In what has become an all-too-familiar ritual, Freddie Gray’s body will be lowered into the ground today after a funeral that is taking place amid an environment of outrage and question marks over exactly what and who caused his death.
His name now enters the roll call of dead Black people whose lives were senselessly snuffed out after routine encounters with law enforcement. The everyday ordinariness of the encounters makes the deaths even more shocking—these were not conflicts that came at the end of high speed pursuits or during the commission of violent crimes. Freddie Gray was walking down the street when he apparently made the wrong kind of “eye contact” with law enforcement. Walter Scott was driving down the road. Eric Garner was standing on the sidewalk. Michael Brown was walking down the street. Akai Gurley was standing in a corridor.
Gray’s family is scheduled to be joined at his funeral by a group that calls itself Families United for Justice. It includes the relatives of other Black people who saw untimely deaths at the hands of law enforcement: relatives of Eric Garner, who died last July after a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold; Amadou Diallo, who was fatally shot by New York police officers in 1999 in a hail of 41 bullets by officers who said they thought his wallet was a gun; Alberta Spruill, a 57-year-old woman who died of a heart attack in 2003 when police mistakenly threw a stun grenade into her apartment executing a no-knock search warrant.
The presence of these families is a testament to the commonality of these senseless deaths.
But protesters in Baltimore want to ensure that the world at least will remember Freddie Gray’s name.
As usual, much of the coverage of the protests focused on violence, with photos being circulated of young Black men standing on top of police vehicles and stomping them or assaulting them with garbage cans. There was also some looting of a few local businesses and the vandalizing of outdoor bar patios near Orioles Park at Camden Yards on Saturday.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake blamed the unruly behavior on “outsiders.”
“We cannot and will not let a minority of incendiary individuals exploit our community,” she said at a news conference with lawmakers and religious leaders at Bethel AME Church. She said she would not let outsiders “put their own agenda ahead of our community.”
A total of 35 people were arrested, including four juveniles, according to police reports.
Amid the anger there is still the question of how Gray died. His voice box was crushed and his neck was snapped before he went into a coma and died, according to his family. It’s clear from the video that’s been released that there was something wrong with Gray as he was being put into the police van. He was screaming in apparent pain and his legs appeared to be limp.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, saying he was appalled that Gray did not receive proper care right away, said officers had multiple opportunities to get him medical care, such as when he was first apprehended by officers who apparently tackled him after a chase, and when he was in the police van. There has been a focus on the fact that he was not in a seat belt during the transport, even though his arms and legs were shackled, leading some to conclude that his injuries occurred when he was bounced around while the van was moving.
Commissioner Batts said there were no excuses for the fact that Gray was not buckled into the transport van. Since his legs already appeared to be limp, others are wondering if perhaps the police injured him during the arrest.
But Batts’ comments drew the ire of the police union.
“These comments appear to be politically driven and in direct contrast to the commissioner’s own request not to jump to any conclusions until the entire investigation is complete,” Gene Ryan, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said in a written statement.
Batts said five of the six officers involved in the arrest have provided statements to investigators, while the sixth officer has invoked his right to refuse to answer questions.
Batts said the police would hand over the results of its investigation on Friday. Prosecutors would then have to decide whether to press charges against any of the officers.
Authorities said a preliminary examination on Gray has been completed, but a full report could take 30 to 45 days because the medical examiner’s office is waiting on toxicology results and might ask spinal experts to look at the case.
A wake for Gray was held yesterday at a Baltimore funeral home, where several dozen protesters demonstrated outside, encouraging drivers who passed by to honk their horns in support.
“I hope this incident serves to keep the conversation going,” Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore) told the Washington Post, referring to the many criminal justice billsin the state legislature that deal with police practices and provide greater opportunities to young Black men like Freddie Grey.