With deep sadness for the family of Freddie Gray

With deep sadness for the family of Freddie Gray and with deep sadness for the collective loss this costs all of us

The tragedy of Freddie Gray — with all its unanswered questions – once again illustrates the need for us to sit up and pay attention.   It illustrates the need for us to pay attention to the pattern of physical abuse of Black men and women by those acting under color of law; we believe that an underlying issue for this horric outcome is our continued lack of will to address the  systemic issues that allow these instances to repeatly occur here and in other cities across the country.

According to an ACLU report, during 2010 – 2014, at least 109 people have died in Maryland after encounters with police. Almost 70% were African American – although African Americans are only 29% of the population in Maryland — and more than 40% of them were unarmed. Shamefully, less than 2% of the officers involved in those deaths were charged.

In the Maryland 2015 Legislation Session, legislation was introduced to amend the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights (to increase transparency of process and public protection) and to strengthen the Civilian Review Board in Baltimore City (to expand the powers of civilian review to hold police officers accountable). We absolutely applaud the introduction of this type of accountability which would remediate the “systemic” issues built into our American system of  justice.  

Unless we address the deeper systemic issues that continue to allow incidents such as this and others, the solutions currently offered — officer suspensions, more training, and other measures – are things that should be done but they are not things that will stem the tide of this abuse.  Having policies that ensure responsibility will ultimately lead to system changes and policy shifts that address the lack of value for Black lives. 

If – regardless of race – we placed our sons or daughters into the scenario that took Freddie Gray’s life, would we have questions? Would we want answers? Would we feel that they were treated in a way that affirmed their dignity and worth?

 Race matters.  And until “hearts and minds” change, policies can help ensure that all our sons and daughters are treated with dignity and an inherent human value – no matter their race. 

 Because in the end, we all pay the economic price for this abuse, in the loss of public trust, the loss of belief, and the loss of dreams.