The Freddie Gray Case: An Open Letter from A Baltimorean

Hello Friends! You may or may not have noticed that I have been absent on this blog over the past week. I would love to tell you that this absence was due to positive circumstances, but unfortunately that is not the case. I, like many others across the country, have been glued to the news coverage of the Freddie Gray case and the events that have occurred since Mr. Gray’s arrest. I can’t say that I speak for all of Baltimore but I do think I have a unique perspective about what is going on and I am sincerely hoping you will take the time to read and think about this entry. For me, the situation is personal because I am a Baltimore native born and raised. I was born in the East Baltimore neighborhood of Highlandtown where I spent the first six years of my life. After that, my family and I moved to the Belair-Edison community (also located in East Baltimore) where I was raised and spent more than 20 years as a resident. And although I am not from the same neighborhood, my childhood home was about 4 miles from the eastern end of North Avenue near where the heart of the protests have been on W. North Ave and Penn and so I am very familiar with the area. I have witnessed racism and have been a victim of it myself even though I am not African American (yes, it happens). I grew up in a predominately African American neighborhood and life wasn’t always easy there. My late father spent most of his career, 32+ years, working for the City of Baltimore at the Eastern District Police Station however not as a police officer. And several generations of my family, both on mother’s side and father’s side, were Baltimore natives on the east side and west side of the city. So I am rooted to the area.

While I prefer to wait and hear more evidence before I place a label on the six officers involved, I felt the need to speak out. My goal is to shed some light on the facts of this case as I feel that there is too much conjecture going around. My facts are backed up by credible sources and those sources are referenced where appropriate.

Dear Readers,

I can’t begin to explain the heartache I have felt and truthfully it is hard to comprehend. Unless you have experienced having armed military guards stationed in your neighborhood it’s hard to understand how unsettling that can be especially for children. It is disappointing and disheartening to see the town and people that you love so much ravaged and in turmoil. It is even more upsetting that a town with such amazing history and culture is now being judged due to the actions of less than 1% of its residents. Even worse is that the primary issue at hand is being overshadowed due to the acts of violence that were carried out.

So many of our city residents are without the necessary resources to try to better themselves. It is hard to obtain employment when you don’t have money for transportation or money to purchase clothing so that you can maintain a professional appearance for work. Not to mention that, in general, there are a lack of educational and work opportunities. And unless you have lived in poverty, you can’t possibly understand the decisions those who are impoverished must make on a daily basis.

Combined with this, there has been a long history of animosity and distrust between the Baltimore City Police Department and the community. Distrust that has grown significantly in many years partly due to the institution of no-nonsense law enforcement policies (which some may argue were necessary) and an increase in what appears to be police brutality cases. According to data put out by the Baltimore Sun just last September, Baltimore City has paid close to SIX million dollars since 2011 in lawsuits claiming that police officers brutalized alleged suspects (source – http://data.baltimoresun.com/news/police-settlements/). To put this in perspective, Maryland also has a statutory limit of $200,000 for all cases against a municipality. Meaning that $200,000 is the maximum that can be paid out for any of these cases regardless of the circumstances. You do the numbers!

As far as the Freddie Gray investigation is concerned, there are still more questions than answers even with the announcement of the officers’ conviction today. Did Freddie injure himself? How is it possible that investigators only found out about a stop through private closed circuit video? Are there not protocols for each van stop? Let’s start with what facts we have.

1) Yes, Freddie Gray had a previous history of dealing drugs and therefore had a criminal rap sheet. Ok? Simply put a criminal is someone who breaks the law. Do you not speed? Have you never jaywalked? I realize not all crimes are created equal but it is easy to sit in judgement of others while we continue on with our own sins each day. My point is, that his criminal past is NO reason to be mistreated. No he was probably NOT innocent of his past crimes but he WAS innocent of a crime here in this situation. He was denied medical care when asked and was not belted in the van in addition to the fact that he should not have been arrested to begin with. There was no reason to use any type of force and the arresting officers admitted this themselves. In the words of Deputy Police Commissioner Rodriguez “Mr. Gray gave up without the use of force. An officer took his taser out but never deployed the taser” (source – http://www.wbaltv.com/news/charging-documents-freddie-gray-ran-from-police/32468120). I will readily admit that according to the little video that has been published, there is no proof that the police department acted aggressively during his arrest but we don’t know what happened in the van or on the van stops.

2) A lot of sites are reporting that Freddie had recently undergone spinal surgery and that may have contributed to his injuries. This report has been proven to be false although it is still be reported in the media. Freddie is listed on judiciary documents as receiving a settlement through Peachtree funding. But the truth is that his settlement was due to a lead poisoning case from his childhood in which his sister is also named and was settled out of court (source – http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-gray-settlement-20150429-story.html). By all accounts, Freddie was an otherwise healthy 25 year old male.

All I have to say to you, is if CNN is your only source of news, please understand that you are relying on information from the network that hired the seriously misinformed person who stated that military veterans were to blame for the unrest (http://www.breitbart.com/big-journalism/2015/04/28/cnn-anchor-brooke-baldwin-blames-military-veterans-for-baltimore-riots/). While I can’t promise you that there weren’t any veterans arrested in the riots since I don’t have that information, I am 99.9% certain that this is not the case. How about we stick to fact-based unbiased journalism instead of repeating stories you don’t know to be true?! Don’t believe everything you read folks!

3) More than 144 car fires, 15 devastating structure fires, 15 police officers injured, looting and vandalism that resulted in 235 arrests overnight. And these are only the numbers from Monday. It definitely was not Baltimore’s finest hour but what you may not have seen is that there were many many more peaceful protestors than there were violent ones. Like I stated before, I would estimate that less than 1% of city residents participated in the worst of it yet most of what you may see on TV is negative. Please know that Baltimore is a fiercely proud city, we will rebuild, and we will be better and stronger than ever before. I have witnessed a spirit and strength in this city, that I have not seen in any community since our fellow east coasters in New York were attacked on 9/11. Although I know these were entirely different situations.

4) This isn’t just a Baltimore City issue. I can tell you without a doubt that the entire state of Maryland has been affected and perhaps the nation. There is so much more going on than is what you get to see. Most people living in the Baltimore metropolitan areas have been affected in some way. Everyone has been on a heightened sense of alert for the past several days no matter where you are from. Not to mention that the city-wide curfew (10pm-5am) is making it difficult for businesses to operate specifically those in the downtown area. Several of my friends and neighbors who work in the city have not been able to work or have had their commutes significantly affected due to road closures, protest activity, increased traffic, and media congestion.This may not be a huge deal, but Baltimore is generally a working class town and all of this affects it’s citizens financial situation.

5) Baltimore has now become the stage for a national conversation about equal rights. This is history in the making! Although it didn’t necessarily begin here. Baltimore is NOT the only city to experience this and people need to be aware that these situations are happening in your own town regardless of whether you agree with them or not. We’ve all heard about the other national cases of alleged police brutality and use of excessive force. This is the exact reason why so many cities have joined in with the protests in Baltimore and are now showing their solidarity in support for equal rights. DC, NYC, Philly, Chicago, Ferguson, Cinncy and all others we love you and appreciate you!!! Let me be clear when I say I do NOT condone violence or looting. I do NOT believe that destruction is the way to get your voice heard. I DO believe that peaceful protests and organized marches can be a catalyst for positive change. Which is what we need!!

6) Some reports are asserting that Freddie Gray attempted to injure himself in the back of the van. It is said that his injury is due to potentially self-inflicted damaged caused when slamming his head in the van. This is being circulated quite heavily but to my knowledge the medical examiner’s report has not been released and so I am not sure that anyone knows this for certain. Every report I have seen so far refers to “sources” that are stating this but don’t actually name the sources so who knows? As far as I know, it is part of the information that Marilyn Mosby used to make her decision to prosecute.

7) Unfortunately, those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. Although most of those currently involved are too young to remember (including myself), Baltimore was once before in a similar situation back in 1968. Riots broke out all over Baltimore which began with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr and lasted for over a week (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1968_Baltimore_riots). Let’s stop this trend in 2015.

In conclusion, please allow me to say the following:

To the people of Baltimore, I love you and support you! I am proud to be from Baltimore! Keep your head up!

To all the volunteers, both local and national, THANK YOU! The people of Baltimore can’t thank you enough for all of your hard work and sacrifice. If you would like to help in some way, please visit http://governor.maryland.gov/mdunites/.

To BCPD, BCFD, MDST, National Guard, and all other law enforcement, I pray that you will all be safe and return home to your families very soon. I know that there are so many of you that are truly there to protect and serve! Be safe!

To our current governor Larry Hogan and ALL local leadership, I am so proud at the way you have responded during this crisis although I don’t agree with every decision made. Where I normally see division and bi-partisan politics, I have instead seen teamwork and cooperation. One of the moments from this week that stood out in my mind was when the local faith leaders linked arms and walked through the streets to end the violence (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/29/baltimore-clergy-march_n_7171828.html). For me, it was a real defining moment and one that I will never forget! With your leadership, I am confident we will get through this although I know we have a long way to go.

To the Baltimore Ravens and Ray Lewis, I am so proud to call you my favorite sports team. The Ravens organization has always been involved in making positive community contributions and once again did not disappoint. And say what you want about Ray Lewis but he is considered a local leader in this community. He is a great example of someone who has made bad choices in the past but has spent their entire future learning from it and becoming a better person which is a message our youth need to hear. You don’t have to let your circumstances dictate who you are!

To Toya Graham, who is probably the most famous mom on the planet right now, Baltimore loves you!! I know you received some backlash for your actions however I think most moms can understand and maybe even relate to your reaction. You saw your saw in a dangerous situation and got him out of there quickly. You cared about him when he did not feel anyone else did. He has a bright future because of you! I just heard that CPS is investigating your actions and to that I say, Hey CPS!! How about you investigate the actions of the parents that didn’t show up?!

To new State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, I can’t comprehend the difficulty of the task you’ve been handed. I thank you for your swift action. May God bless you with the grace and guidance you need to see through what will probably be the most difficult case of your career!

To the family of Freddie Gray, I am so deeply saddened by your loss. I know that the city of Baltimore is now focused on fighting for justice for Freddie. You are in my prayers!

With all of that said, we are facing some very uncertain times. Baltimore is currently braced for this weekend and I am hopeful that the events planned will remain peaceful.

Let us walk in light, not run in darkness!

Be safe Baltimore!

I will post updates as more information becomes available. Thank you for listening!

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