200 arrested, 15 buildings burned down and several policemen injured – this is the result of the Baltimore riots. Protests, after another African-American was killed by police officers, have been a recurring nightmare.
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Baltimore mayor, has ordered a curfew. Larry Hogan, the Maryland governor, called the National Guard for help. The streets have been patrolled by 2,000 armed soldiers in armored personnel carriers. The fire has been put out now and volunteers are tidying up the city.
Those who set fire, smashed windows and stole were mainly students. Before the protests, 2,500 citizens participated in a peaceful demonstration during Freddie Gray’s funeral. The 25-year-old was arrested on April 12. The moment of his detention was not captured, but video footage by a random man shows what happened next: the police officers dragged Freddie, who was screaming in pain and appeared to have lost power in his legs, into their van.
As revealed by authorities, the man was slammed into the van floor, so he would knock against the van walls all the way to the jail. It took half an hour before a prison doctor examined Gray and paramedics were called. In the hospital, Gray fell into a coma, and he died a week later. His family claims that, according to hospital staff, Gray suffered from a crushed larynx and an injury that left 80 percent of his spinal cord severed.
Freddie Gray’s is by no means an isolated incident. In the years 2011-2014, Baltimore spent $5.8 million in compensation for victims of police violence. Courts and arbitrary institutions decided in claimants’ favor in over 100 cases and it is pretty obvious that the won claims are just the tip of the iceberg. There would be more claims, rejected, not submitted, covered up.
Common sense would suggest that those unsuccessful ones were made by criminals or drunks, who showed resistance or behaved offensively toward police officers. This is not the case. Hardly any of the victims was charged by the prosecution and if any was, those charges were rejected by the court. Here are some examples.
Jeriel Lyles was on his way out of a take-out restaurant, J&J Carryout, when he was confronted by a man in jeans and a hoodie. The man asked him what was up, when other, similarly dressed men, surrounded him, blocking the exit. Lyles thought they were thugs, but the first man explained they were police officers and proceeded to search him. He then told Lyles to sit down on a greasy floor and when Lyles refused, he was hit in the face with a heavy object. He suffered a broken nose and heavy bleeding. The officer, who hit the young African-American with his radio, testified later that the suspect (Lyles) poked himself in the eye. The court did not believe him and ordered $200,000 in compensation for Lyles.
Venus Green, a retired, 87-year-old teacher, heard her grandson shouting her to dial 911, because he was shot. Both ambulance and police arrived at the scene. One of the police officers would not believe that the lad had been shot in the street and pushing him, demanded the basement key. When the old lady refused, explaining that a dangerous dog is kept there, the policeman pushed her against the wall with force that made her fall. “Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up,” he hissed. He then proceeded to drag her up, pushed her inside the house, threw her onto a sofa and handcuffed her with her hands behind her back. An African-American officer followed in, and asked his colleague to remove the handcuffs. It turned out that Ms. Green’s shoulder blade was broken. She was awarded $95,000.
Starr Brown, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant, stood at the window, when she noticed a group of teenage girls attacking two others, so she rang the police. Two police officers, Karen Crisafulli and Andrew Galletti, arrived at the scene and started to yell at the battered girls, so Brown walked out of her house to explain what she saw and urge the officers to chase the attackers. Galletti first hit her in the chest and when she said she was pregnant, he replied “[We] hear it all the time.” He slammed Brown to the ground, tearing the skin of her cheek. He held her down with his knee on her neck, whilst he handcuffed her. She was arrested for obstructing police procedures, a violation of the public order, resistance to police officers and an assault on a police officer. The jury decided the police officers were lying and awarded Brown with $125,000.
In September 2012, while detaining 46-year-old Anthony Anderson, police officers crushed his spleen. The coroner confirmed lacerated spleen and deemed the incident a homicide with a blunt object. The police officers claimed that the arrested man must have hit his stomach against a stone when they placed him on the ground to put the handcuffs on. The witnesses, though, testified that Anderson was repeatedly kicked in his stomach by the police. The legal procedure regarding a compensation for his family is in progress.
Baltimore is not exceptional. During the same period of time, $6.6 million in compensation was paid out in Dallas, and $1.8 million in Miami. Every year around a thousand people die, killed by the police, and most of the victims are African-Americans. It is very hard to make excuses for the hooligans who used Freddie Gray’s death to riot, vandalize and steal, but their frustration is understandable, isn’t it?