Freddie Gray: The death that shook the city

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Freddie Gray was chased by police and arrested in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12. He suffered a severe spinal cord injury sometime within the next 45 minutes while in the back of a police transport van and died a week later of his injuries.

The 25-year-old black man's death not only defined the rest of 2015, but became a touchstone moment in Baltimore history.


Gray's death sparked citywide protests against police brutality that echoed others across the country amid a growing national movement demanding improvements in how law enforcement agencies treat citizens, particularly in predominantly African-American communities.

Gray's funeral on April 27 was followed by a clash near Mondawmin Mall between police and people on the street — many of them city youths — that escalated into the first full-scale rioting in the city since 1968. To restore order, Gov. Larry Hogan called in the Maryland National Guard and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake instituted a weeklong nightly curfew.


Media from around the world descended on Baltimore as fires broke out across the city, hundreds of businesses were damaged and looted, hundreds of people were arrested and more than 150 police officers were injured.

In the aftermath, the city lost millions of dollars, and tourism took a dive. A collaborative review between city police and the Justice Department was upgraded to a full-scale civil rights investigation into the Police Department's patterns and practices.

And six city police officers involved in Gray's arrest and death were charged with crimes including murder and manslaughter. The first of those trials, against Officer William G. Porter, was held this month and ended in a mistrial.

Many long-simmering issues in West Baltimore and other parts of the city were laid bare: community mistrust of police, the lack of economic opportunities and jobs, lead-paint poisoning, and dilapidated housing conditions. Violent crime spiked, and homicides hit a historic high.

Freddie Gray became a household name in Baltimore and beyond. A mural of his face with civil rights leaders went up in his neighborhood. Charitable donations poured in and promises of change were made.

—Kevin Rector

Officers charged, trials begin

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby stunned many when two weeks after the death of Freddie Gray, she announced criminal charges against six of the officers involved in his arrest.


Protests had been growing here and across the country in reaction to the deaths of unarmed black men by police, and a sense that officers escaped punishment by the criminal justice system. Days after rioting prompted the deployment of the National Guard into the streets of Baltimore, Mosby stood on the steps of the War Memorial and told the public this case would be different.

As the case has moved through the courts, it has emerged as different in other ways as well. The officers facing the most serious charges are not accused of police brutality, but indifference — failing to take measures such as seat-belting Gray in the back of a van and calling for a medic when he complained of injuries.

Attorneys for the officers have mounted a series of challenges, accusing Mosby of conflicts of interest and ethical lapses, and arguing the officers could not get a fair trial in Baltimore. The judge in the case, Barry G. Williams, denied defense requests to dismiss the cases, recuse Mosby and many in her office from them, and to move the trials out of the city.

Williams, who spent years as a police misconduct prosecutor for the Justice Department's civil rights division, also rejected many of the defense's other motions.

But a key victory for the defense, legal observers said, was that the officers would be tried separately. Six trials were scheduled beginning in late November and stretching through the spring, where each officer would face trial for their particular role in Gray's death.

—Justin Fenton


The fallout

When the smoke settled in early May, the fallout began.

The protests that had followed Gray's arrest and death had been predicated on the idea that a culture of police brutality and a lack of officer accountability had been allowed to thrive in Baltimore for too long, leading to distrust between police and communities of color that many saw as boiling over when the rioting, looting and arson began.

After the unrest, the calls for reform were combined with new demands for heads to roll at the highest levels of politics and policing.

The powerful police union began its own campaign for change. In early July, it issued a scathing report outlining what it said were a slew of failures by top brass during the unrest, including decisions that put ill-equipped and poorly trained officers in danger.

The same day that report was issued, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts was in a downtown hotel with members of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based think tank, which was conducting a daylong review of the department's actions in preparation for its own report.


Batts was summoned from the hotel to City Hall that afternoon and fired by his boss, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

She said Batts had become a distraction. The union had no trust in him, and after six police officers were charged in Gray's arrest and death, a dramatic decline in arrests had occurred. Some suggested an intentional slowdown in police work. Violent crime was spiking, and Rawlings-Blake said Batts had to go.

The mayor's move was criticized by some who felt she was using her police commissioner as a scapegoat, and that she was ultimately responsible for what had occurred in the city during the unrest and what was continuing to occur, with the number of homicides rising to historic levels.

By September, the writing was on the wall for the mayor as well. Considered a rising star in the Democratic party just months before, Rawlings-Blake suddenly announced she would not be seeking re-election. With her new police commissioner, Kevin Davis, she said she would focus the rest of her term on the city's many needs, rather than on her own political aspirations.

In November, a report on the unrest by the Police Executive Research Forum found the Police Department had failed from top to bottom, even though its officers had showed bravery and dedication.

As the Department of Justice continued its own review of the city's police force — a process that promises more sweeping changes in the years to come — the city turned its eyes to the trials of the six officers in the Gray case.


—Kevin Rector

The crime spike

Before the April unrest and charging of six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, homicides in Baltimore were trending along the same lines as recent years.

But something changed dramatically that month: Killings spiked and have continued to mount at an unprecedented pace. Though Baltimore has long struggled with homicides, killings soared above 300 victims for the first time since the 1990s, with this year's per-capita rate the highest in the city's history.

Just four years ago, the city dipped below the 200-homicide mark for the first time in decades.

City leaders haven't been able to pinpoint a cause any more than they have been able to stop the bleeding. Early on, authorities suggested drugs looted during the rioting had offset the balance of power in the drug trade, while Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the city had weathered crime spikes in the past and she was confident the tide could be reversed again. Arrests declined significantly, leading some to suggest an intentional slowdown by police officers.


The heaviest violence has been on the city's west side, with a concentration in the communities around the epicenter of the April unrest. But there have also been significant spikes in homicides in the southwestern and northeastern police districts.

Groups like the 300 Men March have tried to call attention to the violence, including regular marches in which they slather vacant buildings with black-and-white signs that read, "We Must Stop Killing Each Other."

The community rallied after the killing in November of 24-year-old Kendal Fenwick, a young father who may have crossed drug dealers by trying to build a fence around his Northwest Baltimore home to create a safe living environment for his children. Weeks later, police announced the arrest of a 21-year-old man in Fenwick's killing. The man had previously been charged in at least two other shootings.

Most cases go unsolved, however. Just 30 percent of this year's homicide cases have been closed with an arrest. Police have begun a campaign on social media to generate tips in cases, hoping hashtags with victims' names can catch on as has happened with so many victims of police brutality.

—Justin Fenton