It’s been five years since my twin brother, Freddie Gray Jr., was taken from my family. Five years of grief, anger, confusion and constant sadness.
Unfortunately in Baltimore, when you grow up in a community like Sandtown-Winchester, you get used to hearing that a person has died or was murdered. In our neighborhood, the odds seemed stacked against us on so many levels that you grow numb to the despair that you see and feel every day.
As much as I always knew that bad things can happen anywhere, I never dreamed my family would be involved in a situation like the one that occurred on April 12, 2015, when Freddie was arrested and suffered what would be a life-ending injury. I remember watching the news and seeing what happened to Trayvon Martin in Florida and Mike Brown in Ferguson, thinking how hard it must be to deal with that kind of tragedy; never imagining that my family would find ourselves on the front page and national news in the same position.
By now everyone knows what happened and honestly, it’s too painful to talk about the incident that landed Freddie in a coma and ultimately ended his life on April 19. Instead, I try to focus on appreciating all the support that my family received that helped us get through the hardest time of our lives.
The attention that my family faced after Freddie’s murder was a lot to handle. My family is very private, and we never asked for or wanted any of this. I remember the Saturday night that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called and asked if we would ask the people of Baltimore to stop rioting. I never imagined that I would be in a position where my words could matter, but being Freddie’s twin, I thought it was my responsibility to say something because we did not want to be associated with violence or anything that would hurt Baltimore. Because Freddie loved Baltimore!
When I saw what was happening in the streets, I feared that the police were going to hurt someone and another family would be in the same position as my family was in, so I said the first thing that came to my heart, “Can you all please stop the violence? Freddie would not want this.”
A lot has happened since Freddie was taken from us. My family has been through so much trying to find normalcy, and it’s difficult. My stepfather, Richard Shipley, passed away in 2018, adding more grief for us to fight through. Not many people know but my other brother, Raymond, was murdered as well, making all of this so hard on my mother. She has had two sons murdered, buried a husband and every day it is a battle to move forward because no one has been held accountable for what happened to Freddie.
There is no closure, and there is no way for Freddie to rest in peace without justice, and it doesn’t look like that will ever happen. Our attorney and our community fought hard to keep Freddie’s name alive, and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby did the right thing by charging the six officers who were responsible for his death, but justice has still never been served. That hurts.
There is still so much work to do in Baltimore. Three mayors and several police commissioners later, the people in my neighborhood still fear the police and feel that they don’t come around to protect and serve but rather to harass and harm. We don’t feel safe on our own block, and we teach our kids to run from the police. That must change.
Freddie is dead not because he was doing something illegal or because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time — he was at home in his neighborhood. Freddie is dead because he feared the police and that fear led to a confrontation that took his life and broke up our family. Freddie’s passing will always hurt and will never make sense to those of us who loved him. If there is to be a legacy, let it be that Baltimore is moving closer to a point where the police and the community become partners and not enemies. We are not there yet.
Some people say that Freddie’s legacy is the consent decree, increased community oversight of police behavior, seat belts in police wagons and body worn cameras on police officers. All of this is good and I definitely believe that the changes put in place after Freddie’s death have saved the lives of others who have come in contact with police.
But still if I’m honest, I just wish I had my brother back. I’d prefer his life and his love over his legacy any day. He never desired to be a martyr, and we never talked about a legacy. He just wanted to live a good life, to enjoy his family and friends, and to one day raise a family in a clean, safe neighborhood.
That future was taken from him and Freddie was taken from us. We never wanted the attention or the money or the chaos, and I’d do anything just to have things back to the way they were the day before my brother’s arrest — just me and Freddie.
Fredericka Gray is Freddie Gray’s twin sister.