Freddie Gray

Freddie Gray and Police Brutality in Baltimore

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credit: Elliott Plack / Source / CC BY-SA

The proximate cause for the recent protests and violence in Baltimore is the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man who was taken into custody in a police van on April 12.

When he entered the van, he was wearing handcuffs, and, reports say, he was able to talk and breathe. When he got out of the van, he couldn't do either. A week later he was dead. 

Gray's death after being taken into police custody was a tragedy, and it soon caused an uproar—not because it was particularly unusual, but because it wasn't.

Baltimore police have a history of physical brutality against the community that the force is supposed to be protecting. And the best place to go to understand that history is The Baltimore Sun, which has extensively documented both the city's record of law enforcement abuses and recent attempts by officials to investigate and reform the system. Here's a brief sample from the paper's archives. 

"Freddie Gray not the first to come out of Baltimore police van with serious injuries," a look at the practice of "rough riding" in police vans.

Gray is not the first person to come out of a Baltimore police wagon with serious injuries….For some, such injuries have been inflicted by what is known as a "rough ride" — an "unsanctioned technique" in which police vans are driven to cause "injury or pain" to unbuckled, handcuffed detainees, former city police officer Charles J. Key testified as an expert five years ago in a lawsuit over Johnson's subsequent death.

(Police have admitted that Gray was not properly buckled in the van and that police "failed to get him medical attention in a timely manner multiple times.")

"Undue Force," an extensive report from last year on the city's myriad cases of police brutality millions in public money city government has paid in legal settlements over abuse.

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.

Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.

And in almost every case, prosecutors or judges dismissed the charges against the victims — if charges were filed at all. In an incident that drew headlines recently, charges against a South Baltimore man were dropped after a video showed an officer repeatedly punching him — a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was "shocked."

Such beatings, in which the victims are most often African-Americans, carry a hefty cost. They can poison relationships between police and the community, limiting cooperation in the fight against crime, the mayor and police officials say. They also divert money in the city budget — the $5.7 million in taxpayer funds paid out since January 2011 would cover the price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds. And that doesn't count the $5.8 million spent by the city on legal fees to defend these claims brought against police.

"Some Baltimore police officers face repeated misconduct lawsuits," a follow-up report looking at police who have cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars because of brutality lawsuits.

City lawyers did not understand the full extent of [officer] McSpadden's string of lawsuits until this July — after The Sun started asking questions about the officer. The Law Department was unaware that McSpadden was battling more than one lawsuit arising from incidents in 2012. And City Hall leaders learned about McSpadden's history just two days before the Board of Estimates agreed to settle another excessive-force lawsuit involving him. The total cost to taxpayers for the five lawsuits: more than $624,000.

The investigation, which focused on settlements and court judgments made since 2011, also found that multiple cases related to allegations of assault, false arrest and false imprisonment have not hindered some officers from becoming supervisors. In one case, for example, two officers were sued by a Baltimore man who won $175,000 in a jury trial, but they now have a higher rank — a problem that police blame in part on civil service rules.

The Baltimore Police Department, like others around the nation, has a policy designed to protect people under arrest. Part of its general orders state that officers are to "ensure the safety of the arrestee" when taking people into custody. But The Sun's investigation found that officers do not always follow policy in reporting the use of force, making it harder for agency leaders to detect problems.

"Federal review of Baltimore police brutality to be 'candid,' official says," a report on the city's response to the Sun's report.

A U.S. Department of Justice official promised Wednesday that his agency's months-long investigation of police brutality in Baltimore would be a "candid" assessment, and federal lawmakers threw their support behind the probe.

Ronald L. Davis, director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said he met with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts in Arkansas on Wednesday at a U.S. Conference of Mayors event focused on police misconduct. Davis said two staffers and up to four outside experts would contribute to the Baltimore probe, which could last six to eight months.

"Residents air complaints about police at Justice Department forum," a report from an overflowing townhall event in which 300 Baltimore residents came to discuss policing in the city, as part of the review of the city's policing.

About 300 people attended the town hall meeting at Coppin State University, which was part of a "collaborative review" between the Justice and city police departments into the agency's history of misconduct claims, brutality allegations and excessive force complaints, including those that have resulted in injury or death.

..Some complained not just about police but about the [federal] review, which they said was toothless because they view it as being too aligned with the Police Department. While the review was voluntarily requested by the city, Justice Department spokeswoman Mary Brandenberger said federal officials have the ability to refer significant violations or issues to its Civil Rights Division for possible sanctions.

For a more detailed overview of the city's troubling history of violent policing, read The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf, who did a far more thorough, and disturbing, dive through the Sun's reporting on police misconduct. 

NEXT: Freddie Gray's Arrest Record Explains Why He Ran, Not Why He's Dead

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  1. Anarchy is the final curtain. When systemic corruption remains unaltered for decades the criminals will have the final say every fucking time because criminals aren’t afraid to break and burn shit. Perform surgery on the putrescence looming deep in the bowels of the imprisonment system and the criminal cannot justify his crowds.

    1. The only thing that keeps me from going full AnCap is the belief that anarchy just won’t be sustainable. A collective is going to come together eventually to form a government, and people will follow it because that’s what they do.

      1. We should have competing governments for the same political entity. Not like federalism, but like, I dunno, five or six national governments (you could do the same thing at all levels, of course).

        1. It’s called “competitive law.”

          1. Okay, so I contract with “U.S. Government Lite” and am solely governed by its laws. Unless I change my mind and sign with “U.S. Government Heavy Metal.”

            1. Panarchy FTW!

            1. From the Wiki: Fines figure in another interesting way. It is expected that a prominent public figure such as a religious or political dignitary or a policeman or a judge should lead an exemplary life. If he violates the law, he pays double what would be required of an ordinary person.

              When the Somalis have a better system of accountability than you…

      2. Yes, and those types of governments don’t tend to be constitutional republics.

      3. Correct. And that government will be as illegitimate as this one.

      4. Classic anarchism (Bakunin etc) is explicitly collective – communal property, committees deciding everything significant etc. They’re basically commies who wanted to skip the intervening stages and get straight to the collectivist utopia stage.

        1. “Classic anarchists” are the least anarchist of all the anarchists. They want to abolish the state and replace with a different institution that has all of the characteristics of a state, but operates under a different name and for the ‘common good’.

      5. A collective is going to come together eventually to form a government, and people will follow it because that’s what they do.

        There seems to be some myth out there in the world that holds that ancaps don’t assemble, or would be precluded from being able to organize themselves. I think it’s the most egregious form of arrogance to conclude that the state system as we know it is the best that humanity can do in ordering it’s societies. If not arrogance than just intellectual laziness.

  2. I would say the residents are sufficiently “airing complaints” right now…
    Just hope this doesn’t conitnue to be seen in solely a racial context (though there is a racial component to it I would argue it is more of a CLASS component)….
    Remember: you can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride.
    The process IS the punishment.

    BOOYAH!! SMOOCHES!! GOOD SHOOT!!!

    hth

  3. They also divert money in the city budget ? the $5.7 million in taxpayer funds paid out since January 2011 would cover the price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds.

    Ahh, the healing power of basketball.

    1. I am pretty sure the fact that the police would no longer be brutalizing people is a bigger good than saving the money it takes to compensate the victims of said brutalizing.

  4. The thing to remember about the more than one hundred people who have gotten settlements is that those are the people who bothered to file and had evidence of what happened. Since cops are so willing to lie for one another and have such power over the people they arrest, it is safe to assume that most cases of brutality do not result in settlements either because the person is afraid to file a claim or doesn’t have any evidence beyond their own word to prove what happened. That means there must be hundreds if not thousands of cases that go unreported or unsubstantiated. For the city to have over a hundred cases of brutality that are both serious enough and documented enough to warrant a settlement means the problem is absolutely rampant and endemic to the department.

    I hate looters as much as anyone and would be totally okay with Baltimore shop keepers shooting anyone who tried to destroy their property. That being said, the blame for these riots lies squarely with the Baltimore Police Department and by extension the city government of Baltimore and the state government of Maryland. They have clearly failed in the most basic of all governmental functions; providing honest and effective law enforcement.

    1. I imagine that the vast majority of the people rioting on the streets of Baltimore have a story to tell about encounters between the police and themselves or someone they know.

    2. In most cases, the person the cops brutalized was probably guilty of something and therefore gets no sympathy from the system. It’s only in the cases where the cops brutalize innocent people that the city stands some chance of having to pay up.

      1. For sure. If I am going to prison for hte next ten years, who is going to believe me or care that the cops did something horrible to me? Unless they kill me or beat me so badly I end up in the hospital, no one is ever going to know or care what they did to me.

      2. It’s only in the cases where the cops brutalize innocent people that the city stands some chance of having to pay up.

        Actually it’s only in the cases where a victim of the right skin color fits the media narrative of white racism, that the city has any chance of being forced to pay out.

  5. “Some Baltimore police officers face repeated misconduct lawsuits,” a follow-up report looking at police who have cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars because of brutality lawsuits.

    They were merely following orders. They never wanted to brutalize the citizens of Baltimore; those bad old politicians keep coming up with awful laws (despite the vociferous objections of the police) for them to enforce.Thank God for due process. Otherwise these noble public servants might lose their jobs.

    1. I forgot the name or moniker of that person, Brooks. Please remind me who you are paraphrasing and mocking.

      1. Grand Maester Pycelle?

  6. I can’t read anymore shit about this Balmer fiasco. Sorry, I’m on overload.

    So let’s all speculate about what is going to happen in Season 7 of Archer.

      1. That was my thought when he put on the sunglasses at the end of the episode.

  7. The Law Department was unaware that McSpadden was battling more than one lawsuit arising from incidents in 2012. And City Hall leaders learned about McSpadden’s history just two days before the Board of Estimates agreed to settle another excessive-force lawsuit involving him.

    RIGHT TO PRIVACY

  8. Please remind me who you are paraphrasing and mocking.
    I believe it was “Sudden” who was standing in for dunphy, the other night.

    1. It was. Thanks.

  9. Cooperating in a community setting, including accepting and abiding by the rule of law, is a voluntary endeavor. Sure, the government or military (police) can use weapons and force against those that don’t adhere to the rules, but that comes after they choose to protest, riot, ignore the law, or just leave. If the government fails in its duty and, worse, displays contempt and is corrupt in its dealings with the public then you get what we are seeing in Baltimore. That doesn’t justify rioting and mayhem, explains it though.

    1. You are absolutely correct Steve. The thing that infuriates me most about cops is that they totally take it for granted that the American public is peaceful and law abiding. Certainly, they are, right now. They do not have to remain that way forever. And the cops are doing everything in their power to piss that respect away and turn the entire country lawless. When that happens, the police are not going to like it very much. Hell, even right now, 15 cops were injured already and there are rumors that the gangs are working together to kill a cop. I bet the Baltimore police are not liking life one bit right now. They have only themselves and their corrupt union to blame for that. Sadly, I seriously doubt they understand that.

      1. I agree, totally, with that! Being verbally threatened and intimidated by a cop, I understand the behavior that threatens, even, the most law abiding! They seem to be trained to keep elevating the situation until they can get an arrest!

  10. He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

    He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

    Sounds vaguely familiar.

    1. Except that “our” legislatures are more consenting than Matress Girl.

  11. Freddie Gray and Police Brutality in Baltimore

    What’s all this talk about police brutality? Everyone knows that this is really about white brutality and black victimhood.

  12. Three cheers for the rule of the anointed Obamessiah and our post-racial American paradise.

  13. Baltimore police have a history of physical brutality against the community that the force is supposed to be protecting.

    It is ironic that “force protection” as a term means the police protecting themselves, often at the cost of the lives of people they are supposed to be protecting.

    And yes, even criminals lives should be protected. The cops job is to risk his life to protect others. Sometimes that means cops have to risk their lives to avoid killing a suspect. Sometimes, that means cops will die rather than kill a suspect. And that’s ok. That is how it ought to be.

  14. “a beating that led the police commissioner to say he was “shocked.””

    The commissioner added that he was also deeply shocked at his recent discovery that there was gambling at Rick’s Cafe Americain.

  15. Office McSpadden is still on suspended leave with pay 6 months after the investigation started last year.

    http://www.baltimoresun.com/ne…..story.html

  16. Investigate. If the cops did “rough ride” Gray, convict them of murder and send them to hell.

  17. A bit off-topic but looks like Freddy Gray had one hidden skeleton in his closet.
    http://thefourthestate.co/2015…..re-arrest/

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