Freddie Gray

Freddie Gray Is a Casualty of Baltimore's Police Unions

The police's privilege and self-protectiveness is on rich display in the whole sordid saga.


Baltimore Protests
Arash Azizzada / Source / CC BY-NC

We can debate the "root causes" of the Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore turning violent. Maybe it's poverty, family breakdown, single-party rule, or any number of other things. But the proximate cause is not really debatable: It's a police force that protects itself before the people — and often from the people.

Protests bubbled across Baltimore after Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died on April 19 from injuries, including a broken spine and a crushed voice box, sustained during a half-hour ride in a police van. But why did the protests erupt in an orgy of violence only a week later? Under any normal circumstances, shouldn't things have been calming down?

The Baltimore police would have you believe that it was frustrated school kids looking for a fight, and local gangs — inspired by the movie Purge (in which citizens are given a free hand once a year to kill whoever they want) — had hatched a plan via social media to "take out" the police. Whether such a "plan" — which can't be traced to any specific individual or group — existed or not is questionable. But the police's actions seemed to turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

According to various eyewitness accounts in Mother Jones and Gawker, the police blockaded all roads to prevent young people from gathering last Monday, April 24. Worse, they prevented area school kids from going home by shutting down a nearby subway station and stopping school buses from leaving, basically trapping the kids. When some kids tried to walk across the street and through a mall to catch the buses on the far side, the police, alarmed by the "presence of juveniles in the area of Mondawmin Mall," confronted them with armored vehicles, buzzing helicopters, and officers in riot gear.

Half an hour later, a full-fledged riot had broken out as kids, who had no way to get home, "popped off" (as one eyewitness put it). No doubt, genuine lumpen joined the melee at some point, looting and pillaging. But initially at least, the kids were "set up" and "treated like criminals before the first brick was thrown," lamented Meg Gibson, a teacher who watched the whole thing transpire.

That's far from the only instance of the cops' self-protectiveness. The entire investigation into Gray's death seems to be a giant exercise in ass covering, aided by what the ACLU calls one of the country's most extreme "law enforcement officers bill of rights."

For a month after Gray was rushed to hospital in a coma, and the department had yet to offer even a basic explanation of how he sustained his injuries. The cops were finally charged on Friday, which calmed the situation. But if some basic information had been released soon, much of the street anger could have been dispelled. Why did it take so long?

One reason is the "cooling off" — or as The Washington Post's Radley Balko calls it, "getting your stories straight" — period that Maryland cops enjoy, thanks to their bill of rights. During this time, they don't have to answer any questions till they've found a lawyer of their choice — and then only for "reasonable" periods of time in the presence of a union representative. The officer who drove the van has not even provided a statement yet, something unimaginable in an investigation involving a civilian.

In the absence of any real information, the leading theory of how Gray received his massive internal injuries without any signs of an external beating is the practice of "rough riding" that Baltimore cops have been known to use. It involves taking sharp twists and turns at high speeds so that the handcuffed and unbuckled detainee is tossed around in the vehicle. In one sensational instance ten years ago, a librarian was hauled into a police van for public urination — and emerged a paraplegic after he was sent flying face first in the van.

A Washington Post story based on an interview with another detainee in the van with Gray is trying to cast doubt on the "rough ride" theory by suggesting that Gray caused his own injuries by banging his head. But the source has since distanced himself from the story, insisting that it was a misrepresentation of what he said. It would have been rather incredible if Gray, who was barely able to walk and in severe pain when he was shoved into the van, could have hit his head so hard as to break his own neck.

Blaming the victim for his own injuries is a tactic that Baltimore cops are familiar with. A chilling Baltimore Sun investigation last September found that in one instance, a plainclothes cop assaulted a young black man getting carryout food, for no apparent reason. The cop broke the young man's nose and fractured his face. Yet in court he accused the victim of injuring himself, an explanation that the jury dismissed before awarding damages.

The Sun investigation found that between 2011 and 2014, the Baltimore Police Department paid about $5.7 million in settlement or court-awarded verdicts to victims of police brutality (and spent an equal amount in legal fees), a figure that would certainly be much, much higher if municipal damages in most instances weren't capped at a measly $200,000. (Cleveland and Dallas have paid between $500,000 and more than $1 million to settle individual police misconduct cases.) Indeed, since 2012, 3,048 complaints have been filed against 850 BPD officers — or nearly 30 percent of its police force. In most instances, the accused officers remain employed because it is very difficult to fire a police officer without an actual conviction, thanks to the police bill of rights and other protections. And most cases don't reach that stage.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who has been widely pilloried for her ill-advised remark about giving Gray's protesters the "space to destroy" personal property, has been trying to assert half-hearted control over the department. Whatever her other flaws, she hired a tough new police commissioner with a reputation for controlling police misconduct.

She has also lobbied state lawmakers for reform of the police bill of rights and to pass laws requiring police officers to wear body cameras. She campaigned to make "misconduct in office" a felony, although she hasn't gone so far as to demand the scrapping of the 10-day grace period. But state legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, afraid of the powerful police unions, killed these measures — just days before the Gray encounter.

Addressing Baltimore's socio-economic malaise and giving its Freddie Grays a good life might seem daunting. But preventing their deaths at the hands of the police shouldn't be. That's what Baltimore's protesters are demanding — and that is hardly too much to ask.

NEXT: Roger Koppl on the FBI's Hair-Raising Forensics Disaster

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  1. Aaaah, he just died in the van that night.
    It must’ve been some kind of fit.
    He should’ve walked away.

    1. I make up to $90 an hour working from my home. My story is that I quit working at Walmart to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $40h to $86h? Someone was good to me by sharing this link with me, so now i am hoping i could help someone else out there by sharing this link… Try it, you won’t regret it!……

      1. S it too much to ask that the Baltimore cops “Rough Ride” this troll?

  2. McNulty would get to the bottom of it.

    1. Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-it
      -Clay Davis

      1. Hah, you beat me to it by four minutes.

        1. You probably made a rookie mistake – like caring about your day job – and let that get in the way.

    2. He would be blocked at every step by Clay Davis.

  3. Private security that has come about in Detroit serves as a model example of private security services that can be offered to all income levels, and offer better protection. Their model isn’t on

    Violence, harassment, imprisonment, or going after individuals for what they choose to put in their bodies isn’t their policy. They are funded through voluntary transactions that could stop at anytime should the consumer choose to not do business with them.

    The company also offers free services to those that are unable to afford them, and offer community training to teach self defense.

    The state is violence, and if individuals are unable to opt out of services, they are slaves. The private production of security and defense are the only way liberty can be respected. It has shown to be more efficient and effective than the state, from the privateers on to private security.

      1. But if security were provided by corporations, they wouldn’t be accountable to the voters, then they would just go around abusing citizens! I mean, think about it: they could kill a citizen, fabricate excuses, and just get off scot-free! They would be able to seize peoples’ assets without ever charging them with a crime, making it impossible for them to afford legal representation! It’s just a good thing that the government handles policing in this country and that none of these things happen.


        1. Well, yeah. I mean, we like have elections and stuff. Elections mean that the government is The People because of the magic of Representation. Because of Representation, the government is doing The Will of the People. This means that The People approve of this kind of policing, because of Representation. If they didn’t like it then they’d elect someone else.

        2. A poor joke….

    1. It’d be interesting for the ultimate fallout of Detroit to be that it becomes a model of what a night-watchman state would look like.

      1. The Free-State Project got it wrong.

        Don’t go to a functioning state hoping to get an electoral majority.

        Settle en-mass in a failed state and simply set up your own institutions in the wreckage.

        1. Somewhat agree, but Detroit hadn’t been officially bankrupt when the Free State Project started; so they would have just been bilked dry.

    2. But… PRIVATIZAYSHUNZ is teh EVUL!!!!!!! 11!!!!!!!! Mumble mumble KKKOCHPORSHUNZ something something… PROFITSEZ /progtard

  4. Having recently read this article and others describing the many years of police abuse and brutaltiy it surprises me that the worst fears of law enforcement haven’t manifested.

    1. As long as they have a plurality of useful idiots on their side, they will keep getting away with it.

      Even on this board, we have a least a dozen regulars–people who have read hundreds of examples of police outright lying–ready to drop to their knees at go at it at the slightest hint that their heroes in blue might not be to blame.

      1. “As long as they have a plurality of useful idiots on their side, they will keep getting away with it.”

        I obviously missed your points, SugarFree. Please elaborate after reading my extended thoughts:
        Given the criminal treatment and resultant death/the murder of Mr. Gray as well as the deaths and permanent crippling other victims of Baltimore’s law enforcement employees, I cannot understand why one or several surviving family members haven’t “snapped” and sought vengeance after the legal process failed to give them justice.

        “Even on this board, we have a least a dozen regulars…”

        Sadly true.

        1. Ah, I thought you meant a popular and widespread uprising against the police.

          But I agree with your intended point as well.

          1. Let’s hope that the necessary reforms are completed soon, and far in advance of any possible backlash.

  5. “Lumpen” nice:)

  6. If Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had or does get any of those reforms enacted in Baltimore, I’ll take back every criticism I’ve ever made of the woman. Hell, I’ll vote for her for Governor if she has the wherewithal to actually repeal the Police Bill of Rights and make individual police criminally liable.

    1. I’m not getting my hopes up. She veto-ed the original police body camera bill proposed by the city council after Ferguson in favor of a trial period and there’s still no guarantee they get put on officers city wide.

  7. If a mob dragged those six cops from their homes and decorated lampposts with them, I would not be terribly distressed.

    1. Seek help before you go on a violent shooting rampage.

    2. I see an entrepreneurial opportunity here:

      “Lamps decorations! Get your lamps decorations here! 2 for only $5!”

      *goes down the street selling nooses*

      Oh wait, nooses are racist, nevermind.

  8. Nathaniel . although Stephanie `s rep0rt is super… I just bought a top of the range Mercedes sincee geting a check for $4416 this last four weeks and would you believe, ten/k last-month . no-doubt about it, this really is the best-job I’ve ever done . I actually started seven months/ago and almost straight away started making a nice over $79.. p/h….. ??????

  9. But, but, but I keep reading on the cop sucking web sites that it is deplorable that we rush to judgement. We need to wait for the facts to come out!

    Because we routinely do that for non-cops accused of killing people. It is only sporting to let them go home for 10 days before being interviewed. RIght?

  10. I agree that police brutality is wrong and police guilty of it need to be held accountable. The bar should be set high. Since nobody ever disagrees with this, congratulations, you won the debate and Mr. Nobody is licking his wounds.

    Now that you are victorious I suggest addressing some of the more uncomfortable and much more significant reasons why the black community suffers. It isn’t hard to find them. I would recommend starting either with crime stats or illegitimacy rates and work from there.

    1. You do know that members of police/law enforcement inflict their brutality upon people who are not members of the black community, correct?

      1. Ssshhh! You’ll spoil the narrative!

      2. Ssshhh! You’ll spoil the narrative!

      3. Apparently you live in a vacuum, Chuck.

        Or should I say Captain Obvious.

        The only confusion here seems to be your grasp of current events and the narrative surrounding them.

        1. You seem to contradict yourself: Wouldn’t living in a vacuum make it difficult to state the obvious?

          Note that it was Loki that mentioned narratives.

          1. In space no one can hear you scream.

          2. The obvious part of your comment is that, of course non blacks suffer police brutality. The vacuum I refer to is your insinuation that I am inserting race into this were it otherwise need not be the focus. The fact is that every one of these stories is a national story because of the race of the supposed victim, and that is integral to the whole conversation and thus is valid and germane to the discussion. I never asserted blacks are the only people to suffer but in this and other recent situations like it have become stories because of race so we don’t need to play ignorant and pretend that I am inserting race into it. I am way late to that party.

  11. I keep reading on the cop sucking web sites that it is deplorable that we rush to judgement.

    The nodders on Morning Joke were tut-tutting about the unseemly precipitousness of the charges against those cops. My god, it has only been a month since it happened; how could we possibly know what happened?

  12. Maybe the reason they did not offer an explanation is they do not know. This article is ludicrious because there are so many “ifs” that are trying to be passed off as fact. Gee what if Gray was beating his head on the wall as the other prisoner claimed, knocked himself out and fell backwards hitting his neck on the edge of the metal bench in the van? We have issues that the country must address in regard to the militarization of police, but trying to portray them as killers who relish brutalizing people is insane. Yes, young black men are much more likely to be stopped, questioned and arrested by police than other groups. However, when 12% of the population is responsible for 80% of the violent crime, who are they supposed to watch? The riots is Baltimore were the actions of anarchists as they were in Ferguson, and in Seattle a few years ago. They are professional agitators who show up to destroy and create chaos. Sad part is articles like this just encourage them to continue.

    1. Gee what if Gray was beating his head on the wall as the other prisoner claimed, knocked himself out and fell backwards hitting his neck on the edge of the metal bench in the van?

      He was never on the bench. They placed him on the floor of the van with his hands cuffed behind his back and his feet shackled. There’s no way he could have gotten himself onto the bench. He was on a slick metal floor with no way to protect himself as he slid around while the cops made rapid accelerations, stops, and turns.

      I accept that the cops didn’t intend to kill him, but they did intend to hurt him. A lot. While there may not have been any malice, there was most certainly depraved indifference. Then again, what do you expect? Depraved indifference is a requirement for the job.

    2. Also, the other prisoner didn’t say that he beat his head against the wall. He said he heard some noise. It was the dishonest cops who exaggerated and embellished his words to say he was banging his head against the wall.

    3. You offer an explanation which may fit with the physical evidence. Good job – I’m sure that the officers’ defense attorneys will present such a case to the jury. The prosecutor will offer an account that’s consist with the physical evidence and shows a case for murder. The jury will decide whether there’s reasonable doubt to acquit. That’s sort of the purpose of the jury trial in the first place. But as for bringing charges, there’s clearly enough evidence to have done so. And I can absolutely guarantee that charges would have been brought, and much more swiftly, had this shit been pulled by a private citizen. In that case, the law and order types would be glad to see the alleged offender in jail without bail.

  13. Gee what if Gray was beating his head on the wall as the other prisoner claimed, knocked himself out and fell backwards hitting his neck on the edge of the metal bench in the van?

    What if Gray was actually abducted by aliens, while the cops were in suspended animation?

  14. My sister makes $75 every hour on the laptop . She has been laid off for seven months but last month her pay check was $18875 just working on the laptop for a few hours.
    Look At This. ?????????

  15. Lol

    When it comes to police union bashing, reason never fails to amuse

    My Union is 9/10 in winning arbitration hearings due to officers being deprived due process, fairness etc

    Booya police unions!

    1. QED. For a lot of libertarian positions.

    2. Either your union sucks at their job then, or they’re actually an honest union and get rid of the dirtbags in your departments, since most stats I’ve seen indicate that the majority of non-frivolous brutality complaints come from less than 10% of officers.

      Incompetent union or honest union…either is good. Unfortunately neither are the type of union the Baltimore PD has.

  16. “…and local gangs ? inspired by the movie Purge (in which citizens are given a free hand once a year to kill whoever they want) ? had hatched a plan via social media to “take out” the police.”

    I personally think a better analogy would be the movie, “Warriors”, where a prominent gang-leader was attempting to unite all the gangs of LA against the police. Just saying.

    1. NYC. Not LA.

  17. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  18. Jeez, what police hating stooge wrote this crap? Practically the entire article is fiction.

  19. Police all over are running roughshod over the population they are sworn to protect.
    This just happens to be so egregious that it is impossible to ignore.
    Even with all the payoffs the cops at worst get early retirement with a big pension.

  20. I think it’s more complex than that. There was police brutality way before police unions.

    The ultimate cause is a lack of accountability. Do police unions play a role in that? Sure, that’s what they are for, but at the same time, politicians in cities rarely lose their jobs. So they have no reason to ever fire police, since they have no reason to fear for their own job if they don’t.

  21. Dead cops provide no protection at all, so of course self protection is paramount.
    We seem to be in such a great rush to get out a story that views from various positions are accepted as facts and acted upon with any true facts considered to be lies and cover ups.
    Perhaps it should not be ignored that in determining the ‘root causes’ of civil unrest and disobedience, the media, entertainment industry, public school system, and constant 24/7/365 political environment we live in today are much more the primary sources in stirring up the lumpenproletariat above and beyond that of the police.

  22. If any proof is needed of the idiocy of this article, beyond the old “the cops forced the kids into rioting”, it is the statement:
    “The officer who drove the van has not even provided a statement yet, something unimaginable in an investigation involving a civilian.”
    A civilian NEVER has to make a statement to police.
    We see on every police TV drama the “Miranda” warning: “You have the right to remain silent”. That never changes, except for the police. It is their internal rules that they cannot remain silent, and the 10 days to get legal representation is a compromise of that right.
    So, special immunity, I don’t think so.

  23. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

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