Last April, the entire nation watched in shock and horror as the city of Baltimore descended into flames and police militarized against protesters who were demonstrating against the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.
It started with a foot chase through a Baltimore neighborhood on April 12, 2015. Police claimed that they had first confronted Gray for possessing an illegal switchblade.
Gray ran. Police chased him, tackled him to the ground, and (as captured by civilian video footage) handcuffed him and dragged his supposedly limp body into the back of a police van.
When he arrived at the police station, Gray was not breathing. Days later, he fell into a coma and died of spinal injuries.
Six Baltimore officers were suspended with pay and faced criminal charges for Gray’s death (contrary to department policy, they had not responded to his requests for medical attention at the time of his arrest, and had not secured him into the transport vehicle before bringing him to the police station).
The story is resurfacing because this past Monday, Judge Barry Williams found Officer Edward Nero not guilty for the death of Freddy Gray since, according to CNN, he was not the main actor in Gray’s arrest and detention and was not the highest ranking officer involved.
This piece of news closes one small aspect of the Freddy Gray case. It doesn’t acquit the officers who have yet to stand trial. It doesn’t solve the mistrust between police and the communities they are supposed to be protecting. And it certainly doesn’t resolve the anger that so many Americans finally expressed last year.
Gray’s death was a big deal partially because it was not an unfortunate anomaly—it was when the bubbling tension between West Baltimore and its police force finally spilled over. And it was one encounter out of many throughout 2014 and 2015 that involved an individual’s death.
In the words of Professor Abby Hall:
But what we’ve seen over time is that now the language and the type of tactics that were used once exclusively by the military have now worked their way into standard police practices.
So, we see things like police wearing battle dress uniforms or BDUs, the things with the camouflage on them, they’re wearing heavy Kevlar and bulletproof vests, they have high-powered rifles. And we also see other indications that this is a cultural kind of shift.
So, as opposed to referring to their neighborhood as a neighborhood, they refer to it as a battlefield, or they refer to it as a war zone. As opposed to saying these are the citizens, or these are the people in my district, they’re referring to them as combatants, or it’s an “us vs them” mentality as opposed to a “I’m protecting my community” mentality.”]
Learn more about the facts behind Gray’s death and the history of police militarization in the video below.