Editor’s note: on Friday, May 1, Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that six Baltimore police officers had been charged in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.
I am saddened by the events that have taken place in Baltimore this past week. While the rioting has quieted down, it’s not clear what might be next.
I came to Baltimore in 1972 when I was named head of Nephrology at the University of Maryland. I was offered the opportunity to develop this new division –almost a clean sheet of paper to plan with. They wanted me, I believe, because of my successful experience with dialysis. I started a new facility, recruited staff, developed the practice, and we were off doing it.
My wife became a leading volunteer for the Baltimore Symphony, then a Master Gardener, and built herself a new career. The University was a comfortable place and we felt welcome. The kids grew up fine. What more could I want? We became Baltimoreans and enjoyed it.
The death of Freddie Gray
I do believe that what is happening in Baltimore is a reflection of the preceding uprisings over police shootings. There is always some racial tension in urban policing, and I am sure it has existed in Baltimore long before these events. But there is a large minority of African American police officers (about 40%, I believe), and we have a black police commissioner and a black mayor.
Freddie Gray’s death triggered protests, which were largely peaceful and appropriate. It was reported that about 2,000 people marched from the Western District police station to city hall and spoke about their displeasure. Then about 200 walked to Camden Yards and got into a confrontation with police. I was proud of the cops, who showed remarkable restraint. They made a line, held their ground, but aside from a few arrests of threatening individuals, took no action in spite of being hit by thrown rocks, bottles, and bricks.
Last Monday, Freddie Gray’s funeral took place. The ministers called for change in police behavior, but urged all demonstrations be peaceful. Gray’s family went on television to plead for no violence. While most of the mourners went to the cemetery quietly, several hundred others who appeared to have no connection to the funeral, just showed general outrage and attacked police. The police again held their ground, used some tear gas and pepper spray, and arrested a few of the noisiest.
Then the real violence began at two sites: cars were burned, police cars were vandalized, a drug store extensively looted, then set ablaze. A check cashing shop was broken into, a convenience store and at least two liquor stores looted. I don’t know the full extent of this, but it was up and down the street for hours.
Caution and recovery
All our dialysis facilities are now back to their regular operations, but we shortened schedules last week so all patients and staff would be able to get safely home before late afternoon. The campus that includes the University of Maryland Medical Center was shut down (the hospital remained open), but has reopened, as well as local schools. Our Baltimore Orioles baseball team played last Sunday, but police asked all fans to stay in the stadium until they thought it safe to leave. That was about two hours after the end of the game. Two games were cancelled this past week, but they agreed to play last Wednesday night ––fans, however, were asked to stay home. The next home series has been moved to Tampa Bay. Transportation has resumed normal schedules. A few minor confrontations have occurred, and curfew violators have been arrested, but the city is largely calm, though not at peace. There have been two large peaceful demonstrations by college students and other students, supported by police. Those appear effective and well accepted. Former Baltimore Ravens player Ray Lewis and basketball star Carmelo Anthony came, marched, and spoke to help out. One store owner says she will continue. Others are uncertain as the city urges them to return.
Things are better, but they will be different for some time.
As one who has lived here over 40 years and who loves this old city, warts and all, I hurt for Baltimore. These are not widespread riots, but this is lawless anarchy, with a select group taking advantage of a tragedy to create havoc. I thought Baltimore was past this sort of thing, but I was wrong. Sadly, the businesses destroyed are in the underserved poor neighborhoods where they were vital to residents. The CVS drug store destroyed on Washington Street is next to a nursing home. Residents used that store daily to pick up prescriptions and other items. It’s not clear when it will reopen.
There is no telling what will follow. The tragic death of a young man in police custody is bad enough, and deserved protests, but nothing justifies such total, violent disregard for people, property, and public order. The heavy hand of military and police has halted the violence, but we don’t know what will bubble up later.
The stability of this city has been disrupted, and it will be a while before there is any confidence or calm. I grieve for the loss.