On April 12, Freddie Gray made eye contact with a Baltimore police officer, ran away for unknown reasons, and was then apprehended and taken into police custody. Seven days later he was dead, having succumbed to serious injuries including three fractured vertebrae, a broken leg, and a crushed voicebox. Bystanders took video of Gray’s arrest, which (according to descriptions I’ve seen — I personally refuse to watch the video) shows Gray’s leg being injured, but it’s unclear how he suffered the rest of his injuries. Increasingly upset by the ongoing history of police brutality in their community, the people of Baltimore have banded together & begun to protest — some loudly, some violently, some peacefully. These are the facts as I know them. If I am wrong about anything, tell me.
As a black woman living in the United States, I am never surprised when black people are brutalized by the police. I was 3 years old when Rodney King was beaten by LAPD officers, 10 when Ambner Louima was beaten & sodomized by NYPD officers, and 11 when Amadou Diallo was shot at 41 times by NYPD officers while reaching for his wallet. I grew up listening to songs ridiculing & condemning the actions of the police, and the slang term “pig” entered my vocabulary at a pretty early age. The message was that the police were our friends, and that we should go to them when we have a problem, but the truth is that I’ve NEVER felt comfortable calling the cops, even in circumstances where I had no choice but to call them (once when a man was trying to break into my apartment, once when I encountered an unconscious man lying in the middle of the street).
Police brutality is a very serious issue that affects everyone, but in particular people of color. It has a long history in the United States, with the most commonly known early incidents taking place during the Civil Rights Movement when police officers turned hoses & dogs on black protesters. Police who do brutalize civilians, especially civilians of color, are placed on paid leave and/or cleared — of — all — charges, even in the face of overwhelming evidence against them like bystander videos and eyewitness testimonies.
Given the horrible circumstances surrounding the unrest in Baltimore, I can not bring myself to blame the community for causing a scene. Peaceful & violent protesters alike are labeled animals & “thugs” (because the N-word is, shall we say, out of vogue) for fighting against a system that dehumanizes them. If their protests disrupt any events in Baltimore, all the better — protests are meant to make people aware, and what better way to raise awareness than to get one of the biggest metal festivals in the United States canceled? I’m proud to have seen very little belly-aching over the possibility of MDF disruption but to the few people out there whose first thoughts when the riots began were “How will my precious festival be affected?” I say, get over yourselves.