Until a week ago when he was dragged into a police van by three officers, Freddie Gray was unknown outside of his West Baltimore neighborhood.
Now the 25-year-old African-American man is dead – after being critically injured during the April 12 arrest – and his name is being chanted in the streets and invoked by national cable news reporters.
“Your city has a record,” MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell said to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake yesterday, noting that Baltimore has paid out $5.7 million since 2011 in lawsuits alleging brutality and other police misconduct.
“Is this a problem?” Mitchell asked as the mayor’s face appeared somberly on a split screen. “Do you have a problem?”
The mayor was everywhere on the airwaves yesterday as angry citizens demonstrated outside of City Hall and police headquarters. Cable news anchors seized on the incident as the latest flare-up of police misconduct in poor black communities.
“Have you reached out to Mr. Gray’s family at all?” Mitchell asked Rawlings-Blake, pointing out what happened after Walter Scott was shot by a policeman in North Charleston, South Carolina.
“The mayor very notably in the Walter Scott case went to the family and expressed his regrets and his remorse,” Mitchell said.
Rawlings-Blake assured her that a meeting with the Gray family had been scheduled.
“Encouraged by how peaceful the demonstrations have been. As we move forward w/ the investigation it’s important that we remain 1 community,” @MayorSRB tweeted. “I understand the frustrations surrounding this tragedy – I, too, am frustrated & I want answers.”
While the media furor focused on the Gray case, the cost of misconduct by Baltimore Police continues to rise as part of the city’s routine spending.
Tomorrow Rawlings-Blake and the Board of Estimates are set to approve another payout, $80,000 in this case, to the victim of a 2011 police beating.
Last week the board awarded $175,000 to the family of a man shot and killed in 2012. Both cases involved police encounters with African-American men.
What Happened in the Van
How did Gray end up with what the family’s attorney describes as a nearly severed spinal cord?
The police report notes that Gray’s arrest at Gilmor Homes took place “without force or incident.”
UPDATE: Names of suspended police officers released.
Rawlings-Blake has said that Gray’s injuries did not occur during his initial arrest: “It’s clear that what happened, happened inside the van.”
Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said the video of the incident showed no improper behavior by police: “At no time did I see a use of force at that moment.”
He noted that “when Mr. Gray was put in that van, he could talk. . . and when he was taken out of that van, he could not talk and he could not breathe.”
Rodriguez alluded to possible medical issues at play during the arrest, noting that Gray had asked for an inhaler. The police didn’t have one, Rodriguez said, and they did not call for paramedics.
“We should have probably asked for paramedics,” Commissioner Anthony Batts said at a news conference.
Batts said he was instituting changes in departmental policy governing the transporting of suspects and the care of people with medical needs while in police custody.
Doubts and Questions
But with six police officers suspended with pay, both Gray’s family and local civil rights leaders have called for an outside investigation by the U.S. Justice Department or the FBI to get at the truth.
Analysts on CNN were doubting the official accounts as well, observing that Gray’s legs were dangling as he was dragged to the van.
Demonstrators outside the Western District said they, too, suspect his fatal injuries were the result of more than a failure to promptly give him an inhaler.
“It was 42 unaccountable minutes. What did they do in those 42 minutes? They killed him,” one man said, stabbing the air with a pointed finger. “They put him in that paddy wagon and they beat him again. . . We want justice!”
Demonstrators plan to gather today at 5 p.m. at Presbury and Mount streets and walk to the Western District Police Station at 1034 North Mount Street.
OTHER BREW REPORTING ON FREDDIE GRAY: