A predictable question trails closely behind their actions, a question that always reappears like the ghost of riots past, asking, simply, why are they destroying their own neighborhoods and setting their futures on fire? The question feels helpless, sometimes cynical, but it is exactly the right question. It should be asked, however, not in anger, but with compassionate curiosity. Because the truth is as ugly as the facts that fuel riots: Without a brick tossed or a building burning, we are hardly confronting the hopelessness of the future for these young people.
I was about to call Freddie Gray's death the latest in a string of high-profile deaths of African-American men involving police. But that's not quite right. And that's the point. Each incident of the past year was a particular story in a particular place, which became clear as soon as we arrived in the very particular place that is Baltimore.
Nothing about this story was quite the way it seemed from a distance. For one thing, the uprising did not bring a black populace into confrontation with an overwhelmingly white police force, as happened in Ferguson, Mo., last year.
Baltimore, a majority black city, has a black mayor and a black police commissioner whose force is about half black.
This seems to be akin to the carnival game of bobbing for apples; police spot a black man on the street in a high crime area; make eye contact; wait for him to run and they "pray to the gods" that he has a knife, an arrest warrant or that he "resists" -- poof! You just grabbed yourself an apple, officer!
The numbers show that the anger in Baltimore may run deeper than the unanswered questions about how Gray was injured and whether the police officers who arrested him were responsible. They speak to a region in Baltimore that has been systemically failed not just by Baltimore police, who have been subject to allegations of brutality in the past, but by the economy as well.
The mayor's empathy was timely and well expressed, but the measure of justice in Baltimore will be whether police and prosecutors can determine precisely what happened during the arrest and in the back of that police van and respond appropriately. The sooner they do so, the better.
The death has also fueled debate on whether African-American leadership [in Baltimore] can better handle accusations of police brutality than cities like Ferguson, Mo., and North Charleston, S.C., with their white-dominated governments.
The Atlantic continues the theme of race in the Freddie Gray investigation.
Black men dying at the hands of the police is of course nothing new, but the nation is now paying attention and getting outraged....
The obvious tie between the Gray and [Walter] Scott cases, though, is that in both incidents police apprehended black men under questionable circumstances— Scott for a busted tail light, Gray for, well, it's unclear. In both cases, the black community feels its members were unfairly targeted by the local police.
Amy Davidson of The New Yorker writes about the unanswered questions in the case and how "accountability is a necessary response" in cases of police brutality.
Gray was in far worse shape at the end of the ride than he was at the beginning, which makes the question of what happened in the van an urgent one. It was, in effect, a black box that Gray entered. For many people in this country, that is too often a summary of their experience with the criminal-justice system as a whole. It is one of the reasons that people run.
"This is possibly the spark that's going to ignite change, real change, in this city, and with the Baltimore Police Department," Hamm says.
He says that for that to happen, the city's investigation must be transparent – and if wrongdoing is found, "the police department has to stand up to the community and say, look, we messed up, we made a mistake."
Hamm says the ethnic diversity in Baltimore's government and other key roles provides "a sliver of hope" to the public.
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All of them resulted in unnecessary deaths. But all of the cases remind us that this is not an issue of whether police in general are good or bad or whether the post-9/11 frenzy of fear has led law enforcement to become too aggressive and have an inflated sense of their mission. It's an opportunity to look at the cases separately and figure out what we can learn from them.
[Freddie Gray] ran, like a lot of black men do when we see cops, because for our generation, police officers have been the most consistent terrorists in our neighborhoods. Plus we are currently in a culture where a cop can shoot you if you put hands up, or if you follow their directions, or if you lie down, or if you are asleep. I swear they see black skin and think bull's-eye.