Riots and lootings shook Baltimore after a peaceful protest against the horrifying arrest and death of Freddie Gray turned violent on April 25. And though Americans have every right to decry the pointless violence and destruction, the original protest had merit.
Gray, a 25-year-old black man living with his two sisters in a low-income Baltimore neighborhood, died April 19 after police used excessive force to arrest and detain him April 12. The officers chased Gray on bicycles after he attempted to flee “unprovoked,” tackling him and finding a switchblade in his pocket. Two witnesses recorded the arrest on their phones, showing that police dragged a struggling Gray into their van.
Though police reported that he was arrested without force, he was later taken to a hospital and was in a coma a week before his death. He endured three fractured vertebrae, an injured larynx and his spine was “80 percent” severed at the neck. Gray had an extensive criminal record, but the majority of these charges were for drug use and distribution — non-violent crimes.
An ongoing investigation has revealed that the officers did not follow protocol during the arrest, failing to buckle him into the van or call paramedics in a timely manner. Six Baltimore officers have since been charged with varying counts, such as assault and involuntary manslaughter.
In no way do we condone violence against police, nor do we believe all officers are crooked or unnecessarily violent. But the nature of Gray’s arrest and injuries is inexcusable.
That said, rioting is not the answer. Destroying homes and businesses and endangering innocent people to criticize a violent act is senseless. If nothing else, the violence contributes to ugly stereotypes many have about inner-city minorities and goes directly against the wishes of Gray’s family, who are begging for peaceful protests.
It’s difficult to not draw parallels between the situation in Baltimore and the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014. Ferguson, Missouri, was similarly pulled into a media firestorm after Brown’s death led to rioting, and the city still hasn’t recovered. Though most of the violence was committed by opportunistic criminals, the riots began as peaceful protests.
Regardless of whether you believe the Baltimore riots are justified, racial tension is still a factor in the response to Gray’s death. It’s distressing that the American media tends to focus on injustices like these only after a community has responded with violence.