The first of the police officers who were charged with Freddie Gray’s death goes on trial at the end of November. The judge has imposed a gag order on all the participants. But it hasn’t held back various voices from commentary on what went wrong and what could happen.
At the top of the list is National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates. In his book, Between the World and Me, he writes a letter to his son, chronicling his upbringing in Baltimore. The author details the death of his best friend, Prince Jones, who dies at the hands of the police. Coates notes the numerous similarities between Jones’ and Gray’s cases.
“Baltimoreans are upset for the same reason Black people who live in Black communities around this country are upset. Part of living in cities like Baltimore, you’re submitting yourself to laws and policies that ensure that there will be a higher/larger police presence.”
The author instinctively knows the rage will not go away. He is almost fatalistic in his thinking, “until there is some sort of policy change…I’m just not seeing it now.” He knows people will perceive his book as the reason for the anger in the streets. He confesses, “It answers why I was angry.”
Trying to make sense of the carnage and symptoms which lead to protests on the street is D. Watkins. Also a Baltimore author, he speaks of his transition from drug dealer to college professor in the Beastside: Living (and Dying) While Black in America. “The anger is not new.” He tells me he “attacked these issues long before Freddie Gray and the uprising happened.” He explains the anger as inter-generational. His father, his uncles, and older brothers went through the same thing.
“I can’t take a day off, I won’t even see the changes I want see but, that doesn’t make me exempt from trying my best to lay down a foundation for the next group of young people coming up. So it can get a little better,” Watkins said.
On the other end of the spectrum is Tyrone Powers, a former FBI agent and expert in the criminal justice field. He wondered aloud, “what is the end game?” He faced a similar question when he worked with the Bloods, Crips and a prison gang known as the Black Guerilla Family. “They wanted to know, what is the step by step process? From evolving in [and] out and to [be] able to successfully take care of ourselves.”
It’s easier said than done and those same individuals are still in the Sandtown-Winchester Community, the heart of disturbances in Baltimore. Powers is under no illusions: “We must anticipate the worst.” Still, he believes if there is one conviction out of the six charged officers it may “mitigate” some of the activity.
Powers also puts some pressure on the courts to assist with any potential problems. He believes depending on certain verdicts, the court has an obligation to give ample time for the city and police department to deploy assets. Additionally, he says courts can release information on a day when crowd reaction can be lessened.
Higher up the political food chain, Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford will be watching the trials and their aftermath. He and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called in the National Guard to quell riots following Freddie Gray’s funeral. “Hopefully everything stays calm…we will work with Baltimore City to support them if they need it.”
In the aftermath of the uprising, a scathing report pointed to the “unpreparedness” of the city and the police. Boyd says in the lead up to anniversary of Gray’s death he hopes there is a “push to get out into the communities…to talk about ‘all you’re going to do is tear up your own communities.’” He’s hoping churches and community leaders will reach out to those who are angry.
While the Baltimore demonstrations have calmed, the conditions that created the unrest still exists. Across the city there are forums trying to answer why the rioting occurred. It’s taking a backseat to an unprecedented number of murders. The city’s murder rate is more than 300. It spiked following the melee. Its backdrop of citizens are clearly watching as they try to comprehend why a young man named Freddie Gray died in back of a police van.