Cennamology Chief Editor
The death of 25-year-old Baltimore resident Freddie Gray has brought extensive media attention close to home, as Maryland is now the center of the nationwide debate about race and use of excessive force by law enforcement.
What both sides of this national debate tend to forget is that every case is different, the circumstances in Ferguson are not the same as they are in New York, North Charleston, or Baltimore. In some cases, the use of force was more justified than in other cases. But what is troubling is the fact that these tragedies keep occurring one after the other. The propensity of each of these tragedies have raised new questions about law enforcement policy and have made it clear that some sort of reform is needed.
As a lifelong Marylander currently living in Baltimore, I feel like the city owes the people answers to a number of questions surrounding Gray's death. Hopefully with answers to the following questions, the community and the nation can come closer to some sort of solution that would stop the proliferation of these tragedies.
In a column he wrote for the Baltimore Sun, Dan Rodricks (who is white) wrote about a response he gave to a post he received on his Facebook page. The poster said, "innocent people don't run from cops," to which Rodricks replied "easy for a white man to say."
I thought about what Rodricks said in his column for several hours. I, personally, would only run from the cops if I had something to hide, like if I was a drunk 19-year-old college student trying to avoid an alcohol citation. But with the recent deaths of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and many other young African-American men, pure fear could have been the reason that Gray was running from the police. It is natural for humans to run from people and things they are afraid of, and when Gray saw the police his instincts were probably telling him to run like hell.
This is all speculation on my part, but until answers are given speculation is all that we can do. The question that the city must answer is why was Gray being chased in the first place. Did he start running and was then chased because this looked suspicious? If so, then the officers are at fault here because simply looking suspicious is not an appropriate reason to arrest someone. A court document says that Gray "fled unprovoked upon noticing police presence." This is all the information we have as to why he fled, but if him fleeing was the only reason he was chased, then this is a problem that police departments everywhere need to address.
2. What does Gray having a knife have to do with anything?
Documents issued by the court mention that Gray was carrying a switchblade-like knife. What these documents do not mention, however, is what relevance the knife has. It does not mention if Gray pulled the knife on the police, if he tried to pull it on anyone else, or if he tried to do anything at all with it.
If the knife is the reason why he drew the attention of the police, then other questions are raised as well. If the police saw the knife before they pursued him, then was he doing anything with it that would put anyone else's life in danger? Or did they just see the knife and thought that he might try to stab something or some one with it? If the affirmative answer is to the former question, then pursuing him may have been justified, but if it's to the latter question then it was certainly unjustified. Possessing a knife is not illegal in Baltimore or anywhere else in this country. Simply mentioning the knife in the documents is not enough, it should be explained what relevance it has to the situation.
3. What happened in the police car that made his injuries so severe?
This question is the big one being asked all over the country. The autopsy concluded that over 80 percent of Gray's spine was severed. These injuries would typically be on-par with what an elderly person would suffer in a high-speed car accident. Doctors said that these injuries suggest that Gray experienced some sort of "forceful trauma." What scale of force did Gray receive that was sufficient enough to break his vertebrae? This is the main question that is driving the protests in front of City Hall. It is the duty of the police department to provide the specific details of how the injuries were inflicted, and until this happens no progress can be made.
It has been over a week since the tragedy and the city has not released any information that would give even the most tangential evidence as to how this happened. The officers responsible were suspended, but the community deserves more than that. We deserve answers as to how the injuries that caused Freddie Gray's death were inflicted.
4. Why was Gray not given medical treatment?
According to the Baltimore police department, Gray repeatedly asked for medical care. Which begs us to ask why he was not given any. In the video of his arrest, it is very clear that the reason Gray had to be hauled into a van by at least two officers is because he could not move his legs. Just because a citizen is being arrested or charged with a crime does not mean that he is temporarily not morally entitled to some form of medical attention if he is in need of it. Part of the job of law enforcement is to make sure that every citizen in their custody is in proper care. Undoubtedly, the Baltimore police department dropped the ball here, and a specific answer as to why Gray did not receive medical attention is needed to ensure nothing like this happens again.
5. What if there was no video?
This is obviously a more philosophical question. This question was asked in the Dan Rodricks column mentioned earlier, and it is worth extensive discussion. If the video had not been filmed, would the officers responsible still have been suspended? It is safe to say that this case would not be receiving the same level of attention that it is if there was no video of the arrest. This is not a question the police department has to answer, but is instead one that everyone should discuss.
The public and the Gray family deserve more than to have to patiently wait for more details to be released. It is now over a week since Gray's death, and the fact that all of these major questions are still unanswered constitutes a major failure in government transparency. The answers to these questions are needed for more than just closure and for more than just getting the answers to who, what, why, when, and how.
The answers to these questions are needed because no American of any race, age, or gender should have to fear the people tasked with protecting them. Constructive policy change is essential to ensure that our country's law enforcement systems are just, accountable, and responsible. It is very unfortunate that more and more Americans are losing trust and confidence in the profession whose duty it is to keep the public safe. Answers to these questions can influence and provide the basis for the social change that is needed to get Americans of all races to trust the badge again.