The Washington Post this week cited a police claim that a prisoner who spent a few minutes in the van in which Freddie Gray was fatally injured said Gray was “trying to hurt himself.”
Though the WaPo / Baltimore police version of the prisoner’s statement, and the implication that Gray severed his own spine, already seemed on its face like a dark joke or the kind of ham-handed cover for murder that would be issued in the bleakest totalitarian police state, US state-violence-promoting outlets such as Fox News jumped on the claim, with irate commentators like Hannity using it to chide protesters for jumping to conclusions “before the facts were in”.
Gray’s killing was always the straw that broke the camel’s back, part of hundreds of years of ongoing criminal abuse of African Americans in Baltimore and the US in general, and not the entire reason for Baltimore protests. (For example, US police kill approximately 1,000 people per year, according to conservative federal statistics. Another federal count admitted to be too low finds that 4,813 victims were killed by police after arrest between 2003 and ’09. African Americans are the second group most likely to be killed by US police, after indigenous people.)
But the day after WaPo issued its police-sourced “quote” from the prisoner who shared the van with Gray, Business Insider released a report from the same prisoner, Allen, who says that the Baltimore police and Washington Post misquoted him, and he didn’t say Gray was trying to hurt himself.
“…why the [expletive] would he do that to himself?” Allen said to Business Insider.
Indeed, the Medical Examiner’s report has now been released, and has determined that “Mr. Gray’s death was a homicide”.
Warrants for the six officers involved in Gray’s “illegal arrest” have been issued, and charges ranging from second-degree murder, to manslaughter and assault are being filed against them.
In addition, police dishonestly reported that the knife Gray was carrying at the time of his illegal arrest was a switchblade, a type of knife not allowed in Baltimore.
In reality, “The knife was not a switchblade and is lawful under Maryland law”.
The kind of sleazy, brutal, and criminal treatment of African Americans seen today in Baltimore (and the US in general) is part of a continuum that stretches back through the US’s relatively short existence (samples from Baltimore history given here).
Cornell Professor of History Edward E. Baptist notes that it was only a few generations ago when African people kidnapped by American criminals were “marched through the streets of downtown Baltimore” to be used as profit-generating machines.
Indeed, Baptist documents that white looting of Africa and Africans through stealing and forcing them to work under gun and torture (torture using every implement that could be purchased from US hardware stores at the time) is what allowed the US to emerge as the world’s biggest economy; without slavery it would simply never have happened.
The idea that the commodification and suffering and forced labor of African Americans is what made the United States powerful and rich is not an idea that people necessarily are happy to hear. Yet it is the truth.
Edward E. Baptist
That American criminals carried out their form of slavery to an extent that allowed them to build the world’s biggest economy also explains Columbia historian Howard Zinn’s assessment that “American slavery [was] the most cruel form of slavery in history…”
As some people today chide African Americans for some of the ways they choose to protest violent, disproportionate oppression by the state, Baptist also documents that whites, including abolitionists, displayed the same racist, shocking hypocrisy or ignorance during de jure slavery, complaining that by staging violent uprisings against the crime of enslavement, African Americans were only hurting their own cause, or were “proving” that they were an inherently violent race. To be sure, many of the “concerned” people tisking African Americans today would have been doing the same during uprisings against de jure slavery.
Ajamu Baraka notes of these kinds of reactions (which are largely and oh-so-mysteriously only applied to the victims of massive US state violence, not the perpetrators):
For many of our young white comrades, people of color and even some black ones who were too young to have lived through the last period of intensified struggle in the 1960s and ‘70s and have not understood the centrality of African American resistance to the historical social struggles in the U.S., it may be a little disconcerting to see the emergence of resistance that is not dependent on and validated by white folks or anyone else.
A laughable break from the seriousness of these events has been Barack Obama’s personal chastisement of “thugs and criminals” in Baltimore, and his heartfelt advice to protesters (mimicking the abolitionists cited by Baptist) that violence is counter-productive to achieving their aims.
Obama speaks from the highest position in a social hierarchy that, as noted above, almost exclusively used unimaginable violence, theft, and looting of Africans and indigenous people to become and maintain itself as a group that can extend its domination globally. He stands as one of the world’s more notorious thugs, criminals, and terrorists, as he personally and intentionally executes thousands of innocent people and bystanders by burning them to death with what the US calls “Hell Fire”; he presides over history’s biggest surveillance and prison system, and condones, funds, and/or perpetrates land-theft, torture, aggression, and use of chemical weapons against civilians to accomplish his aims, while he illegally devotes trillions to nuclear weapons development as water is illegally cut off to poor US citizens, and, in contrast to eight other countries including India, China, and Russia, he refuses to evacuate his own citizens from a war-zone and humanitarian crisis he is helping to create in Yemen.
Author and UK-based colleague @_DirtyTruths.