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28 April 2015updated 25 Jul 2021 6:22am

Six Baltimore police officers have been charged over the death of Freddie Gray

Violence, looting, and several fires followed Freddie Gray's funeral, the 25-year-old African-American man who died after being illegally arrested.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

Six police officers have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray, Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby has confirmed.

Mosby told the press, “the findings of our comprehensive, thorough, and independent investigation coupled with the medical examiner’s determination was a homicide… has led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges.” The charges range from assault to second-degree murder. It is not yet clear which officers have been charged.

Mosby confirmed that three Baltimore police officers illegally arrested Gray on April 12. She added that a knife in Gray’s possession was not illegal.

The US city of Baltimore declared a state of emergency on 28 April after protests following Gray’s funeral spilled over into violence.

Gray was arrested on 12 April. While in a police van, Gray experienced what officers called “a medical emergency”, and went into a coma. He died in hospital a week after his arrest. While there is video footage of Gray being dragged into the van, it remains unclear exactly what happened inside, concealed from public view. Gray’s family say his spine was “80 per cent severed” at his neck. It also remains unclear why Gray was initially arrested.

Thousands flocked to the streets in Baltimore to mark Gray’s funeral on 27 April. In the hours that follows, pockets of violence in a crowd of protestors escalated into widespread riots. Looting, violence, and several fires have led to Baltimore officials declaring the city is in state of emergency. At least 27 people have been arrested, a week-long curfew is in place accross the city, and the state’s 5,000 national guard personnel have been dispatched.

Crowds have reportedly been shot at by police using teargas grenades, “less lethal” bullets and pepper balls. One officer has been seen throwing a brick at protesters.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has repeatedly condemned the rioters as “thugs“, calling for and end to the disruption, but others view the riots as a response to systematic racism and violence from American police.

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Speaking to the New York Times, bystander Deontrae Lucas said, “This is what you have from years and years of police brutality and abuse in this city. It’s just now boiling over.” Another witness said, “This is a cocktail that’s built up year after year until now what you see is the explosion. I’m proud of the youth out here taking action. This is them out in the streets saying they are not going to take the abuse that their parents are used to taking.”

At the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes of the hypocrisy of state officials calling for peace:

The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions [surrounding Gray’s death]. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray’s death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested. There was no appeal for calm when Jerriel Lyles was assaulted. (“The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”) There was no claim for nonviolence on behalf of Venus Green. (“Bitch, you ain’t no better than any of the other old black bitches I have locked up.”) There was no plea for peace on behalf of Starr Brown. (“They slammed me down on my face,” Brown added, her voice cracking. “The skin was gone on my face.”)

When nonviolence is preached as an attempt to evade the repercussions of political brutality, it betrays itself. When nonviolence begins halfway through the war with the aggressor calling time out, it exposes itself as a ruse. When nonviolence is preached by the representatives of the state, while the state doles out heaps of violence to its citizens, it reveals itself to be a con. And none of this can mean that rioting or violence is “correct” or “wise,” any more than a forest fire can be “correct” or “wise.” Wisdom isn’t the point tonight. Disrespect is. In this case, disrespect for the hollow law and failed order that so regularly disrespects the rioters themselves.

The NS‘s Musa Okwonga similary saw the riots as a reaction to police brutality:

I wish some people were as outraged by the brutality that led to the riots as they are outraged by the riots themselves. #FreddieGray

— Musa Okwonga (@Okwonga) April 27, 2015

Black people get smacked in the face and the nation judges how elegantly they absorb the blow. The black reaction is on trial. #FreddieGray

— Musa Okwonga (@Okwonga) April 27, 2015

The incident follows a number of high-profile deaths of black men as a result of police intervention, including Trayvon Martin in Miami, Michael Brown in Ferguson, 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and Eric Garner in New York City. Recent FBI data reveals that young black men are frequently victims of police homicide.