On April 12, 2015, Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr., a 25-year-old man, was arrested by the Baltimore Police Department for possessing what the police alleged was an illegal switch blade. While being transported in a police van, Gray fell into a coma and was taken to a trauma center. Gray died on April 19, 2015; his death was ascribed to injuries to his spinal cord.
In the anniversary month of Freddie Gray’s death author, Gloria Adeyeye, remembers how it felt to be an eyewitness to the Baltimore City riots that ensued after his passing. But more importantly how the community focused on healing.
By Gloria Adeyeye
The riot started on a regular day, the day was a Monday the 27th of April 2015; the weather I remember was nice, not too sunny or cold like we have had in 2016.
I was using my lunch break to go to the bank, to process a transfer real quick between two banks before they closed for the day. In hindsight that day did not look unusual, as I made my way to the bank the regular people were at the corner and the train was running, cars and buses too. On getting to the bank there was a line so I joined it, while waiting in line I noticed the bank locked us in. Not sure what was happening I asked the teller as I was called to the counter and she told me they were closing because there may be a riot.
As she was speaking one of the bank staff was telling the security guard at the door to go ahead and call their supervisor because they were closing early for the day. As she finished up with me she smiled and said be safe. As I walked to the other bank, I noticed a note on the door they had already closed for the day.
That’s when it hit me, all the protests of the prior week were about to burst. I was panicking as I picked up my walking pace in an effort to make it to my office before all hell broke loose. As I started walking I noticed state troopers directing traffic, weird, because the state police normally direct traffic not the troopers. I ignore what I see and keep walking, walking even faster as I got to the next light and then I noticed that at every red light there were more cars and as I moved further up to my office I noticed that there were more state troopers at every stop. So every light I passed had a state trooper or two directing the traffic.
Everyone was looking around too and picking up their pace as I was. As I walked past each person, I heard them whisper “be safe”, “be safe”.
I smiled again because that was the same thing the teller had said to me at the bank and that is Baltimore they are strong even when at their weakest.
You will see this later in the mom in the yellow dress caught on TV disciplining her child for being in the riot, now that’s true Baltimore. I see people in Baltimore and it’s the regular people when I walk, when I take the train, people giving money to others who look like they didn’t have any themselves, people that are falling over because of the addiction problems so rampant in the city but they are being held up by others in the same condition.
Getting back to my office everything was calm no emails had been sent yet to dismiss us for the day. Within the next hour after I got to the office we were dismissed, closed by 3 p.m. When I got home I was transfixed to the TV gobbling down every minute of the news, I was calling people texting them to watch and say a prayer.
I felt sad North Avenue was just a few stops away by train from where I worked. How could this be happening and the next day we were still closed, it had worsened overnight.
This was for a Baltimore native, it was for Freddie Gray. His story came to limelight after he died while in police custody. He was arrested after running away from four police officers on bicycles at the intersection of W. North Avenue and N. Mount Street. The police commissioner said a lieutenant pursued him after making eye contact with Gray. After which a van was requested to take Freddie Gray for booking at the police station. At some point during the ride he requested for his inhaler and at some point another prisoner was picked up.
The van was stopped and paperwork was completed after which he was shackled with iron and put back in the van. While on the way to central booking a stop was made by the van, officers checked in on Gray and paramedics were requested they provided patient care for him and by 9:54 a.m. that morning Freddie Gray was being transported to shock trauma, while at shock trauma he had surgery and he was also in coma, he was in shock trauma till his death.
On April 18th the protest started at the Police Headquarters and at City Hall, the police department called a news conference on Monday the 21st, the officers involved in the case were identified. The protests were still going on, mostly non-violent. The Governor was visible in the media and he promised to sign a bill doubling maximum payouts in civil lawsuits against the police. By the 24th when the Baltimore Police finally acknowledged mistakes in Freddie Gray’s death it was too late the city was already boiling. By The 25th the protest had turned violent, Freddie Gray’s twin sister pleaded for the violence to stop.
On April 27th Freddie Gray was buried amid a farewell that brought the community together with the world at large.
And after his burial in the City all was quiet for a while and then the riots started again. In an effort to stop the riots community leaders, clergy, politicians and even know gangs united for peace in the city by finding common ground. The Governor of Maryland and the Mayor of Baltimore City disagreed on how the incident was handled. Even President Obama who was in a joint news conference with the Japanese Prime Minister, spoke concerning the riots, “he said the riots took away from what the community leaders had done the days before the riots” he spoke from his heart when he said the rioters were “undermining business in their own community”. He commended the Governor and the Mayor and the community and reaffirmed that the Department of Justice was involved and that he wanted transparency in the case.
Even a year after as we still remember as we clean up, we see what Freddie Gray’s death did – it brought a lot of people out of the community into the streets; we saw pastors from churches in and around Baltimore City that made their voice heard concerning the riots by going out into the streets, political leaders like Congressman Elijah Cummings standing with the people, keeping them calm. Even though we may never know how it started on the 27th one thing we know is it left in its wake a community damaged but awakened and renewed in its purpose to fight for justice and for transparency. A community focusing the light on the work that still needs to be done from decades ago on North Avenue.
The impact will continue to be felt and the story will be told of how it turned into something that we will be remembered for generations to come.
Click here for a full list of the officers implicated in the Freddie Gray case and their charges.
(With information from the Baltimore Sun and C-SPAN)