Why The Freddie Gray Case May Be Different

by Dashell Fittry

The spotlight of police-involved shooting incidents has slowly been traversing the nation, from Ferguson to Tulsa and from New York to North Charleston.

The blazing spotlight and the bullhorns that accompany it have now landed in Baltimore, home to a majority-minority community, which has had its fair share of policing issues in the past and was home to some of the earliest civil rights protests.

When 25-year-old Freddie Gray was arrested on April 12 by Baltimore Police, something went wrong somewhere.

Details remain vague and information has yet to be released on some of the most pressing questions surrounding this case.

What is known is that between Gray being arrested and his arrival at the police station, the vertebrae in his neck were broken and his spinal column was 80 percent severed, causing severe damage.

According to Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, after Gray was loaded into the police van, he asked for an inhaler and it “was noticed that he was having trouble breathing and [they] probably should have asked for paramedics.”

An ambulance would not be called for another 30 minutes, and following his arrival at the hospital, Gray would die, be resuscitated, remain in a coma, undergo surgery, and eventually succumb to his injuries days later.

Like many of the recent cases of police-involved deaths, this one didn't spark fury until pictures from Gray's hospital room and video of his arrest surfaced.

The latter shows what appears to be an injured Gray being dragged into the police van.

While it is unknown where exactly his injury occurred, if his spine was severed during his arrest, anyone with even the most basic first-aid training can attest that the way in which police picked him up and dragged him to the police van exasperated his spinal cord injuries.

Those details remain unknown, however.

A String Of Events

This case is one of several that has come to light in the past few months, all beginning with the case in Ferguson, Missouri where Michael Brown was shot and killed by Police Officer Darren Wilson.

This sparked protests across the country, which have been very effective in putting the spotlight on police shootings and brutality cases. Of course, there is an emphasis on those involving black suspects and white officers.

Others include the choking death of Eric Garner in New York City, and the North Charleston shooting of Walter Scott, who was shot in the back while running from a police officer. (This officer has since been arrested and is facing charges.)

There is also the Tulsa case, where an officer accidentally shot a suspect, though the most troubling part of the video is surely the excessive force being placed on the suspect, considering he had just been shot and was bleeding to death.

Thanks to modern technology, the majority of us now carry video cameras in our pockets, which has made it easier to record and document such instances.

On top of that, the media has been more receptive in recent months in highlighting and doing in-depth coverage of these cases and those involved.

It is also fair to mention that the public is far more aware that recording police, and any interaction with them, is a constitutional right. Though, we still see cases where police try to intimidate and force bystanders to turn their cameras off or away from a scene.

What Makes This Case Different

This case is different in several regards.

First, Baltimore has seen its fair share of police misconduct cases. A Baltimore Sun report stated the city paid out nearly $6 million since 2011 in judgments and settlements regarding 102 police misconduct cases.

This follows a 2006 settlement with the NAACP and ACLU, which pointed out that the “no tolerance” policy was the cause of over 100,000 arrests in 2005, from a population of around 640,000. This settlement also included reforming department policies and retraining officers.

Second, Baltimore is a majority-minority city, which also has an African American Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and an African American Police Commissioner, Anthony Batts.

This matters because unlike the cases in Ferguson, New York, North Charleston or Tulsa, their community leadership does not hold a white majority.

As City Councilman Brandon Scott stated,

“They understand the community's frustration… [and] the need to have law enforcement in neighborhoods.”

The New York Times also questions whether a predominantly African American leadership can better handle this case. It appears that so far, they have been able to.

Rawlings-Blake and Batts have been out front on the issue, and have taken an active approach with the communities in question.

They have also opened an independent investigation into the incident, and she has promised to “ensure [they] hold the right people accountable.” They have also taken the positive step of suspending (with pay) six police officers who were involved in the incident.

On top of their investigation, there are three others: a criminal review to be turned over to the State's Attorney's Office, an internal administrative investigation to see if the officers involved should be disciplined or fired, and a civil rights review of the case by the US Department of Justice.

Third, it is clear leaders in Maryland and at the US Department of Justice are not letting grass grow under their feet in this case.

They have seen the massive demonstrations, the public outcry and the intense media scrutiny that has descended on the other locations and they want to ensure they are out ahead of the issue.

As Rawlings-Blake has said, after decades of work to fix the distrust between police and the public, she is “angry we are here again.”

The mayor is right to be angry, and there is no doubt it will test her leadership abilities and those of a city which has been in this situation before.

However, this case might be different.

While details remain vague and much is still to be questioned, they are prepared. Not only is it that they may better represent the communities affected, if only due to the color of their skin (which we must not deny has an effect -- we did see African American Police Captain Ron Johnson have better success in Ferguson, after all), but also they have seen what has worked and what has failed across the nation.

They have the resources, the knowledge and the community will to overcome this incident.

Baltimore is a city that has prospered and failed greatly; a city that has seen rioting and peaceful protests, has built strong communities, and yet, still has great divides locally.

But, if anything, it is a city that has weathered the storms of progress and division before and can surely set a positive example for the nation out of this unfortunate and all-too-familiar situation.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Elite Daily.

Citations: Freddie Gray in Baltimore: Another City, Another Death in the Public Eye (New York Times), Man dies in Baltimore police custody with spinal injuries one week after arrest (New York Daily News), 6 Baltimore Officers Suspended After Man Suffers Fatal Spine Injury While in Police Custody (Huffington Post)