Fred­die Gray déjà vu

Our view: Po­lice killings of black men in Tulsa and Char­lotte sug­gest lessons learned in Bal­ti­more (and else­where) haven’t taken hold

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

One of the few con­so­la­tions of last year’s un­rest in the wake of Fred­die Gray’s death was that at least Bal­ti­more had the op­por­tu­nity to set an ex­am­ple to the rest of the coun­try when it was time to pick up the pieces. No mat­ter what hap­pened to the 25-year-old African Amer­i­can man be­fore and af­ter he was ar­rested and trans­ported in a po­lice van, it was clear that the city and its po­lice depart­ment had failed on many lev­els — on that morn­ing and for years be­fore.

If the re­forms pur­sued since that day — from body cam­eras on po­lice of­fi­cers to im­proved out­reach be­tween po­lice and the city’s most at-risk neigh­bor­hoods — didn’t send a mes­sage to other cities that change was needed, surely the sober­ing re­port from the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice’s Civil Rights Di­vi­sion must have. That the hand­ful of po­lice of­fi­cers crim­i­nally charged in Gray’s death were ei­ther found not guilty or had their charges sub­se­quently dropped didn’t negate the les­son to be learned from Bal­ti­more: Com­mu­ni­ties that ig­nore a long his­tory of racial dis­par­ity (both within and be­yond the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem) set them­selves up for fu­ture disas­ter.

And yet here we go again. The protests this week in Char­lotte, N.C. over the po­lice shoot­ing death of 43-year-old Keith La­mont Scott came with a sick­en­ing sense of déjà vu. Six­teen po­lice of­fi­cers were in­jured Tues­day night as pro­test­ers clashed with au­thor­i­ties, set­ting fires and loot­ing stores in some cases, in the wake of the death of an African-Amer­i­can man who po­lice al­lege had a gun in his hand when they con­fronted him in an apart­ment build­ing park­ing lot. That’s an ac­count dis­puted by oth­ers on so­cial me­dia, but a firearm was re­cov­ered by po­lice.

The clash in Char­lotte took place just four days af­ter the death of Ter­rence Crutcher, 40, who was shot and killed by po­lice in Tulsa, Okla. The vic­tim, also African-Amer­i­can, had been wait­ing for help by the side of the road af­ter his SUV broke down. Po­lice said the of­fi­cer who fired had feared Mr. Crutcher was act­ing strangely and had failed to obey or­ders, yet video from the in­ci­dent strongly sug­gests she and oth­ers had over­re­acted — the vic­tim’s hands were raised and he was walk­ing to­ward his ve­hi­cle at the mo­ment he was shot. Yet from this scant ev­i­dence he was la­beled a “bad dude” by an of­fi­cer speak­ing over the po­lice ra­dio from a cir­cling po­lice he­li­copter. That PCP was later re­cov­ered from his ve­hi­cle may prove ir­rel­e­vant given his non-threat­en­ing be­hav­ior as doc­u­mented on he­li­copter and dash­board videos.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions into both in­ci­dents are on­go­ing, but the death of Ter­rence Crutcher ap­pears the more egre­gious — he was an un­armed fa­ther of four and a col­lege stu­dent. More might be In this photo made from a Tulsa, Okla., po­lice he­li­copter video, Ter­ence Crutcher, left, holds his arms up as he is pur­sued by po­lice of­fi­cers. He was shot and killed by one of the of­fi­cers mo­ments later. known about the cir­cum­stances if of­fi­cers had been wear­ing body cam­eras, but Tulsa has not yet is­sued them even though the city was awarded a $600,000 grant to do so last year.

It is ironic that in re­cent weeks the na­tion has been em­broiled in an ex­tended and of­ten an­gry pub­lic de­bate over whether it’s ap­pro­pri­ate for a San Fran­cisco 49ers quar­ter­back to protest be­fore NFL games by tak­ing a knee when the na­tional an­them is per­formed. What got lost was the point of Colin Kaeper­nick’s protest — to draw at­ten­tion to racial in­jus­tice. Agree or disagree with his meth­ods, the lat­est shoot­ings and ac­com­pa­ny­ing up­roar make clear that deadly en­coun­ters be­tween po­lice and African-Amer­i­cans re­main a tragic and too-com­mon ex­pe­ri­ence in com­mu­ni­ties ill-equipped to ei­ther pre­vent them or deal with their af­ter­math.

That’s not to sug­gest Bal­ti­more has be­come some kind of shin­ing ex­am­ple of racial har­mony, so­cial jus­tice and po­lice pro­ce­dure in the 17 months since Fred­die Gray’s death. But at least the city has been fully en­gaged in the broad range of is­sues raised by the in­ci­dent, from poverty and racism to the lack of eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity and the need for im­proved civil­ian over­sight of po­lice. Was Tulsa al­ready grap­pling with these same is­sues? Was Char­lotte? If there are com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try that paid scant at­ten­tion to what hap­pened in Bal­ti­more or Fer­gu­son last year, let this week’s events be your sec­ond wake-up call.


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