We the People: In the wake of the death of Freddie Gray

Freddie Gray was arrested by Baltimore police officers and then died of a broken neck and crushed windpipe while in police custody and no one was charged with a crime. When no details were released, it sparked protests and riots in the city. The public reaction degenerated into violence but that should not have been a surprise considering the indifferent and then antagonistic reaction from Baltimore’s leadership.

The state’s attorney has now filed homicide, manslaughter and misconduct charges against the police officers involved in the death of Mr. Gray. Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby alleged the officers abused Gray by handcuffing him and placing him in a van without a seatbelt which led to fatal injuries. Now, the police announced discovery of security camera footage that revealed the police van made a previously unknown stop on the day he was arrested.

People initially took to the streets peacefully to demand accountability for the unexplained death of a civilian in police custody. After several days of protests, the police moved to stop students from congregating in the inner city because of a credible threat received that gangs were going to coordinate attacks on police officers.

The police succeeded in keeping young people together in the city after the schools closed, which had the opposite of the intended calming effect. The riots that ensued never had to happen. The looting and rioting are the responsibility of the individuals who perpetrated it but the police could have used better strategies and the municipal government utterly failed to be responsive to the people of the city. Citizens need leaders who can respond to public frustration and distrust and direct it into purposeful activity.

President Obama stated that the frustration in Baltimore involves decades of inequality for citizens there. Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, speaking on “The Laura Ingraham Show,” said, in trying to explain what had happened in Baltimore, “It’s something we talk about not in the immediate aftermath but over time: The breakdown of family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of sort of a moral code in our society.”

This “lack of fathers” comment was properly and promptly criticized as a thinly veiled racial stereotype. The implication in mentioning the absence of fathers, when discussing the reaction of the public to the death of an African-American man in police custody, is coded communication to say that any bad behavior among young black people must be the fault of the African-American community. The comment is stupid. The comment is racist.

Jeb Bush said that the decision to let the Orioles play a baseball game to an empty stadium in Baltimore during the unrest sent the “wrong signal.” Bush further said, “I think we need to recognize that life doesn’t just get paralyzed when these tragedies occur.”

Mr. Bush should call Mr. Paul and they can share notes on how to send wrong signals. The fact a young man died while in the custody of public officials sworn to uphold the law and protect the people is a tragedy of personal as well as national proportions.

Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz called the unrest in Baltimore “heartbreaking” but quickly moved to blame President Obama for the riots. The Texas Republican said he understood the frustration of African Americans, who are “understandably concerned about whether law enforcement policies are being applied fairly” and upset by the economic opportunities that “dry up under the Obama economy.” He stated further, “[T]his administration … constantly seeks to divide, to turn us against each other, based on race, based on sex, based on wealth, based on geography.”

Mr. Cruz mistakes facts as mere opportunities for him to take personal advantage. The economy has experienced its strongest job growth in 15 years and unemployment is at 5.5 percent. Mr. Obama achieved this after the nation suffered the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression.

Mr. Cruz tried to link the economic policy of President Obama with the policy of President Jimmy Carter. “There are only two four‑year periods where growth averaged less than one percent: 1978 to 1982, coming out of the Jimmy Carter administration, and 2008 to 2012. Same failed economic policies.”

This is just more failed communication from a politician bent on sitting in the Oval Office. Mr. Cruz’s misstatements cannot connect Mr. Obama to the 2008 crash when he took office in 2009, and the disastrous economic conditions in 2009 when he was in office were a result of lending and investing policies effected during the Bush administration.

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