Stories about police brutality in Baltimore go far beyond Freddie Gray, whose death resulting from a spinal cord injury sustained while in police custody has sparked violent protests throughout the city. Media coverage of looting, rioting, and burning cars and buildings shows only a small part of the bigger picture. These articles, published prior to and in the wake of Gray’s death, provide a better understanding of the issues that led to the current unrest.
—The Baltimore Sun’s investigation, “Undue Force,’’ details cases of abuse at the hands of police that led to the City of Baltimore paying out about $5.7 million in police brutality lawsuits between 2011 and 2014. Published last September, the piece outlined the city’s police department’s troubling reputation for brutality:
Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.
But the most powerful parts of the piece are the first-hand accounts from victims of police brutality:
“The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.’’
“They slammed me down on my face,’’ Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face.’’
“He pulled me up, pushed me in the dining room over the couch, put his knees in my back, twisted my arms and wrist and put handcuffs on my hands and threw me face down on the couch.’’
Baltimore Erupts: Scenes of Chaos
—The Atlantic’s “The Mysterious Death of Freddie Gray,’’ addresses Gray’s questionable arrest and the lack of information about what happened to him while he was in the police van:
The police say Gray didn’t resist arrest and that officers didn’t use force, which seems to be mostly corroborated by video shot by bystanders. Gray seems to shout in pain, and his leg seems injured as officers drag him to a police van. (Someone off camera shouts, “His leg broke and y’all dragging him like that!’’) Gray also had asthma and requested his inhaler, but didn’t get it. Yet it’s not the leg or the asthma that killed him. Instead, it was a grave injury to his spinal cord.
—Another Sun piece, “Freddie Gray not the first to come out of Baltimore police van with serious injuries,’’ details the disturbing trend of “rough rides’’ by Baltimore police:
Christine Abbott, a 27-year-old assistant librarian at the Johns Hopkins University, is suing city officers in federal court, alleging that she got such a ride in 2012. According to the suit, officers cuffed Abbott’s hands behind her back, threw her into a police van, left her unbuckled and “maniacally drove’’ her to the Northern District police station, “tossing [her] around the interior of the police van.’’
“They were braking really short so that I would slam against the wall, and they were taking really wide, fast turns,’’ Abbott said in an interview that mirrored allegations in her lawsuit. “I couldn’t brace myself. I was terrified.’’