I lived the first years of my life only blocks away from North Ave and Pennsylvania where the events surrounding the death of Freddy Gray took place. I recently visited that house on Smallwood and Baker Streets that was bought new by my Grandfather in 1920, a few years ago with my 100 plus year old Aunt, and chatted with the current residents. So, this event has a special meaning to me.
First of all, I hate mobs, the contagious ecstasy, being of joy or rage, that builds on itself, allowing no demurral from the will of the crowd. But I'm not immune. When I first heard the charges announced against the six Baltimore police officers, I wrote this email to a friend:
Byrt,After I sent this, I gave it some more thought. I had listened to the report on CNN and decided to hear how Fox news was handling this story; could they have the nerve to oppose what I felt so strongly. It's not what they said, but what was described by two police officers who were disguised as they would have lost their jobs if they were identified.
Not only were you right about the need to make waves, and let the country know that what happened, -- not even though by police, but especially because they are police -- is not acceptable. I had disagreed with you on Wednesday saying that rioting was counterproductive (as did our President) but he was wrong, and certainly I was.
The thing that separates this case from all the other recent ones, Garner in Staten Island and Brown in Furgeson, is both of them had broken the law, and then resisted arrest. The consequences were tragic, disproportional to the precipitating act, yet they were resisting arrest Everything followed from this.
In Baltimore, we now know that the knife that Mr. Gray was carrying was not an illegal switchblade, but a pocket knife, legal to carry under law, that he never had committed a crime,or an infraction of any kind. He was abducted, shackled and thrown unsecured by seat belt into a truck to be punished by the rough ride. (this is not a rare form of summary "justice" as this article shows).
These six police (half white and half black) will get prison terms, of this I'm certain. And actually, while there was some property damage, unlike the Rodney King riot, there was no deaths, and no widespread hatred against all whites.
It could be that this tragic death is a turning point for our country, that is too long in coming. This makes me proud of our nation and the city of my birth.
Listening to them and doing the research on the narrative that made it appear that it all started with Mr. Gray "making eye contact" led me to write a comment here that was unnecessarily confrontational to those on this website, with a reaction in kind leading to its removal. I was hurt by the hostility, knowing that only recently I spoke at my city's public safety commission where I described how selective enforcement of laws leads to police corruption, and dealt with the hostile response for my daring to use the words police and corruption in the same breath. I was there, in person, taking the heat, and now I was being condemned by those on a website that I drew emotional support from.
After that meeting I had a long talk with the official from our police force about the very issues that are now in the public eye. There was no confrontation, as we were on the same side, both of us trying to reach the ideal of "to protect and to serve." When we were done he said how much he values conversations like we just had.
As far as my having any illusions, I had an experience myself some half century ago. Yeah, even if I don't know where I put my keys, I remember that interaction on Third Avenue and 80th Street in Manhattan. I was crossing the street slowly, when a car sped up barely missing me. When the passenger jumped out aggressively, I pulled the pint bottle I had from my back pocket and and raised it in defense. Stopping, he flashed his badge and ordered me into the back seat.
I had already had a few sips from the bottle, and I guess I was relieved that it was only cops, and not thugs who were going to attack me. We were all white, in this upscale neighborhood, even then, and I never felt any fear. They asked if I had a job, which I did, and then the driver said, "You know what we could do to you with just what we have in this car, not even using our guns?" That's threat was verbatim, as was my response of simply saying, "No, I don't know" -- which I repeated when he asked what it would cost for a lawyer if he arrested me -- followed up with "take a guess, what would it cost for a retainer?" -- his attempt to get an opening offer for letting me walk. Eventually, they did; and I went along my way to meet my friends at the "Lorelei" bar.
These two men seemed pretty confident that they could have gotten some cash for their trouble, and if I were different, perhaps with a record, or if I had refused to get in the car-- or if I had been of another race. No big deal- now just an amusing story, but things could have gone bad. But those two bums were not every police officer. A family friend when I was a child in D.C. had joined the force and worked his way up to the rank of Inspector. His job was to ride around the city, not unlike Baltimore in many ways, and to report police who weren't doing their jobs, or doing it wrong, or trying to shake down random people. He rode alone.
He was in line for making Chief of Police, and retired when passed over. A few years later, maybe in the late 1980s, I was chatting with a couple of older policemen and mentioned his name, and they almost spit in their contempt for this man who was not part of the club. Yes, so when all police are lumped together with the worst, I have a sense of guilt, that I'm not standing up for my family friend Inspector Alan Wolf who was as tough as nails and I'm certain never did anything other than try to serve the community.
For every cop that shakes down someone, or who plants a gun on someone whom he shot, there are others who risk their lives on a daily basis just because they want to. So, I will continue to express these truths on this site just as I did in my official capacity in my city last year. I will continue to attempt to insert reason and compassion, and resist the broad generalizations of police officers, cops, as either thugs or heroes.
I'll include some items after the break below dealing with the actual consequences of running from a police officer who engages a citizen. The general consensus here that one may legally do so is countered by the recommendation of the Maryland ACLU. I will also include links to two articles from today's New York Times.