In Baltimore, a Cry for Justice for Freddie Gray

By Ericka Blount Danois Apr 27, 2015

Editor’s update on April 28, 2015 at 11:53 a.m. ET:

  • Hours after Gray’s funeral, a group of Baltimoreans set fires, broke into stores and threw bricks at police. 
  • Maryland governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, declared a citywide curfew and deployed the National Guard. They numbered 500 to start but will likely grow to 2,000.
  •  According to USA Today, Hogan said he "assured" President Obama that "we weren’t going to stand by and allow our city of Baltimore to be taken over by thugs."
  • Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake used similar language in a Monday press conference: "It is very clear there is a difference between what we saw over the past week with the peaceful protests, those who wish to seek justice, those who wish to be heard and want answers, and the difference between those protests and the thugs who only want to incite violence and destroy our city."  
  • This Tuesday morning national guard troops were deployed in front of Baltimore City Hall.


Freddie Gray—the black 25-year-old who died of spinal damage he sustained during a West Baltimore police stop—was laid to rest today. Some 3,000 people came out to Baltimore’s New Shiloh Baptist to commemorate Gray’s life.

"I see all the cameras here. But did you see Freddie Gray when he was alive?" asked Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, referring to all of the media at the funeral. "Did you see him? Did you see him?" 

Police fatally injured Gray on the morning of April 12. He’d fled after making eye contact with two officers on bicycles. Bystander videos show cops down on the ground leaning over Gray, and then dragging his limp body into a police van as he screams. Police officials have said that Gray asked for an inhaler several times during the ride to the Western District station but didn’t receive one. Gray eventually slipped into a coma and died a week later.

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, I joined hundreds of people who marched and rallied to protest Gray’s killing. By Saturday demonstrations had been going on for four days already but the crowd showed no signs of letting up. We began by surrounding the Western District Police Station while holding signs and chanting. 

Some of the signs read: 

“White silence is white consent; none of us is free until all of us are free.”

“Wanted for police murders: Stephanie Rawlings Blake,” in reference to Baltimore’s mayor, who is black.  

“Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is spilled.”

“Jail killer cops.”

Heber Brown, III, pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, led protestors, who were of all races and ages, toward City Hall. He named Baltimoreans who have been killed by the police but didn’t make national news—names like Tyrone West who was allegedly beaten to death by 10 to 12 police officers; Anthony Anderson, who died after police slammed him on the ground; and Monae Turnage a 13-year-old accidentally shot by two of her friends with a rifle later found in an off-duty police officer’s car.

A caravan of cars following the march passed a mural of Trayvon Martin along the way. People in their houses cheered from their windows, opened their doors, and beeped their horns in support. The Nation of Islam helped to bring together members of the Bloods and the Crips who attended the march. 

Voices from the protests: 

Oludipe Okutuga, mother of Emmanuel Okutuga, a man police shot to death at a Silver Spring, Md., mall. She heads up an organization called Justice for Emmanuel.

“In a case of mistaken identity they killed my son. They claimed they told him to stop 30 times in 30 seconds. The police officer went into his backpack and found an ice pick and lied and said my son was weilding an ice pick at him. But there was video. Still, the case was thrown out of court for lack of evidence. I’m here to support mothers and to fight for justice. It’s got to stop, the killing of our children. It’s got to stop."

Holly Deitrich, a white West Baltimore woman whose son, Ryan Deitrich, was killed by police. 

"I lost my son, Ryan, a year ago. He was bipolar and suffered from depression. He walked out of the house and he had a knife in his hand and cut himself. Three officers shot him once on both of his legs. As he was going down, two other officers shot him eight times. Thirty-three cops came to the scene.

What happened to Freddie [Gray] was awful. A friend of mine said it was probably [due to] a thing that cops do called “rattle with a can” when they put them in the paddy wagon with no seat belt on and take them for a joy ride. They go fast and then step on the brakes and then [the passengers] go flying.

Kenny Polk, a volunteer with the NAACP:

“This is one of the cases we are supporting. There is another about a guy at Johns Hopkins [who] was in a wheelchair when police beat him up. That is coming up next. We need to refocus on community policing. I remember back in the day we took care of the neighborhood. Gangs took care of the neighborhood.”

Darshawn “Tree” Rogers Sr., a single father of three sons:

“I am raising three sons and at any time it could have been one of them. So it’s important to come out here and voice your opinion. One voice can change many minds. I was abused by the police on many occasions. I look at [them] today as the Blue Klux Klan.” 

Marvin McDowell, founder and owner of Umar boxing gym: 

“City government officials need to support programs like mine. We have an education component and an 85-percent graduation rate. We get [students’] progress reports and have about eight of them currently in college. We are trying to prepare them for situations like this. We keep them occupied and busy.”

Clyde Boatwright, a sergeant for the Baltimore City School Police Force, who met Freddie Gray at Carver High School:

“I remember meeting Freddie as a high-school kid and people saying, ‘This guy is pretty funny. He has a good sense of humor and he knows how to imitate people.’ … I never had a bad interaction with Freddie in four years. If he chose his profession to be standup comedy, he would have been a natural; his impressions were perfect. He played on the football team, [but] he was a tiny kid and he didn’t get a lot of playing time. One time he walked up next to the coach and made this sound like vroom, vroom. Coach was like, ‘What are you doing?’ And he was like ‘I’m like a Cadillac, ready to go!’”

J.B. Kenney, West Baltimore resident and contractor:

“I would like to see police officers brought up on charges, and let there be a real investigation. You should not be a public servant if you’re not [acting like] a public servant.”

Heber Brown, III, pastor of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church:

“This [march] was the result of a coalition of groups that came together and planned different demonstrations. You have a city of over 600,000 people, so you didn’t need to have one big thing. I think we were successful in sending a very strong message today. My group, Baltimore United for Change, is devoted to making sure there are legislative and policy changes and that we can do training in communities. We recognize this is a marathon, not a dash and so many of us have been doing this work for a long time. We need real change, not just great moments.

For everyday people we don’t have millions of dollars, we don’t own the airwaves or television or radio. We live very busy lives: dads, moms, husbands and wives and just living life. Organizing and marching and shutting things down is one of the trump cards for us. Organized people, organized money and a unified agenda–those are the things we can control. … Shutting things down gets the attention of power in ways that just talking about it doesn’t.”

Carl Dix, co-founder with Cornel West of Stop Mass Incarceration Network 

“People have to take to the streets. We refuse to suffer in silence. We will mobilize and we will challenge people that are shielded from [police violence] to open their eyes, look at this reality and join in this resistance, even if [they] know it will never happen to [them].

This kind of thing is built into the fabric of U.S. society. It goes back to the patrols that they put up around the plantations to keep the slaves from running away. It continued through the lynch mobs and Ku Klux Klan terror. The police are doing essentially the same thing, and they even do it sometimes in the same way, like leaving Michael Brown’s body [on the road] for four and a half hours. They do this so everyone can see it and can get the message that we can do this to you and get away with it."

Ericka Blount Danois, is a Baltimore-based journalist, writer, editor and professor.   Her first book, “Love, Peace and Soooooouul! The Behind the Scenes Story of America’s Favorite Dance Show," was published in 2013.