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“A Shadow Justice System For Police Officers”: Freddie Gray’s Killer Cops Are Walking Away Unscathed

Officer Caesar Goodson, Jr. is a free man.

A year after 25-year-old Freddie Gray’s life came to an end after he fell into a coma while in the back of a Baltimore police van and the city erupted, Goodson, 46,  strode down the courthouse steps and into the next chapter of his life. That the 16-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department broke its policies in handling Gray is not in dispute. That Gray got into that van alive, only to be removed later with a devastating spinal injury, is a matter of fact.

Goodson was behind the wheel of the transport van and was accused of giving Gray what proved to be a fatal “rough ride.” Among the six police officers indicted by a grand jury, Goodson faced the heaviest charges, including second-degree depraved heart murder. Thursday, he became the second officer tried and acquitted of all charges in a bench trial before Circuit Judge Barry Williams.

If State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is trying to represent a new generation in criminal justice reform or even a new chapter for Baltimore law enforcement by bringing charges against the officers in the first place, the new book is reading a lot like the old one—with experts erring little chance of a conviction in the remaining trials given the verdicts so far.

Baltimore officials, including Mosby, had to know what few will admit out loud: Getting a conviction would be next to impossible, especially in a system so reticent to see young men like Gray as victims.

“I think that this is a reminder that there is a shadow justice system for police officers,” said social justice activist and former Baltimore mayoral candidate DeRay Mckesson. “This is a reminder that the work to make police officers accountable at the structure level must continue.”

In fact, there was never much chance that Goodson would ever have seen a day in prison, that a jury of twelve or a judge  would ever send him to the state penitentiary—not in a place like Baltimore nor almost any other place in America.

In all likelihood, those six police officers—five men and one woman—will walk away scot free. A third trial ended in a mistrial late last year.  Prosecutors say they expect to re-try Officer William Porter. But there is little hope that Porter or the three remaining cops (they’ve all opted for bench, rather than jury, trials) will be convicted of anything. In fact, with the Goodson verdict, those cases are in jeopardy and they may never come to trial.

The officers involved may well have done every single thing the public suspects: Intentionally placing an unsecured suspect in a metal-lined police van and then purposely finding every pothole and sharp turn along the way in an effort to send the shackled black man careening across the steel encasement. Then, according to prosecutors, they denied him immediate medical attention. Gray subsisted in a coma for a week until he died from his injuries.

Goodson reportedly had five separate chances to help Gray after his neck was broken and did nothing. His defense attorneys blamed the judgement of the other officers and even Gray himself, when it was Goodson who had the keys to the van.

Unfortunately, at least on some level, as a society we agree with the defense and think Gray deserved it. When they are black and poor, we are culturally prone to exact a moral examination of the victim.

Injustice is injustice no matter who it touches or who they were in the moments before. But we don’t believe that. He had to have done something wrong, right?

When all is said and done, a negotiated civil settlement—worth nearly $7 million—may be the only justice Freddie Gray’s family ever sees. The plain fact of the matter is that jurisdictions across the country—small and large—collectively pay millions to resolve police brutality cases. All the while, few officers are ever charged, tried, let alone convicted on criminal charges—even when the suspect dies, even when that suspect is unarmed.

Even when that suspect is helplessly shackled in the back of a recklessly driven police van.

The proliferation of video cameras has certainly meant more public inspection and, sure, a few more indictments. Prosecutors, who normally sail to re-election now face an additional layer of accountability. However, as the Eric Garner case demonstrates, video evidence can mean next to nothing in a grand jury room. Unfortunately, the same implicit bias that sometimes fuels the actions of officers also functions to protect them in the criminal justice system.

“The police understand how well they are protected from criminal liability,” Mckesson told The Daily Beast. “Clearly, Freddie Gray got into that van alive and left it with his spine severed and there are six people who contributed to that.”

For their part, Baltimore officials did not admit the officers were at fault. They didn’t have to. The money tells the story. However, if one listens closely, the criminal justice system is saying something else: This is all the justice we have.

 

By: Goldie Taylor, The Daily Beast, June 24, 2016

June 25, 2016 Posted by | Baltimore Police Dept, Criminal Justice System, Freddie Gray | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Legacy We Could Create For Freddie Gray”: Ensuring A Good Start For The Very Young, A Priority As High As Jobs And Education

A determined young woman is graduating this month from Howard University with dreams of attending law school. Her LinkedIn page attests to a life of both making and seizing opportunities, from serving as a House of Representatives page while in high school, to working at a fashion firm, a law office and the White House.

All of this would have seemed farfetched 10 years ago when 12-year-old Talitha Halley of New Orleans saw Hurricane Katrina wipe out her home and community, spent an awful week in the Superdome, and ended up on a bus to Houston with her mother and older sister.

The high school in their new Houston neighborhood, Sharpstown, was 96 percent minority. More than 8 in 10 students were eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch. It had a gang problem and a dropout problem. Only about a third of freshmen were making it to their senior years — putting Sharpstown in the top ranks of 1,700 “dropout factories” that Johns Hopkins researchers identified in 2007 for a national Associated Press study. Sharpstown went on to star in the 2012 film Dropout Nation on PBS’ Frontline.

But Halley had a loving, encouraging mother and Sharpstown had Communities in Schools, a dropout prevention group that puts people inside schools to link students with whatever they need — “whether it’s food, school supplies, health care, counseling, academic assistance, or a positive role model.” Halley joined a support group it sponsored for teenage Katrina refugees, applied to be a House page, visited Howard and vowed to go there, and inspired many friends and mentors and to help her achieve her dreams. As the first in her family to earn a college degree, The Washington Post reported that she is graduating with only $15,000 in debt on a $200,000 education.

Freddie Gray lived in a Baltimore neighborhood plagued by similar problems, but his trajectory was very different. He fell four grades behind in reading. He dropped out of high school. He was arrested many times, mostly on drug-related charges. And then he died after sustaining a fatal injury while in police custody.

Why wasn’t Gray more like Halley? It’s a haunting question. The easy answer is just that he wasn’t motivated enough, just didn’t try hard enough. Look further, though, and Gray was up against a deck so stacked that it likely would have crushed anyone, even Halley. His mother was an illiterate heroin addict, and he spent his early childhood in houses with peeling lead paint. His lead levels were so alarming as an infant and toddler that his family sued one of its landlords. He and his two sisters began getting monthly “lead checks” as part of a settlement in 2010.

The National Institutes of Health lists a devastating array of symptoms and long-term complications from lead poisoning. They include aggressive behavior, irritability, low appetite and energy, behavior or attention problems, failure at school, reduced IQ and — in young children — loss of previous developmental skills. “The younger the child, the more harmful lead can be,” NIH warns.

Did Gray’s lead settlement make him dependent and rob him of his will to get ahead? Or was he permanently damaged long before that in ways that make it very difficult to succeed? Where was the government when the Gray family’s landlords were letting paint poison their tenants? Where were the home visits that might have picked up on the situation, the services that might have prevented such costly harm to children and to society?

There are many people talking these days about fixing poverty, income inequality, mass incarceration, unjust sentencing, and police practices that lead to tragedy. President Obama said recently that his mission in office and “for the rest of my life” will be to make sure minority youths have the chance to achieve their dreams. Republican presidential candidates are also in the mix; almost all hewing to the line that government “help” hurts the poor.

The GOP argument ignores history. Government policies, from slavery to Jim Crow, from poll taxes to the mortgage redlining, that kept black people out of good neighborhoods with good schools pretty much put us where we are today. It’s appropriate that the government do all it can to make things right, for as long as it takes.

Furthermore, and this goes for politicians across the board, it’s fine and necessary to help teenagers, prisoners, preschoolers, the working poor, anyone who needs it — but our energy and resources really ought to be concentrated far more than they are on poor children from birth to age 3. They are at increased risk of irreparable damage to their brains, bodies, mental health, and overall potential. Ensuring a good start for the very young should be a priority as high as jobs and education for both parties. As Abigail Adams would say, remember the babies. And remember Freddie Gray.

 

By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, May 8, 2015

May 10, 2015 Posted by | Freddie Gray, Poverty | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Why Freddie Gray Never Had A Chance”: Lead Poisoning Is Killing Inner-City Baltimore

Whenever something like the death of Freddie Gray happens, we usually get around, by the third or fourth day, to the broader poverty discussion. This debate usually boils down to the Great Society programs. Liberals say they worked, and what we need are more of them. Conservatives say they failed and the real answer is found in a sterner moral code.

Between the two, I unsurprisingly endorse the liberal view above (although I don’t think the conservatives have been 100 percent wrong, more on which later). But there’s a more constructive way to talk about poverty than to fight over 50-year-old programs; it’s to use a tragedy like this not just to defend old policies but to promote new ways of understanding poverty and the anti-social behavior that helps keep so many people trapped in it. And Gray’s sad case is a prime example.

Freddie Gray grew up with lead poisoning. A great piece in The Washington Post last week laid out the whole history, Gray’s personally and that of West Baltimore generally. Gray lived in a home where lead paint peeled off the walls.

Now certainly he had other problems—he was born prematurely to a mother who may have been using heroin while pregnant, and he spent the first few months of his life in a hospital. But even at that young age, he was tested for lead, and the tests found unusually high levels in his blood. At one point his family sued a landlord and won an undisclosed settlement. And all over West Baltimore, there were thousands of kids like him, breathing lead paint fumes, swallowing the little chips that got stuck under their fingernails, and so on.

And what did this do to him? Obviously we don’t exactly know in his case. But we’ve known for a long time that lead makes children sick and impairs mental functions. An expert is quoted in that Post piece makes this rather eye-popping assertion—no doubt exaggerating somewhat, but driving home the basic point: “All these kids that grew up in those houses, they all have ADHD.” Also, read this 2013 New York Review of Books piece by Helen Epstein, uncannily prescient today, with its emphasis on Baltimore.

But it’s not just about learning disorders. More recently, research has gone beyond that realm and has been starting to make more direct links between childhood lead poisoning and social dysfunction of the sort Gray exhibited, and even a tendency toward violence and crime.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones has done a lot of interesting writing on this link in recent years. Research results even have people wondering, as this BBC article notes, whether removing the lead from “petrol” (car gasoline) has been the main reason crime has gone down in the last two decades. The BBC report notes that crime rose and rose across many advanced nations throughout the 20th century, until:

Then, about 20 years ago, the trend reversed—and all the broad measures of key crimes have been falling ever since.

Offending has fallen in nations whose governments have implemented completely different policies to their neighbors.

If your nation locks up more criminals than the average, crime has fallen. If it locks up fewer… crime has fallen. Nobody seems to know for sure why.

But there are some people that believe the removal of lead from petrol was a key factor.

Laugh if you want. The kinds of people who like to laugh at such things once laughed at studies warning about DDT, tobacco, refined sugar, and a hundred other malefactions.

Now let’s bring our Congress into focus. Since the passage of a big lead-reduction law in 1992, Congress has appropriated moneys to the goal of abating lead paint in buildings across the country. Predictably enough, we’ve been pretty successful in neighborhoods that are middle class and up, but not so successful in poor neighborhoods.

Congress has typically funded the lead-abatement program, run by the Centers for Disease Control, inadequately. But in 2011-2012, Congress quadrupled down on inadequate: It cut the funding for the program from $29 million to $2 million. That’s not a typo. This was a result of the sequestration targets imposed on the federal budget, largely forced on us by the Tea Partiers. By last year, cooler heads prevailed and the program got back up to $15 million. But that’s still half what it was when it was merely inadequate. As a result, cities all over the country have had to cut back. Chicago, which got $1.2 million from the feds in 2010, received $347,000 last year.

The one thing I’ll say for conservatism with respect to the poverty debate, and the crime debate, is to remind us that on some level, individuals are responsible for their own actions. If we don’t accept and impose this standard, we have moral chaos. (Of course, we ought to be imposing it on bankers, too.) Social pathologies can explain anti-social behavior but can’t excuse it. We can agree to that, although we can however do without the obnoxious right-wing preaching at poor people that cascades out of certain word processors at times like these.

But no poor person, whether his character is closer to that of Mohandas Gandhi or Charles Manson, can control how much lead is in the paint of the walls of the crappy apartment that he can afford and where he’s trying to raise his little children. Conservatives like to tell us poor people need to make better choices, but how much lead his children breathe in or swallow has nothing to do with any choices he made. It has to do with choices made by others, from his landlord on up to appropriators in Congress.

And what if, 15 or 20 years from now, the science is crystal clear on the connection between lead exposure and the kinds of problems Freddie Gray had? I’ll tell you exactly what. Liberals will say: The scientific verdict is in. Let’s do what we have to do here once and for all.

But conservatives will stand athwart history yelling stop as they always do—the moral scolds will blame single parents, and the ones who just don’t want their tax money spent on the moocher class will whistle up outfits like the Competitive Enterprise Institute to produce alternative “studies” questioning what actual science knows to be obvious, and we will be stalemated. And that will be another “choice” that people poor didn’t make that will help consign their children to society’s margins.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 5, 2015

May 6, 2015 Posted by | Freddie Gray, Lead Poisoining, Poverty | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Brains Of Many White Racists”: No, There’s No Comparison Between The Freddie Gray And Duke Lacrosse Cases

Shortly after the indictments dropped against the police officers allegedly responsible for killing Freddie Gray, a number of conservative blowhards from Sean Hannity to Alan Dershowitz have shared their outrage of the supposed injustice of it all. But the most hilarious case involves Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke who compared it to the Duke Lacrosse case.

Obviously, most of this backlash is purely racially motivated by racist agitators. The prospect of black female state’s attorney indicting six police officers for murdering a black male without threat or probable cause causes short circuits of outrage in the brains of many white racists. They view poor blacks as dangerous inferiors to be kept in line by authorities by any means necessary, including but not limited to murder.

But the comparison to the Duke Lacrosse case is particularly stupid. There was plenty of reason to be skeptical in that incident. I myself took my lumps within the progressive blogosphere for urging caution on it from the start, and I ended up being right. From the beginning there was no physical evidence of rape, and the accuser’s story was filled with inconsistencies. That admittedly happens frequently in cases where rape has actually occurred, of course, so it’s not surprising or objectionable that charges were brought in the case. But justice eventually followed its due course in the case as the evidence presented itself, with the greatest damage being that inflicted by the media on the defendants, as well as the damage inflicted on real victims of rape by the public example of a false accuser–since only a small fraction of rape accusations turn out to be false.

The Freddie Gray case, on the other hand, is pretty open and shut as far as the evidence is concerned. The knife carried by Mr. Gray was legal in Maryland, so the police had no reason or probable cause to stop him. They failed, against regulations, to put a seat belt on Mr. Gray. They have a longstanding tradition of punishing suspects by roughriding them in unsecured vans, and have been sued for millions of dollars for doing just that. The evidence strongly suggests that Mr. Gray (if he was not beaten beforehand) was likely shackled hands and feet, tossed into the back of the vehicle and roughrided until a particularly forceful impact severed his spine.

That is murder, and the evidence is very clear on the matter. The only question will hinge on whether the police can be reasonably expected to have thought that the roughriding would do severe physical damage to Mr. Gray–and not even that point is seriously in question. A bevy of lawsuits for physical injury against the Baltimore PD demonstrates that they knew very well the kind of harm that Mr. Gray’s treatment could do to him.

To compare that incident to the Duke Lacrosse case is to exercise a kneejerk racist prejudice against any white person accused of doing harm to a less powerful black person. Justice was done in the Duke case by finding the defendants innocent, and it will very likely be done in Baltimore by finding the defendants guilty.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 2, 2015

May 5, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Police Dept, Duke Lacrosse Case, Freddie Gray | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“It’s Hard For Me To Understand”: Experts; You Can’t Break Your Own Spine Like Freddie Gray

On Wednesday night, The Washington Post leaked an alleged report from the Baltimore Police Department, which claims that Freddie Gray, the 21-year-old who died a week after his spine was fractured while in police custody, “was intentionally trying to injure himself” in the back of a Baltimore Police van.

The report, whose author is unknown, cites a single source: an unnamed second man who was in the van with Gray for a short time, but could not see him.

But if Freddie Gray was trying to break his own spinal cord in the back of a van, according to experts in spinal trauma injuries, it might be the first self-inflicted injury of its kind.

“I have never seen it before. I’ve never seen somebody self-inflict a spinal cord injury in that way,” says Anand Veeravagu, a Stanford University Medical Center neurosurgeon who specializes in traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries.

“It’s hard for me to understand that, unless those terms (like ‘intentional’ and ‘injure himself’) are being used incorrectly. It’s hard for me to envision how a person could try to do that,” he says. “It would require them to basically hang themselves in a car where there isn’t anything to hang yourself with.”

Veeravagu says that there are only a few ways you can injure your spine in a similar way to the injuries that ultimately led to Gray’s death. One, he says, is by a sharp injury, which is a direct penetrating injury—either somebody with a knife “who knows what they’re doing, or something else that cuts through, like a gunshot wound.”

The other way, more pertinent to Gray’s case, is by trauma, where the bones are fractured and the ligaments are torn as a result of force or impact.

“It is very difficult to sever your spinal cord without a known fracture,” says Veeravagu. “Often, when patients come in with this kind of injury, you’ll find they’ve been either in a car accident or something similar to that kind of impact.”

There are times where Veeravagu, who is a former White House Fellow, has seen suicide or self-harm by means of a spinal cord injury, but it’s always by hanging, or by using an apparatus Gray couldn’t have on-hand.

“Unfortunately, sometimes people attempt suicide by hanging themselves. It’s one of the only ways I’ve seen where you can (commit suicide or intentional self-harm) by spinal fracture. They kick their chair out, they fall, they snap their neck. It results in immediate spinal cord injury,” he says. “But it’s very hard to see how somebody could attempt suicide by a spinal cord injury without the use of something else.”

But it’s even in those instances, he says, patients often don’t die of a spinal cord injury. And most who are taken to the hospital in time after suffering spinal cord injuries—self-inflicted or not—survive the trauma.

“Most spinal cord injuries are not fatal if patients are taken to the hospital,” Veeravagu says. “Most survive.”

Outlets covering The Washington Post’s leak have called the claims from the unnamed source “a twist” and a “new narrative (that) questions police brutality claim.” On Wednesday night, CNN’s broadcast ran a breaking news banner that read: “BREAKING NEWS: WASH. POST: GRAY TRIED TO HURT HIMSELF,” and the video remains on CNN’s Youtube page.

The Washington Post’s initial report does not reach out to any medical professionals to determine the feasibility of the leaked document’s claims.

The official police report of Gray’s arrest was scheduled to be released publically on Friday, but police delayed the release on Wednesday.

“I’m surprised they released that piece of information without a more detailed account,” says Veeravagu.

Another trauma surgeon, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the political nature of the case and because he is “surprised time and again by what I previously believed to be impossible,” thinks that it’s “highly unusual (if not impossible) to deliberately make yourself a quadriplegic while shackled in the back of a police van.”

There are, Veeravagu says, situations that would make Gray more prone to a fatal spinal injury, however—like if someone or something applied pressure to his spine as it snapped.

“Certain conditions make people more prone to spinal injury. If you were to apply leverage to the spine at certain points, it basically converts the spine to a long bone,” says Veeravagu.

Veeravagu also says it’s possible Gray’s spinal fracture could have occurred before entering the van—and that symptoms of his broken vertebrae could have been delayed until he was placed in the van.

“That is possible: It’s possible to have an injury to your spinal cord that gets worse over time and eventually progresses to complete paralysis,” he says. “Did he have an expanding blood clot in his spine? Did he have an exact fracture to his spine? Both are important to understand. If the family does an autopsy—finding that out, that’s ideal.”

 

By: Ben Collins, The Daily Beast, April 30, 2015

May 1, 2015 Posted by | Baltimore Police Dept, Freddie Gray, Police Brutality | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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