Freddie Gray: 1 year after his death, Baltimore still trying to become whole

© Kevin B. Moore
One year ago today, Freddie Gray died after suffering serious injuries while in police custody, sparking huge protests and riots in Baltimore. Residents plan to honor his memory with vigils and rallies as they await trials for the officers involved.

Gray, a 25-year-old African-American Man, was initially arrested on April 12, 2015, after police said they made eye contact with him and he fled the scene. Officers gave chase and eventually arrested him. Gray suffered serious injuries while being transported in police custody – including to his spinal cord – falling into a coma and ultimately dying a week later on April 19.

His death triggered a series of massive protests and riots in Baltimore, as well as demonstrations cross the United States. Like many law enforcement departments in the US, Baltimore police were placed under severe scrutiny for their policies regarding use of force and for deteriorating relations with minority communities.

“That Monday night when I watched the city burn, it was devastating,” said The Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik, referring to the riots, during a Baltimore Public Relations Council (BPRC) panel held on Tuesday.

Since Gray’s death, six of the officers involved in the incident have been charged with crimes such as manslaughter, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired Police Commissioner Anthony Bates and has announced she would not run for re-election.

To honor Gray’s life and memory, residents in Baltimore are planning a set of rallies and vigils. On April 24, civil rights activists will hold a peace rally to mark the one-year anniversary. The rally will involve marching to City Hall and organizers are hoping it serves as “a wake-up call and an alarm clock” for the city, according to WYPR.

The next day, 1,500 people are expected to gather another rally outside of City Hall, WBAL reported. The event is set to focus on shining the spotlight on policing practices, affordable housing, education, employment, social services and more.

Over the weekend, dozens of people in Baltimore marched to commemorate Gray’s death, yelling chants such as “No justice, no peace,” and holding signs that said, “Disarm the police.”

While protesters remember Gray’s death and the issues it raised, residents of Baltimore are also awaiting the beginning of trials for the officers involved in his arrest. They are set to begin again on May 10 with the trial of Officer Edward M. Nero, one of the officers who initially arrested Gray after he ran from police. Nero and another officer, Garrett E. Miller, argue that they saw a switchblade knife on Gray before they arrested him.

Back in December, a mistrial was declared in the trial of Officer William Porter, after the jury was deadlocked on the charges against him, which included involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office. Porter was one of the officers who transported Gray in a police van after he was arrested. He was accused of not buckling Gray into the vehicle as he was handcuffed, and Gray suffered injury as officers drove along and he was tossed around.

In the wake of Gray’s death, lawmakers and activists have focused on reforming the Baltimore Police Department. Body cameras will be placed on officers starting in May, according to the Associated Press, and the city announced last year that cameras will also be installed in police vans.

Meanwhile, police training has also undergone changes, with officers being educated on the history of Baltimore and its minority neighborhoods, USA Today reported. Lawmakers are also trying to get police to focus more on recruiting officers from minority communities.

At the BPRC panel, WBAL radio host Clarence Mitchell said the biggest difference he’s noticed in the city since Gray’s death is a political evolution that’s included City Council changes and the upcoming election of a new mayor.

For some residents, though, the changes have been slow to come and not sufficient enough.

“It’s the same politics, the same policies being enforced, it’s a different enforcer,” said protester Shaun Young to the Guardian. “What policies have changed? Now you get in the paddy wagon they’re gonna buckle you up.”