What have we learned as a city, in the two years since the death of Freddie Gray (April 19, 2015), and the subsequent uprising (April 27, 2015)?
The answer, perhaps, seems anticlimactic; not much.
FILE – In this June 23, 2016 file photo, a boy sits on a wall as a member of the Baltimore Police Department walks by in the Penn North neighborhood of Baltimore, near the site of unrest following Freddie Gray’s funeral. Baltimore’s mayor and commissioner say they are eager and ready to change not only the culture of law enforcement, but the practice. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
What we have not yet learned is what specifically sparked the uprising; the clashes with police, looting, fires and ongoing protests. We know the narrative promulgated by the Baltimore City Police Department the morning of Gray’s funeral, that rival gangs — the Bloods, the Crips and the Black Guerilla Family — were uniting to “take out” officers, was never corroborated by other law enforcement agencies. In fact, BCPD had to admit that incendiary claim, right at one of the most volatile moments of that day was, “not credible.” We still don’t know the specific source of the infamous, “purge” tweet, that allegedly provoked high school students to engage in violence and destruction on the day of Gray’s funeral.
It’s still unclear who specifically gave the order to shut down bus and metro service at Mondawmin Mall, as thousands of students streamed out of area schools with no way to get home. It is still unclear whether it was students and residents who first engaged police, or it was the police who engaged students and residents during those initial clashes near Mondawmin.
What is clear is that most of the residents of the neighborhoods affected by the looting, fires and violence are incredibly resilient people, as evidenced by the fact the next morning they were out diligently cleaning up after the destruction. Despite the tension in the air, we witnessed thousands of people in these neighborhoods, peacefully engaging with one another; there was drumming and dancing and music, and the aroma of sage and incense, mingled with the stench of burning buildings.
But, we already knew the people of Baltimore, specifically those most directly affected by the uprising, are incredibly resilient people.
What we did not know and did not expect was that the six officers connected to the death of Gray would be indicted by State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.
But, despite Mosby’s efforts, what most of us believed in the back of our minds, because the history of police misconduct and brutality in this city informs us, was that none of those cops were going to jail for Gray’s heinous death.
When the results of the investigation into the Baltimore City Police Department by the Department of Justice were published in August of 2016, although somewhat unprecedented in the scope of its indictment of the BCPD, it didn’t inform the residents of the city’s most disenfranchised communities of much that was new.
It had been painfully clear to most that the BCPD had systematically violated the Constitutional rights, civil rights and human rights of mostly Black, mostly poor residents of Baltimore for generations.
“BPD’s targeted policing of certain Baltimore neighborhoods with minimal oversight or accountability disproportionately harms African-American residents. Racially disparate impact is present at every stage of BPD’s enforcement actions, from the initial decision to stop individuals on Baltimore streets to searches, arrests, and uses of force. These racial disparities, along with evidence suggesting intentional discrimination, erode the community trust that is critical to effective policing,” according to the Department of Justice report.
When it was officially revealed in March, that seven police officers had been charged federally with racketeering, connected to them allegedly robbing drug dealers and others and stealing overtime pay in the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars, among other charges, many on the street simply quipped, `What else is new?’
It was literally, a miracle no one lost their life during the uprising of 2015 following the death of Freddie Gray. However, the majority of the mostly Black, mostly poor communities of Baltimore, which constitute the undisputed majority of the city have suffered mightily in the last two years with epic murder, mayhem and violence, primarily waged against each other. And they continue to reel precariously in the wake of wanton misconduct and corruption at the hands of law enforcement and many of the city’s so-called public servants.
Yet, it seems clear the powerful who rule this city are content to plow forward, not yielding to the clarion messages transmitted in April 2015, and determined to do so with impunity.
Perhaps, the most provocative question that lingers is, how long will it be before those who are perpetually ignored, disrespected and cast aside, deliver a more catastrophic message?