Is $6.4 Million Enough To Make Up For A Life?

Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP Photo.
The City of Baltimore is ready to pay a settlement to the family of a young Baltimore man who died while in police custody in April. The office of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake approved a $6.4 million payout to relatives of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Six Baltimore police officers will stand trial on criminal charges related to Gray’s death.

The settlement was first reported by the Washington Post, and according to an analysis by the Baltimore Sun, the $6.4 million settlement is larger than all lawsuits against the police department since 2011 — combined. A city board will vote on whether to approve the settlement on Wednesday. The money would be paid out over two years.

Baltimore erupted in widespread protests and occasional unrest after Gray’s death. Activists there and around the country have called for justice for Gray and radical changes to the way law enforcement functions in the U.S.

Rawlings-Blake said in a statement that this has nothing to do with whether the six police officers involved in Gray’s death are responsible for it. "The proposed settlement agreement going before the Board of Estimates should not be interpreted as a judgment on the guilt or innocence of the officers facing trial," the statement said.

If it were normal for the families of people killed by police to receive $6 million, there would be many more headlines.

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It’s also interesting that settlements like this one and the $5.9 settlement New York City reached with the family of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after an NYPD officer subdued him with a chokehold are so far outside the norm for lawsuits related to police killings. There have been bigger settlements — New York City agreed to pay more than $7 million to friends and family of Sean Bell, who was killed by police on his wedding day — but most don’t come near these numbers or this level of scrutiny.

In another case cited by the Sun, the family of a man shot in 2012 received $175,000. And according to a tracking project from the Guardian, police in American have killed more than 800 people this year. Many of those will be officially deemed justified and some will be settled, but if it were normal for the families of people killed by police to receive $6 million, there would be many more headlines.

There are many other high-profile wrongful death cases over police-involved deaths still pending — the families of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice have all filed lawsuits — so it’s impossible to know if these two settlements mean that cities are taking these deaths more seriously. That won’t be clear until these cases are resolved and more is done to stop the killing of people of color in America.
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