We still don’t know what happened to Freddie Gray in Baltimore earlier this month, aside from the general agreement that he died in police custody with a nearly severed spine. The city’s leaders have been out in front of this, delivering information to the public as it comes in and investigating every aspect of the incident. There is clearly the possibility that there was police misconduct – or at least negligence in prompt medical care and safety precautions – going on, but the facts are still being gathered. Following yet another press conference where the mayor and the police commissioner brought citizens and the local clergy up to date at the end of the week, protesters delivered their response. We’re going to shut this city down.
Protesters vowed to “shut down” the city by marching through the streets and snarling traffic. The president of a black lawyers’ group predicted thousands of people would turn out for the demonstration, when good weather is forecast and the Baltimore Orioles host the Boston Red Sox.
“Things will change on Saturday, and the struggle will be amplified,” said Malik Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice. “It cannot be business as usual with that man’s spine broken, with his back broken, with no justice on the scene.”
Shabazz has demanded the arrest of six officers involved in the arrest of Gray, who died Sunday a week after suffering a spinal injury while in police custody.
The officers are suspended with pay and under criminal investigation by their own department. The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing the case for any civil rights violations, and Gray’s family is conducting their own probe.
True to their word, the protesters are apparently working on “shutting this city down.” Which, I suppose, is still something of an improvement over “burn this B**** down.” But watching the endless interviews and live video coverage on CNN this weekend I am still left with a very troubling question. What precisely is the complaint with the city in the handling of this troubling incident thus far? In terms of a complicated criminal investigation there has been very little time elapsed. Communication with the public – which has admittedly been frequently insufficient or even absent in some past cases – seems to have been in line with any reasonable expectations. An immediate response from the mayor and the police commissioner expressed confidence in their police force in general (as one would expect) but has evolved throughout nearly daily updates to the public. The city’s position has continued to be one of regret for the loss of life combined with an increasing level of intolerance for mistakes made on their part and a seemingly relentless program of digging up video, interviews and eye witness accounts to get a complete picture. (It’s a picture, by the way, which seems increasingly tilted toward at least some finding of wrongdoing on the part of some of the police involved.)
The officers involved in the original incident are off the street and nobody has ruled out prosecution if they indeed acted maliciously. Community and church leaders are being invited in to meet with the Mayor and air their concerns as well as collecting official responses from the administration to deliver to the community. Yet for all of that, we’re still seeing the following:
“It seems that no one in the Police Department can explain what happened,” said the Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr., president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Baltimore.
He said the Police Department is “in disarray” and Batts has shown a “lack of viable leadership capabilities.”
Some of the quotes coming from both the clergy and these community leaders being constantly interviewed by CNN seem less interested in answers than ginning up incendiary responses. Small wonder that there are protesters prone in the streets and marching with anger in their voices. The message is not being very well distributed, and perhaps intentionally so. When we find a city administration willing to go to these lengths to be transparent and not only hear the voices of those in the community who are airing grievances, but to deliver to them the details of every step being taken in a very short time span, what else is expected?
There’s a lot of work going on at a rapid pace to get to the bottom of this. The community is not being ignored. Perhaps they could settle down on the protests and “shutting this city down” until there are at least some preliminary answers.