Until a week ago Sunday, when he was dragged into a police van by three city police officers, Freddie Gray was unknown outside his Greenmount 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 raised by national cable news reporters as a challenge to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s political future.
“Your city has a record,” said MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell said to Rawlings-Blake yesterday, noting that Baltimore has paid out $5.7 million since 2011 in lawsuits alleging police brutality and other misconduct.
“Is this a problem?” Mitchell asked the mayor, whose face appeared across from Mitchell’s on a split screen. “Do you have a problem?”
Rawlings-Blake clearly does on the level of civic crisis as well as public-relations nightmare.
The mayor was everywhere on the national and local airwaves and social media yesterday, as angry citizens demonstrated outside City Hall and police headquarters, and cable news anchors seized on the case as the latest flare-up of the national problem of police misconduct in poor black communities.
“Have you reached out to Mr. Gray’s family at all?” Mitchell asked the mayor, pointing out to her what happened in the last of these, the death of Walter Scott, shot in the back by a policeman earlier this month 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 a meeting with the Gray family had been scheduled for today.
“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.”
Meanwhile, as the media furor focused on the Gray case, the cost of excessive force and alleged brutality by police continues to rise as part of the routine spending of the city.
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 describe as a nearly severed spinal cord, among other possible injuries?
The police report noted that Gray’s arrest at the Gilmor Homes public housing complex took place “without force or incident.”
UPDATE: Names of suspended police officers released
Rawlings-Blake said at the news conference that Gray’s injuries did not take place during his initial arrest: “It’s clear that what happened happened inside the van.”
Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez, addressing the media yesterday, also said he thought the video of the incident showed no improper behavior by police: “At no time did I see a use of force at that moment.”
“What we don’t know, and what we need to get to, is how that injury occurred,” Rodriguez said. He noted that “when Mr. Gray was put in that van, he could talk, he was upset, and when he was taken out of that van, he could not talk and he could not breathe.”
Rodriguez alluded to the possible medical issues at play during the arrest, noting that Gray asked for an inhaler, but that police didn’t have one and they did not call for paramedics.
“We should have probably asked for paramedics” sooner, Commissioner Anthony Batts said, at the news conference.
Batts said he was already 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, as the city conducts a preliminary investigation, family members 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 official accounts as well, observing that Gray’s legs were dangling as he was dragged to the van.
Demonstrators outside the Western District on Sunday, the day Gray died, also said they 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 planned to gather again today at 5 pm at Presbury and Mount streets and walk to the police department’s Western District headquarters at 1034 North Mount Street.
OTHER BREW REPORTING ON FREDDIE GRAY:
• City to pay $80,000 to victim of police beating 4/20/15
• Freddie Gray death: heartache for family, hash spotlight for Baltimore 4/21/15
• Demanding jail for officers involved in Freddie Gray’s arrest, marchers share their own police horror stories 4/22/15
• City prepares for worst, but protesters dial down the anger at City Hall march 4/23/15
• City workers sent home early today ahead of Freddie Gray demonstration 4/23/15
• Policing with impunity: How judges let dubious police tactics flourish 4/25/15
• Pent-up anger over police explodes on city streets after day of peaceful protests 4/26/15
• Most arrested at protest are city residents but mayor and police blame “outside agitators” 4/26/15