Baltimore Protests: Death of Freddie Gray in police custody ignites demonstrations affecting lives


Courtesy of Hannah Allam

Police officers line up across the street during a protest at Baltimore. Six officers were charged in the death of Freddie Gray on May 1.

As the city of Baltimore heals from unrest from last month, and six officers are charged for the death of Freddie Gray, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch begins a federal investigation for civil rights violations committed by the Baltimore Police department.

Foreign affairs correspondent for McClatchy Newspaper, Hannah Allam, was covering events in Baltimore. Allam will be speaking at the Class of 2015 Graduation.

“I have been a correspondent in a war zone for many years and some of the parallels that I saw in Baltimore were chilling,” she said. “You could see the years of neglect, disenfranchisement, cycles of poverty and violence that have very, very deep roots, and you can see that correcting this and putting out the flames is going to be a really big task, and we have to see which Baltimore leaders are up for that, and that’s what residents have told me these past few days.”

On the morning of April 12, Lt. Brian W. Rice, Officer Edward M. Nero, and Officer Garrett E. Miller apprehended 25-year-old African-American Freddie Gray and injured his back while holding him facedown. After finding that he had a folding knife in his possession, they charged him with illegally carrying a concealed weapon. He was placed into a police van laying down, without a seatbelt, which breaks departmental regulations. While driving him to the Western District Police Station, they made multiple stops. His back injury worsened, and despite Gray requesting, the police officers gave him no medical attention. They discovered that he was no longer breathing upon arriving at the police station. He died a week later in the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma Center.

Gray’s death sparked protests in Baltimore. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake instituted a curfew on the city from April 14 to May 3.

Allam compared her experiences covering the Iraq War in Baghdad to the Baltimore circumstances.

“I don’t have to go all the way to Baghdad to write about the issues that I usually write about in foreign countries—corruption, explosions, violence, lack of education, all the social ills that I’ve associated with in the developing world, are some things I have witnessed,” she said.

The conditions that the residents of Baltimore faced, according to Allam, emphasized their own personal strength.

“One thing that stood out to me was the resilience of the residents in those neighborhoods,” she said. “It just reminded me of how Iraqis or Syrians or Egyptians who lived through so many years of hardship could still maintain a sense of humor and compassion and just go about their lives. ”

Harker alumnus Rohith Bhethanabotla (‘14), a freshman at Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore, commented on how the school has been impacted by the city’s unrest.

“Baltimore is a city I’ve come to love with its leafy neighborhoods and quaint townhouses, but every night when you look up in the sky and see the police helicopter doing its rounds or when you walk down the street and an ambulance races by, it makes me sad sometimes knowing that my city — my home — is deeply troubled,” he said.

Due to riots by teenagers near the campus, students were not allowed to enter buildings after 8:00 p.m. and cross streets after 10:00 p.m. Additionally, classes were canceled for one day.

“The curfew was tough to deal with, because a lot of campus life does happen at night from studying to parties to simple late night fast food runs” he said in an email interview. “We had to make a lot of changes to plans for group projects and social events.”

Bhethanabotla also discussed usage of Yik Yak, a social media app which allows people to post anonymous messages to others in their proximity.

“There were a lot of racist posts about black people that were promptly down-voted when it appeared on the feed” he said. “But seeing them get posted though made me more aware that I am a minority on campus and that cultural acceptance is not entirely as fluid as I had imagined it was at JHU.”

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on May 13, 2015.