On April 12, Freddie Gray was chased down by three cops for looking at an officer. He was thrown in a police van and when he arrived at the station, his spinal chord was severed and he had three fractured vertebrae and a crushed voice box. He fell into a coma and died a week later. Finally, after weeks of protest, six cops have been charged with murder.
It wasn’t simply the facts around this killing that caused the authorities to issue the charges. There is nothing more convincing in the murder of Freddie Gray than in the case of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice or the countless others killed by police. This past March, the police killed 111 people, ten more than last year – some reports estimate over 1000 killings by police per year (about 70 times higher than anywhere else in the world). In over 90 percent of cases the police are never even charged, and when they are, they almost always get off. According to the Wall Street Journal, over a seven-year period, with hundreds of homicides by police, only 41 officers were even charged. A recent study shows that in 2012, the police, security guards, and vigilantes executed more than 313 black people – one every 28 hours. Nearly two times a week, a white cop killed a black male during a seven-year period ending in 2012.
Power in the Streets
The only reason this case is different is because of the response of the people of Baltimore, who went into the street, refusing to allow Gray’s murder to be covered up. And people around the country began to take to the streets in support. But this is just a first step toward a possible conviction. Only in the wake of this anger spilling over into protests across the country, did the politicians decide to issue this indictment. This is their pathetic attempt to prove that their system works. They want the people of Baltimore to stay home and leave Gray’s murder in the hands of the courts. But it is the activity in the streets that brought the indictments and it will only be continued activity that will keep the pressure on – cops are rarely convicted in trial.
A Symptom of Economic Decline
Even if these six cops are convicted, it won’t change much for the victims of police brutality all over the country. Perhaps the officials will be a little more careful about allowing the police to murder people so openly. But it will do nothing about the problems of poverty, unemployment, homelessness, and underfunded, crowded schools.
Baltimore could be dozens of cities in the country – Detroit or Flint, Michigan; Camden or Newark, New Jersey; Buffalo, New York; Cincinnati, Ohio; East Oakland or Richmond or South Los Angeles. Much of Baltimore is in decay. As the economy of the country shifted away from industrial production, the investments of those who owned and controlled the steel mills, shipyards, auto factories and other industries moved elsewhere. Today Baltimore is one of the poorest cities in the country. It is the 26th largest city with a population of 622,000, which is 64 percent black. Over 23 percent of the people live below the official poverty level, and 39 percent of working-age residents are unemployed.
Living in the Disaster Zone
But in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood it is a disaster zone – over 52 percent unemployed, over one third of families living in poverty, and more than half of all households earning less than $25,000 a year. Abandoned lots and dilapidated houses are all over. More than 25 percent of all buildings in the neighborhood stand empty.
Prison is the dumping ground for the masses of unemployed. One out of three Maryland residents in state prison is from Baltimore. Gray’s neighborhood is the “highest incarceration community” in Baltimore, with three out of every 100 adults in state correctional facilities, and 25 percent of juveniles between the ages of 10-17 were sent to juvenile facilities over a four year period. Maryland spends $17 million annually to incarcerate 458 people from this small neighborhood with 9,189 people living in it. Those who live in Freddie Gray’s neighborhood are twice as likely to be killed than any other neighborhood in Baltimore.
Under these conditions, harassment from the police is a daily affair. Since 2011, the city of Baltimore has settled or lost an average of more than twenty police brutality cases a year. The city paid out $5.7 million and spent $5.8 million more on related legal fees. This year, the city’s budget was more than doubled, to $4.2 million, in anticipation of future cases – even though most cases never even make it to court.
We Are Right to Rebel!
The politicians at all levels have presided over the decimation of cities like Baltimore and are well aware of this reality and the life of the people who live in them. They know what their police forces do. And they have nothing to propose to actually deal with these conditions. In Baltimore this brutal system has exposed itself again. And there is no reason we should continue to live under this oppression and degradation. This is a criminal system that has looted and stolen our lives. People are right to continue to rebel, and to continue to organize until we get rid of this system and build a society where we can all live like human beings.