The Baltimore riots, which began after the funeral of Freddie Gray, the young man who died of spinal cord injuries following his arrest, has highlighted the reality of the long-lived police brutality towards members within the African-American community. On April 12, Baltimore officers arrested Gray under suspicion of criminal activity, caused by his immediate reaction of running in the opposite direction of the officers when he became aware of their presence. According to authorities, the Baltimore officers purposely failed to properly fasten Gray’s buckle when they put him in the back of the van used to transport him after his arrest. Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts confirmed having knowledge that employees of the department failed multiple times to provide Gray with medical attention in a timely manner. Police, along with the U.S. Justice Department, are investigating the case.
Those in law enforcement have been getting away with killing members of the African-American community for way too long, but with the help of smartphones, security cameras and social media, evidence of these incidents have been brought to the surface, and all the right questions are finally being asked. Within the same week of Gray’s death, two more incidents were reported involving unjustified, excessive use of force by law enforcement, which resulted in death.
On April 2, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, an unarmed Eric Harris was fatally shot in the back by Robert Bates, a volunteer reserve deputy who was permitted by the department to carry a gun and a badge after shelling out a substantial amount of money in donations for the Tulsa sheriff. The incident occurred during a sting operation in which Harris took off running, only for multiple officers to catch up to him, tackle him to the ground and then deliver the fatal gunshot to his back. Investigations found that the Tulsa County Sheriff’s office tried hiding the fact that Bates was not given any police officer training, and when sheriff office employees raised questions about Bates’ violations, they were told to keep their mouths closed.
On April 4, in Charleston, North Carolina, officer Michael Slager shot Walter Scott five times in the back while he was slowly running away. Video recordings showed that after Slager fired his fatal shots, the very unconcerned officer approached the dying victim, who laid unresponsive and face down in the grass, bent over and handcuffed Scott before calmly walking away from his lifeless body. Due to there being video-recorded evidence, Slager was fired from the department and charged with murder.
The issues, like the reality of the long-lived police brutality towards African-Americans, which has been highlighted by the Baltimore riots, run much deeper than just accidents or slight miscalculations that happen under pressure. All three cases clearly demonstrate the distinct insensitivity and complete disregard for another human life. In these cases, the blame should not be placed solely on the officers involved, but on the law enforcement agencies as well. They also take part in the wrongdoing when attempting to justify an officer’s illegal use of force by releasing information regarding a victim’s criminal history with the intent to damage their character, as if their history validates the brutality they received.
It is about time that law enforcement be held accountable for their use of unnecessary and excessive force against people of color. The Baltimore riots have highlighted the reality of the long-lived police brutality towards members of the African-American community, and it is unfortunate that it took so long for people to finally take notice of the facts. It is not right that African-American people have to fear for their lives due to the extent of the racial profiling that saturates the minds of these enforcers of the law. These recently-proven wrongs committed by Baltimore police and other law enforcement officers around the U.S. have thoroughly damaged the idea that they are here to serve and protect. Rather, they have now become an additional part of the problem.
Opinion by Kameron Hadley
Photo By Stephen Melkisethian– Creativecommons Flickr License