He didn’t even do anything. A cop looked at him and held eye contact for just a little too long and Freddie Gray knew, knew for a fact, that “here it comes again”. So he ran and the one thing you must never do, children, is run from the police. That’s how you get a beating from law enforcement, because cops HATE to run. When they catch you (and they will), you’re going to get it and in the eyes of the cops (and sadly, most of Society), it’s entirely your fault. You provoked it, you asked for it, you must have been guilty of SOMETHING or else you wouldn’t have run away.
When they caught him (See? I told you) and “took him down” (reports are unclear but it appears he was Tasered and thrown to the ground while he was being restrained), they chucked him in the back of a van and gave him what is colloquially referred to as a “rough ride”. They shackle you hand and foot but don’t bother to buckle you in and then they drive erratically so that you rattle around inside the back of the paddy-wagon like a loose screw in a tin can. Now, paddy-wagons don’t have padding in them; it’s a place of cold steel benches and dividers, it’s built solidly enough that even the enhanced strength of the mad or the drug-crazed or the violent and determined can’t damage it. But it can damage you, especially if you have no means to protect yourself from gravity or inertia.
He asked for medical help. He didn’t get any. They made four stops, drove around for a half-hour, all the while with him pleading for help. By the time they got him out of the van, his spinal cord was almost severed and his larynx was crushed. No more pleading for him. They took him to hospital, finally, but it was too late. He slipped into a coma and died a week later.
All this after Ferguson. All this after Eric Garner, whose crime was selling loose cigarettes. (Hey, that’s still a crime. The state needs those tax revenues to pay cop’s salaries.) All this after a hashtag campaign called Black Lives Matter. All this after a neighborhood watchman shot a teenager in cold blood and got away with it. Hands Up Don’t Shoot. I Can’t Breathe. Black Lives Matter? To whom, exactly?
We were treated to a look at Freddie Gray’s criminal record (mostly petty possession beefs) but we weren’t shown a glimpse at the records of the officers involved. (How many of them had Use Of Force complaints? How many of them had, if ever, been reprimanded and for what? We’ll never know.) Then the protests started, as they always do and they degenerated into riots, as they always do. You could practically set your watch by it.
The police tried to sell the line that he deliberately injured himself, which is not only physically impossible, it’s insane. They tried to claim that they had “credible evidence” that rival gangs were in an alliance to kill police officers, which was another bald-faced and monumental lie. Having learned nothing from Ferguson, they imposed martial law and called out the National Guard after a few aging squad cars that were abandoned got torched by a righteously and rightfully angry mob. A few businesses got burned down, the media showed up and every talking head from here to Timbuktu used their valuable electronic pulpit to denounce the “thugs” (because you’re not allowed to say “niggers” on television anymore). Meanwhile, they devoted every pixel and minute of air-time to show “dramatic” scenes inside the “community” (you’re not allowed to call it a ghetto on television anymore). News-anchors struggled to find “meaning” in this, to find a “narrative” that would help them and their viewers “understand” why this was happening.
This happened because of a determined and long-standing policy of the Baltimore police department to criminalize an entire race of people. This happened because of decades of economic brutality that destroyed all industry except the drug trade. This happened because a cop took one look at Freddie Gray. One look, that’s all it took, and his life was over.
David Simon, creator of Homicide: Life On The Street and the acclaimed series The Wire, gave an insightful interview with The Marshall Project. In it, he explained how things got so bad in Baltimore. There used to be an informal, unwritten code that everybody lived by. Cop tells you to move along, you move along. You can call a cop a “motherfucker” and that was okay but if you called a cop an “asshole”, you were going to jail, because that was a personal insult. The code, he wrote, wasn’t always fair and it wasn’t always right but it was there and by and large, the cops followed it. Nowadays, there is no code. When the cops roll up, they just arrest everybody, regardless. They have been manipulating crime statistics to justify their budgets, even though crime has been declining since the 90s. The perception, the fear of crime, has steadily increased since the 90s. Mass incarceration has created an entire generation that is not only locked up, they’re locked out – locked out of housing, opportunities, the very pursuit of happiness itself. If I were locked up and locked out and shut down, I’d riot too.
A broken window apparently means more than a broken spine or a broken spirit. A burned-down building is a tragedy but a man dying for literally nothing at all is apparently something to be accepted as the cost of doing business. Feel free to protest but don’t raise your voices because that’s not peaceful. Go ahead and march but don’t make white people feel nervous.
Today, they charged six officers with manslaughter and other offences. I don’t need to look in a crystal ball or read the tea leaves to know, to know for a fact, that they will be acquitted. I know it, you know it, we all know it.
What’s the difference between Freddie Gray and Nelson Mandela? Freddie Gray died in police custody.