the hands of six police officers or while being transported by the police remains unanswered.  The names of the officers have not been released although they have been put on leave and we are told only that “the incident is under investigation.”  From the very beginning of this story two weeks ago when Gray was arrested for “making eye contact with a group of off duty and suspended police officers while in possession of a “switchblade knife” (although that “fact” is disputed by his mother who says it was a legal pocket knife) while “walking in a known high crime area” of West Baltimore.  (Does this chain of events sound familiar to you?)

The actions by the police both during the arrest of Gray and the subsequent public statements by the police, Baltimore and Maryland officials, have basically followed the Ferguson model of providing the least information possible.  I’m not sure what Mayor Rawlings-Blake and the police were thinking, but their actions follow the same, sad, pathway of Michael Brown, Eric Garner in New York City, 12 year old Tamar Rice in Cleveland, and Tyree Woodson in Baltimore who, police allege, shot himself with a gun they did not know he had while sitting in a Baltimore police station.

In a news conference yesterday, the Baltimore Police Chief noted at least half-a-dozen times that 16 police officers – six seriously - had been injured by debris thrown by the rioters, 35 rioters were arrested and the Baltimore police are reporting that they have credible information that an alliance of gangs has formed to “take out” cops.  The African American leaders of Baltimore appear to have decided to come down hard on the Black rioters and arsonists declaring that they have video tapes from which they will identify law breakers and arrest them.  I suspect that this show of force is designed to demonstrate that Baltimore’s Black leaders can be even tougher on lawbreakers than the white leaders of Ferguson.
Lost in all the riot media storm, is the video.  We’ve all seen it.  When I first saw the video it looked to me as if Gray was unable to walk under his own power and appeared to be in pain given his screams as he was being dragged to a police van by two Police Officers.  We don’t know what happened, if anything, prior to what we see on the video – the confrontation between Gray and the six officers and his arrest.  Other than the fact that 80% of Gray’s spine was severed and he was in a coma for a week following his arrest until he died, we don’t know how his spine was so badly damaged.  The Baltimore Police have floated the notion that it might have happened as he was being transported in the police van that made two stops before depositing Gray at a police station.  It is alleged, not by the Police of course, that van drivers make it a point to make such trips as rough as possible just to give the occupants a taste of what’s to come in police custody. 

By the way, Gray was no stranger to the local police as the police have admitted.  He had a long list of charges against him but most are simple possession charges to which he pleaded guilty.  

 This “it might have happened in the van” story conveniently absolves the six officers of any responsibility for Gray’s injury and subsequent death.  Me?  I guess I’m not all that trusting of our police forces.  When I saw the video and initial news reports, what immediately came to my mind was that the cops got a little to energetic while bashing Gray in the back with their police batons.

Unfortunately, as these things usually go, we will never know why a 25 year old man had his spine severed while in police custody and is dead as a result. 


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