The New York Times on Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of the death in Baltimore of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of a spinal cord injury a week after being arrested. With a mayoral election and the trials of six police officers charged in Gray’s death looming in May, Times reporters John Eligon and Sheryl Gay Stolberg took a biased look back at last year’s looting and violence in Baltimore in an excerpted conversation, “A Year After Gray’s Arrest, ‘Baltimore’s Mind-Set Has Changed,’” praising Black Lives Matter and seemingly impatient with the fact that the cops held responsible (without evidence) for Gray's death had not been convicted yet.
....First, the mood. I was talking to David Jaros, a law professor, today; he described the city as “grudgingly, slowly moving forward.” I think that’s about right. In some ways, little has changed since Freddie Gray’s death. Baltimore still faces the deep-seated challenges -- dilapidated housing, high rates of joblessness among young black people, violent crime -- that created the climate that led to violence. But in other ways, a whole lot has changed, because Baltimore’s mind-set has changed. Freddie Gray’s death was a real awakening, and I see glimmers of hope throughout Baltimore.
Finally, the political scene. Sadly, I don’t sense that there is any candidate who has unified the city.
On that score, John, I’m curious what you think of DeRay Mckesson’s candidacy.
Obviously, it was very controversial when DeRay got into the race -- and that controversy came as much from within the activist community as from outside. To some activists, he was giving in to a status quo that needed to be overhauled. To critics of the movement, he was a rabble-rouser who would divide the city.
The truth is that DeRay is just following a long tradition of civil rights activists turning toward politics to make a change. It’s a tricky proposition these days, in large part because it’s really the system itself that is under scrutiny from present-day activists.
DeRay’s campaign, as you probably know, has not caught on because of the traditional roadblocks of American politics: money, name recognition, entrenched support. But it’s also because his staunch activism has made him such a divisive figure in an era when the movement itself is so diffuse that it’s hard for any single person to build a grand coalition among the activists themselves.
Actually, DeRay’s long-shot campaign has found financial supporters in media boardrooms at Twitter, Youtube, and Netflix.
Eligon made excuses for BLM’s violent and disruptive tactics:
One thing Black Lives Matter activists around the country are hoping for is to highlight their legislative pushes, like what happened in Annapolis. Too often, they feel as though they are looked at as a disorganized bunch of rabble-rousers. But they continue reminding anyone who will listen that the movement is still young and still solidifying its goals and strategies.
For many in the activist community, Mr. Gray’s death is one of the prime examples of the need for reforming the police culture. What if just one officer had taken seriously his pleas for medical help, Allen Kwabena Frimpong, a New York activist, asked me.
“There’s something about the way in which folks are policing where the humanity of these people have been removed,” he said.
Stolberg neutrally glided over the obvious rebuttal: That Baltimore, far from being a city led by racist whites keeping blacks down, “has long had a black political power structure. Kurt Schmoke became Baltimore’s first elected African-American mayor in 1987, nearly 30 years ago...But the current black political structure feels unsatisfying to many in the advocacy community...”
Eligon used activist, non-journalistic verbiage while finding the liberal Democratic presidential candidates falling short on race and police issues, despite the Democrats being the obvious “best options” for black Americans.
There is a growing sense among many people that racial oppression is baked into the institutions of power in this country. And with that there is also a realization about how hard and complicated it is to defeat these structures.
We are seeing it in the current presidential race with the issue of mass incarceration. The crime bill that passed under the Bill Clinton administration has dogged his wife’s candidacy. Both Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders have vowed to be the champions of ending mass incarceration of black and brown people.
But the very fact that both of the Democratic candidates -- who receive an overwhelming majority of black support -- have played a role in supporting America’s bloated carceral system (Mrs. Clinton supported her husband’s bill, and Mr. Sanders voted for it) underscores the tricky work of activists. Where do they turn when they find it difficult to trust their best options in this election?
Stolberg concluded her side by showing evident disappointment that the Baltimore jury system hasn’t rammed through convictions against the cops yet (so much for the journalistic attitude of innocent until proven guilty). That’s despite the complete lack of evidence against them, in a case built on rank speculation. The weakness of the prosecutor’s case was evidence in the verdict of the predominantly black jury, which failed to reach an agreement in the case of Officer William Porter, charged with involuntary manslaughter and second-degree assault. That was despite the confidence and apparent hope of state attorney Marilyn Mosby, who rushed the case to court before the investigation was complete, that Porter would be quickly found guilty and be obliged to testify to bolster the presumably weaker cases against his fellow officers.
Yes, speaking of the criminal justice system, you can’t possibly talk about Baltimore without talking about the trials of the six police officers. A year after Freddie Gray’s death, prosecutors are pretty much back where they started.
The trials were supposed to be wrapping up now. Instead, after the Porter hung jury, there was a ton of legal wrangling -- and a fight that went all the way to Maryland’s highest court -- over whether Officer Porter could be forced to testify against his fellow officers while awaiting his own retrial. (He could be, the high court ruled.)
So now the trials are to begin May 10 and continue through October. When the Porter trial began, I interviewed DeRay Mckesson, who told me that “people are looking at this as a bellwether case: Is it possible to convict the police?”
A year after Freddie Gray’s arrest, the people of Baltimore still do not have an answer.
Greg Howard’s profile of DeRay Mckesson for the Times magazine wasn’t precisely hagiographic, but still concluded that the Black Lives Matter movement to be a force for good: “That doesn’t mean that he and the Black Lives Matter movement haven’t made this country a bit better for everyone, or won’t continue to do so.”
Howard also skipped Mckesson’s conspiratorial rants, as noted by Kristine Marsh of Newsbusters. Howard's long profile managed not to mention the name Sandra Bland, even though Mckesson had theorized on Twitter that the police department in Waller County, Texas had “murdered” her in jail.