Why does this continually happen? Black men are dying in astonishing numbers in police custody! Now it’s happened again, this time in Baltimore, Maryland. Freddie Gray died Sunday, a week after being hospitalized following a police incident. When he was arrested on April 12, he gave up without the use of force, officials say. A total of six officers were involved in his arrest. He was arrested after an officer allegedly found a switchblade in his pocket. His attorney says he was carrying a pocket knife of legal size. Whatever the case, when Gray was put into a police van, he was fine. When he came out, he was unresponsive. No one knows how he ended up with a severed spine. An autopsy showed he died of a severe spinal cord injury. Cell phone videos and surveillance video do not show how he was injured. He was said to be in perfect health when he was chased and tackled by police last week, his lawyer said. Less than an hour later, he was en route to a trauma clinic with a spinal cord injury,
where he fell into a coma. He died of his injuries on Sunday.
“I’ll tell you what I do know, and right now there’s still a lot of questions I don’t know. I know that when Mr. Gray was placed inside that van, he was able to talk. He was upset. And when Mr. Gray was taken out of that van, he could not talk, and he could not breathe,” Baltimore Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez told reporters Monday.
Rodgriguez said the officers had been working an area that was known for violent crimes and drugs when they spotted Gray. They thought he may have been involved in a crime, but police didn’t say what their suspicions were based on, according to the Gray family attorney, William Murphy. When officers approached him, he fled, but was caught quickly. Cell phone video captured him already on the ground with three officers hovering over him. He let out a loud wail.
Police say they will conclude their investigation on Friday, May 1, and then the case will go to the state attorney’s office, which will decide whether to file charges. For now, the six officers involved have been suspended.
Protesters have been hailing signs that have become synonymous with these incidents which have sparked up across the United States as of late. Demonstrators chanted, “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” and “I can’t breathe.” They carried signs that said, “Black Lives Matter.”
But despite the national outcry and the world focusing on police matters concerning black males, these incidents continue to happen, leaving many in the black community stunned and left wondering how to bring closure to these situations.
Black leaders in South Florida are mixed on how to resolve these complex police relations. Patrick Franklin, President and CEO of the Urban League of Palm Beach County, says he believes hiring practices of police departments have to get better. “I personally think there’s a misrepresentation of minority officers. They say there’s a shortage of minority recruits. They are saying they can’t find good minorities for the force. Well, they’re not looking in the right places. I think it goes back to retention and recruitment. Do they adequately seek minority officers? We need to address this issue across the nation,” said Franklin.
He also said a lot of the misconduct may have been taking place all along, but today there’s social media that’s playing a role. “We live in the age of social media. These things may have been going on, but now we can see them via social media. You have a few more eyes and heightened awareness now with cell phone cameras and videos.”
The other pertinent question is ‘How do black men avoid becoming victims of a trigger-happy officer?’ Franklin says there has to be an open dialogue about this. “We have to keep the dialogue open with our officers. There are more good officers than bad officers out there, but we have to discuss whether to move on when we find ourselves in a situation with an officer, or to engage. We just hope you pick the right action at the right time. We need an ongoing, open dialogue about this.”
Reverend Lloyd Taylor, 52, of West Palm Beach, says what he sees happening right now with police officers is a total disrespect of black life and a devaluing of the black race. “With these recent shootings, what they (officers) see is a silhouette that’s completely black. It’s not even a black life, but a black silhouette. It’s a total devaluing of the black man and the black race as a whole,” said Taylor, who has two black male children, age 27 and 20. “I keep my children covered in prayer as their father. I pray constantly for them every day. I raised my kids to be respectful of everyone. But to these officers, we’re just another ‘negro.’ Most parents are encouraging their children to take specific measures when they encounter a police officer. We have to do this if we want to see the next day,” he said.Franklin agrees. He says it’s not a matter of “if” there will be another encounter as a black man; it’s a matter of “when.”
But while Rev. Taylor sees these officers as devaluing black life, T. Willard Fair, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami, says we, as blacks, devalue our own lives. Fair says none of these cases would be sensationalized if they didn’t involve a white officer and black males. “These situations would not even be newsworthy,” he said. “We don’t talk about the escalating violence in our own community,” he said during a South Florida Times interview on police relations.”It has to start with us! When we become just as outraged over black on black crime….we don’t get outraged when we kill each other. This is evidence that black lives don’t matter to us. That’s perfectly clear,” said Fair. “Where is the outrage when a black officer kills a black child? What we need is to police our own behavior!”