fresh voices from the front lines of change







The right-wing response to stories of police violence and brutality against blacks, and black deaths at the hands of police, is becoming as predictable as the stories themselves. Only the names and locations seem to change.

Here we are again. Another unarmed black man has died in the custody of another city police department with a long record of brutality, under highly questionable circumstances. By now its de riguer on the right to blame the victims, and spout racist rhetoric.

A couple of weeks ago, it was Walter Scott, shot in the back while fleeing a traffic stop in North Carolina, and denied medical help while the officer in question joked about the “adrenaline rush” he got from the killing. This week, it’s Freddie Gray, who emerged from a ride in a police van with serious, unexplained injuries, and died a week later. As in many other recent cases, some of what happened to Gray was caught on video.

While the media ignored the thousands of peaceful protestors across the country to focus on the protests that turned violent, right-wingers were quick to blame the protestors, their parents, and even President Obama — everyone but the police — for the conditions that fueled the unrest.

Gray, 25, was arrested in West Baltimore, on April 12, when he made eye contact with one police officer at about 8:30 a.m., and fled when several police officers on bicycles approached. After officers discovered a small pocket knife on him, Gray was arrested for weapon possession without force or incident. Why Gray ran and why he was pursued are unknown, but a friend told the Baltimore Sun that Gray had a record of drug-related arrests and ”had a history with that police beating."

Bystander video shows Gray screaming in pain while being dragged to a police van. He also reportedly requested an inhaler, because he suffered from asthma. At 8:46 a.m., the van stopped because Gray was “acting irate” according to police. Officers took him our of the van to put leg shackles on him. Again, video trumps the police account, because video of the stop counters officers claims.

When Gray was placed back in the van, police admit he was not placed in a seatbelt — a direct violation of police policy. At 9:24 a.m., police requested paramedics to take Gray to an area hospital. A subsequent charging document said, “During transport to Western District via wagon transport the Defendant suffered a medical emergency and was transported to Shock Trauma.”

Gray’s “medical emergency,” suffered in those 45 minutes, resulted in three fractured neck vertebrae that left his spine 80 percent severed at his neck, and a crushed voice box, which doctors said could result from “powerful blunt force” and “hyperextension of the neck.” After spending a week in a coma, Gray died of his injuries on April 19.

The attorney representing the officers in the case said Gray was hurt while riding inside the police van. Police commission Anthony W. Batts also admitted that officers failed to get medical attention for Gray “in a timely manner,” and should have called for an ambulance when he was initially arrested. Batt admitted that officers violated department procedure by not putting Gray in a seat belt.

Baltimore’s police department has paid out million of dollars to people injured in police vans, during “rough rides” or “nickel rides,” in which a police van is driven recklessly while detainees in the back are wearing handcuffs and/or leg irons, but not seat belts.

  • The family of Donald Johnson, Sr., won $7.4 million verdict against officers, after a 2005 van ride left him a paraplegic.
  • Jeffrey Alston was awarded $39 million by a jury, after he was paralyzed from the neck down as the result of a van ride.
  • The city paid $100,000 to the family of Homer Long, after he suffered a fatal heart attack in a police van in 2003.

Since 2011, Baltimore has settled or lost more than 100 police brutality cases, to the tune of nearly $6 million.

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