WASHINGTON – Freddie Gray was a 25 year old Baltimore small time drug dealer. He was just another member of an all too familiar urban underclass of petty criminals who had chosen drug dealing and/or other illegal activities mostly because they have preciously few options.
Crime is the only career
I say this not to justify or condone crime. This is to say that when young men grow up in a semi-lawless environment that does not provide any real opportunity, sadly for many of them crime becomes the default option.
A bad day
It so happened that on April 12 Freddie Gray had an extremely bad day. Gray saw some policemen, and then he run away. The policemen chased him, arrested him and then they threw him into a police van. Based on the results of an investigation, Freddie Gray suffered fatal injuries while in the van, and then he died a few days later because of the consequences of his injuries.
In another era, a non event
In another era this might have been treated as a non-event. Freddie Gray would have been considered an unfortunate casualty that occurred on yet another busy law enforcement day. He was after all a known criminal, with a long history of arrests.
The very fact that he run away when he saw some policemen proves that he had reasons for fearing the police. In other words, most likely he was guilty of something. And therefore the police had every right to pursue him and apprehend him. The fact that he suffered injuries while in police custody is just a sad complication. Nobody meant to kill him. Case closed, let’s move on.
A higher standard?
Well, this time it is different. Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore’s Chief Prosecutor charged all six officers involved in the incident. The driver of the police van has been charged with second degree murder. The others with manslaughter, assault and misconduct in office depending on their actions during the incident.
If Mosby’s charges will stand in court, she just created a new standard –Thank God for that! Here is the thing. Freddie Gray had indeed a criminal record. But the police had no right to pursue him and arrest him on April 12, because they had no “probable cause”. There was no evidence that Gray had committed any crime, at that moment. And the manner in which he was treated after his arrest is criminal. He was treated like an animal. He was thrown into the police van. He suffered injuries. He was not given any medical attention. And therefore he died because of his injuries.
Sure, you can say that if Mr. Gray had been a regular, law abiding citizen he would have had no reason to run away from the police. Therefore, no arrest, no injuries and no death. From this perspective, his death is ultimately his on fault.
We can and should do better
Yes, except that this is The United States of America in the 21st Century. This is not Europe in the Middle Ages. No, you cannot arrest people without probable cause. And, even assuming that the arrest was justified, the police are responsible for the well being of any prisoner in their custody. Any injury to the prisoner is their responsibility. And yes, police officers must seek medical help in case of any injuries to a prisoner in their custody.
These six officers, based on the outcome of the investigation, did none of that. And this why Freddie Gray is dead. This is not to say that they deliberately killed him. But it would appear that they treated him like an animal. They injured him, and then let him suffer, without any real concern for his well-being.
We shall see how all this ends up. An indictment does not automatically imply a conviction. Since we are in America, all citizens accused of a crime, and that includes police officers, are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
But at the very least Ms. Mosby, with her decision to indict, made the point that police forces have to uphold a high standard of behavior.
The problem of the urban underclass will not go away
That said, no matter how this case will be adjudicated after a trial, the underlying problem at the root of Gray’s death –poverty, ignorance, alienation and crime– will stay.
Freddie Gray was a petty criminal who had a bad day. A horrible day that cost him his life. Sadly, thousands of young Black men will continue their lives of crime because they see on alternatives. May be they will be treated better the next time they are arrested, but their journey to nowhere good will continue.