Why did Freddie Gray die from a severed spine while in police custody?
His family desperately wants an answer. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says she wants an answer, too. And, as a journalist who writes far too often about Black men being killed disproportionately by police, I’d also like to know what happened to Gray.
In yet another fatal case involving an unarmed African-American man during a confrontation with police, Gray, 25, died mysteriously on April 19.
“This is a very, very tense time for Baltimore city,” Rawlings-Blake said at a news conference. “And I understand the community’s frustration. I understand it because I’m frustrated. I’m angry that we are here again. That we have had to tell another mother that their child is dead. I’m frustrated that not only that we’re here but we don’t have all of the answers. “I want citizens to know exactly how it happened and if necessary, I will ensure we will hold the right people accountable.”
William Murphy Jr., a lawyer representing Gray’s family, released a statement saying Gray’s spine was 80% severed at his neck while he was in police custody. Gray lapsed into a coma and underwent surgery. The family said Gray previously had been healthy.
On Tuesday, we learned that six police officers were suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. The Justice Department has also stepped in to try to find out what happened.
Autopsy results show that Gray “did suffer a significant spinal injury that led to his death,” Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez told reporters. “What we don’t know is how he suffered that injury.”
Baltimore police released a timeline saying the police van left the scene of the arrest at 8:54 a.m. on April 12. A half-hour later, paramedics were called to the Western District police station to take him to a hospital. Police said it was unclear whether Gray suffered a medical emergency or was injured during the arrest.
So what happened in the police van? Are the officers who were in the van cooperating with authorities?
As the list of Black men being killed by police grows at an alarming rate, calls for criminal justice reform, which I support, falls on deaf ears in Congress.
Gray’s death comes as U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) spoke on the House floor last week and expressed his frustration about a crisis in America that has largely been ignored by Congress. I’m glad Johnson used his Capitol Hill bully pulpit to make his case.
“It feels like open season on black men in America and I’m outraged. In fact, all Americans are at risk when bad actors in law enforcement use their guns instead of their heads,” Johnson said. “Despite bipartisan nationwide calls for action and despite my bills to reform the broken grand jury process, hold police accountable, and end militarization. And despite my colleagues’ bills to encourage body cameras, this Congress does nothing, no hearings, no blue ribbon commissions, no nothing.”
Johnson also read the names of Black Americans who have been killed by police, including that of Walter Scott, who was fatally shot as he ran away from a police officer two weeks ago.
“Mr. Gray’s death is a grim reminder of the urgent need for criminal justice reform,” Cornell Brooks, President of the NAACP, said in a statement. “This latest tragedy raises deeply troubling questions about police brutality, accountability and the excessive use of force.”
Sadly, Freddie Gray’s family will bury Gray this week without fully knowing the circumstances surrounding his death. And while investigators sort through the details of this tragedy, Congress continues to dismiss this crisis in policing simply because it doesn’t involve their children.
What do you think?