BALTIMORE — “Black lives matter!” was the watchword of rallies and celebrations here after days of protests forced State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to charge the cops responsible for the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. The courage and determination of working people in the Black community here and those who joined them made it impossible for the authorities to sweep the killing under the rug.
When Gray died April 19 of severe spinal injuries sustained in police custody, protests focused world attention on Baltimore. Tensions mounted when the six officers were suspended with pay but not charged. They rose another notch after President Barack Obama and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called angry youth “thugs,” trying to shift attention away from the brutal police killing of Gray and onto the explosion of anger against it in the city’s African-American community.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch accused area youth of “shattering of the peace in the city of Baltimore” when anger against decades of cop intimidation and brutality boiled over and they threw bottles at police and destroyed property in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood where Gray lived.
The rulers’ violence-baiting failed to suppress the outrage around Gray’s death. Sustained daily marches and protests took place here and spread to other cities.
The Maryland State Medical Examiner ruled that Gray’s death was a homicide.
On May 1 Mosby charged Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. with second-degree depraved heart murder, involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, manslaughter by vehicle and misconduct in office. Goodson drove the police van for 45 minutes with Gray handcuffed and shackled inside. Officer William Porter and Lt. Brian Rice were both charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office. Rice, Officer Edward Nero and Officer Garrett Miller were charged with false imprisonment. Sgt. Alicia White was charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office.
Three of the cops are Black and three are Caucasian.
Mosby concluded Gray was arrested illegally and that the accused officers repeatedly ignored his appeals for medical attention.
Sense of accomplishmentAs word of the charges spread that day, a sense of accomplishment spread among working people in the city, punctuated by spontaneous celebrations.
“These charges are an important step in getting justice for Freddie,” Richard Shipley, Gray’s stepfather, told the Baltimore Sun.
Many also pointed out how the protests against Gray’s killing built on similar fights in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and North Charleston, South Carolina. Cops across the country are now on notice that acts of brutality are likely to be seen and protested.
The mood continued May 2, when several thousand marched and rallied in front of City Hall. Some 500 more came out the following day. The crowd both days was in its majority African-American, but significant numbers of Caucasians, Latinos and Asians joined in.
“It touched me to see Black, white, Asian and Arabic people coming together for Freddie Gray and Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Eric Garner,” Jeff Wilson, 43, an African-American nurse, told the Militant at the May 2 rally. “I told my sons, we’re going to go and make a difference.” They carried signs reading, “My life matters” and “All lives matter.” Wilson, who lives in Delaware, said several years ago a friend was shot in the chest and killed by police.
“I’ve been out here pretty much all week,” said Rodney Lewis, 60, a forklift driver on disability who is Caucasian. “I got one of the flyers and started coming.” Lewis said he gets stopped frequently for a burned-out taillight or minor vehicle code violations.
Many people expressed anger at the thug-baiting comments of the president and the mayor. “I’ll bet they’re sorry they said that,” Janice Grand, 81, of Aberdeen, Maryland, a veteran of the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march, told the Militant. “Hung by the tongue, I would say.”
Many people used the victory to spur other fights against police brutality and frame-ups. Inez Blue, 59, a custodian, carried a picture calling attention to the case of her brother, Anthony Blue, who has been incarcerated since being convicted on murder charges in 1976 when he was 19 years old. He pled not guilty but was defended by a state-appointed lawyer.
Anthony Roebuck, 22, an African-American soldier, drove to the May 2 rally with others from Dayton, Ohio, where he is stationed. They publicized the case of John Crawford, a 22-year-old African-American killed by police in a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio, when he walked around with a toy pellet gun.
“I had my brief moment of joy,” said Breana Franklin, a private duty nurse and student. “But I refuse to be blinded by the politicians and their smokescreens. With racism, if you are part of the system, it doesn’t matter the color of your skin, you act the same.”
Speaking of the accused officers, Franklin said, “I believe they might get convicted, but it won’t be on the worst charges and not all of them.”
The cops, the Fraternal Order of Police and numerous politicians have already begun to organize a campaign against the prosecution, claiming the “mood” against cops in the country is like a lynch mob. They seized on the shooting death of New York police officer Brian Moore May 2. “Our city is in mourning,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said May 4.
The curfew imposed by Rawlings-Blake was lifted May 3. The same day Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the National Guard to begin pulling out some 3,000 troops.
Nearly 500 people have been arrested since April 23 at demonstrations, rallies and other actions protesting Gray’s killing. The cops say they plan to track down and prosecute as many as possible.
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