Who Is Freddie Gray, and Why Is Baltimore Burning for Him?

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A cop throws a rock at protesters in Baltimore. Protests turned violent Monday following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died April 19 in police custody. Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Baltimore has erupted in riots and chaos following the death of Freddie Gray, who died last week after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. Here's a brief guide to the incident that sparked the ongoing arrest.

Who was Freddie Gray? 

Gray was a 25-year-old African-American man who lived in the Gilmor Homes neighborhood of Baltimore. Gray was taken into police custody on April 12 and, according to video and eyewitness accounts, pinned down and dragged to a police van. (One witness says he saw Gray "screaming for his life" and an officer's knee on his neck, while police contradicted that report, saying he was arrested "without force.") Gray suffered a serious spinal cord injury and fell into a coma. He also had a crushed voice box and three fractured vertebrae. Surgical attempts to save his life were unsuccessful, and Gray died from his injuries on April 19.

Why was Freddie Gray arrested? Was he breaking the law?

That's not entirely clear. Gray was spotted by an officer in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12. He and another man locked eyes with three officers, according to a Baltimore Sun investigation, and then fled when the officers approached on bikes. Police caught and tackled Gray on Presbury Street, and got a van to take him to the station. (For an exhaustively detailed account of Gray's arrest, the Sun has a time line.)

The police report notes that Gray was found to have a switchblade knife, but there's no other clear reason why he was chased or arrested. 

Did officers help him get medical attention?

According to Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, the police "failed to get [Gray] medical attention in a timely manner multiple times." Gray, who had asthma, requested an inhaler and had trouble breathing in the van, but police didn't provide his inhaler. Worse, he wasn't buckled in in the van.

Paramedics were called, and he was taken to the University of Maryland R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center within an hour of his arrest. What's not clear is precisely how his spine was injured, and why he wasn't provided medical attention on the spot.

Is there any video footage of the arrest?

One bystander captured cellphone video footage of Gray apparently suffering an injury as he was taken into the police van. The video shows Gray being dragged, limp, as a bystander screams, "That boy's leg looks broke!"

 

What happened to the police who arrested Gray?

Six officers have so far been suspended with pay while the police department investigates the incident.

How has Gray's family responded to these riots?

Members of Gray's family have expressed alarm that protests over his death have turned into riots and chaos. "To see that it turned into all this violence and destruction, I am really appalled," said Gray's stepfather, Richard Shipley. His mother, Gloria Darden, said, "Don't tear up the whole city just for him. That's wrong."

What have the reactions been like in Baltimore?

Residents of Baltimore have been protesting since Gray's death on April 19. Protests grew larger on Saturday with a peaceful march through the streets that eventually turned chaotic, with bottles thrown and windows smashed. Riots broke out on Monday after Gray's funeral service, which drew thousands to New Shiloh Baptist Church. Demonstrators threw bricks, set fires and looted businesses in the city. Around a dozen police officers have been injured, and the governor of Maryland has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard.

Why has Gray's death prompted such an intense reaction? Why now?

Gray's death has opened up long-simmering racial tensions in Baltimore, a predominantly black city that has a long and violent history of police brutality. On a broader scale, Gray's death has reignited a national conversation about police violence and its disproportionate effect on people of color. That debate coalesced in 2014 around the deaths of Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, and of Eric Garner, who died after a police officer put him in an apparent choke hold in New York. More recently, Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black man, was fatally shot by patrolman Michael Slager following a traffic stop in South Carolina. That shooting was caught on camera. These cases all involve unarmed black men.

The protests in Baltimore are growing larger and more violent now because Gray's funeral took place on Monday, and because it appears to have taken about a week for local news coverage to attract national attention.