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Baltimore City Gov’t Doesn’t Want to Face the Music About Freddie Gray
by Ezra Van Auken
The aftermath of Freddie Gray’s scattered and seemingly piece-less death in police custody has been complex for Baltimore City – bringing tense relations among police, city officials, activists, and neighboring residents. What was originally seen as a mysterious in-custody death turned into national coverage and eventual rioting of the city’s police and businesses. Maryland’s guardsmen were then deployed through the city, curfews were enforced, and what went from protesting to rioting was now mostly silence, and the eerie control of military and police. In the proceeding days of Baltimore’s eruption, it was the primary task of many to ensure peace; gangs were even associating their organizations – helping enforce curfew and cleaning up.
Once what was like a show was finally over, the media pundits and participating class went back to daily life. The riot though, which has been the center of attention, respectfully so, for its chaos and disorder, is a microcosm of what is taking place in many other cities and states. Influence and distrust in state police has grown to its bloom stage, and now the response is being made by anti-police factions of all sorts – whether libertarian or progressive. Baltimore is not an exclusive city to the occurring dissent; as we have seen in the Tamir Rice and Eric Garner cases. In fact, this year over 700 have been killed so far by police, according to The Guardian’s statistics tracker. It’s reasonable to expect some rejection of authority.
What is being missed severely though by almost every corner of the room is the Drug War, and the Drug War’s affect on even Freddie Gray. Alone, in Gray’s life, he was stopped, detained and arrested 18 different times by city police. You could make Gray out to be the next Capone with that sort of count; what is interesting, is not the count of arrests, but the similarity and theme in records comparative to Gray’s. According to an ACLU report, African-Americans are nearly 6 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white folks in Baltimore City. And as ‘CommonDreams’ notes, “56.4 percent of Baltimore students graduate from high school. The national rate is about 80 percent.” A very grim scene for youth, like Gray, in the city.
In the 18 arrests of Gray, he was arrested in 15 due to non-violent drug offenses, e.g. a ‘crime’ that does not come with a victim – he did not impose himself on another individual – he merely had a bag. The other were trespassing, destruction of property and burglary…all crimes that come with a victim – Gray imposed himself on an individual or an individual’s property. So, in this case, with Gray being a known ‘criminal’ to the police, the image is portrayed that Gray is a daily villain among the Baltimore residents.
However, Gray is not. And this is what the Drug War has tried to do, but failed at with individuals like Gray – they have tried to force the individual to stop selling, using or making drugs. Ignoring the fact that Gray is non-violent, the legislature sees it necessary to police the personal lives of drug users; interestingly, pharmaceutical drugs fit the exception in this rule.
In all, what is being missed in the room is that prohibition has utterly failed, and that Gray who is relatively non-violent, was a victim of the Drug War. If there had not been drug laws created by legislatures in Washington and Baltimore City, both monopolists in their own territory, then the police would have never arrested or even confronted Gray 15 of those 18 times.
Of course, Freddie Gray’s last arrest ended in death – but instead of focusing on the end – the reader should also focus on the beginning. What was Freddie doing wrong? What did Freddie have that was illegal? Did Freddie hurt people or property? Surely, the police officers who felt resources were needed to transport him, process him and then cage him thought he did something wrong enough. Actually what happened before Freddie’s death is not fully known even at this time, as details have not been made public by the Baltimore City Police Dept., and there seems to be no mention in media.
What has been revealed so far, is that bicycle officers were on patrol when one officer [Lt. Brian W. Rice] made visual contact with Freddie, and at that point the officer allegedly watched Freddie run. The runner, Freddie, had done nothing criminal at that point – at least from what officers could objectively know. However, instead of allowing Freddie to run, officers engaged in a chase which ended shortly after. That is where Freddie was detained and then searched. Once opened up and around, officers found five guns, a bloody dagger and some cologne that was actually just explosive material.
Just kidding, they found a pocket-size folded knife – and apparently, according to Marilyn Mosby, the blade piece itself is not against Maryland law. Regardless of the law though, Mr. Gray was in no fashion of the word ‘violent’ before, during or after the police detainment. Law in that situation is victim-less, in the sense that it targets individuals who have not impeded on or encroached on anyone else. Essentially, by passing the law, you are requiring all public enforcement, e.g. police and military, to enforce law through barrel of a gun – which is dressed as moral guidance: drug use or carrying a knife blade in your pocket – scary. These sort of laws, which come by the thousands, are what led to Gray’s death and what is being overlooked entirely.
Advocacy for doing drugs and carrying blades wherever you go is nonexistent in this paragraph, either. But it is time to admit that drug law policies and other state edicts are creating unintended consequences with the public itself. The relationships with police are no longer about solving crime, but handing out citations and chasing drug users – possibly even shutting down a lemonade stand. This has strained trust, and has created violence. For violence to exist in drug trade itself, laws have to exist. Without the prohibition of drugs, the black market monopolies who use violence are no longer able to; and that includes street monopolies ‘gangs’.
Even with Freddie, it is an example of a failure to prohibit drugs, as he is arrested many times for possession and distribution. The failure to prohibit is inherent with any object you try to ban. So to wage a war on ‘drugs’, knowing that you cannot really eliminate the drugs is fallacious, considering at that point, you are only waging a war on the individual who is in possession of said drug. Drug laws are an iron fist in velvet, a one-size-fits-all, socialist can-of-worms that should be done away with today.
One resident who was close to Freddie explained to the Washington Post, “He always got locked up because he’d tell the cops, ‘I ain’t afraid of you.’ He wouldn’t back down. He ran because they always beat him up.” Whether Freddie was afraid or not, he knew one day to run, and it was for good reason, because after the police caught up with Mr. Gray, they decided to let him tumble in the back of a van, instead of provide medical attention, per his request.
Not to fantasize over statistics, it has been under-reported that since the federalist’s ‘war on drugs’, started by President Richard Nixon, addiction rates in the United States have remained steady. Based on the government’s expenditures, drug prohibitionists spent $2 billion in 1970 (start) and $20 billion in 2010 (current) on fighting drugs, or people really. Increase in money funds has done nothing to stop addiction rates in the United States. The researcher of the statistics, Matt Groff, notes, “Drug use and abuse exists on a spectrum and as a society we must accept that some portion of the population will be addicted to drugs even if we don’t like it,” believing State prohibition will not create better results.
Friend of Freddie, who actually filmed the infamous video of Gray being carried off like timber wood, explained to Think Progress, “I just hope that whatever happens, Freddie gets the justice that he deserves.” In the coming months, court trials will be debated, hashed over and cherry-picked, but just remember that Freddie Gray is one more victim to the Drug War, and for that, he is dead.
Image Reference: Lloyd Fox-Baltimore Sun