It's all over the news: The situation in Baltimore is bad. The National Guard has been sent in, the governor asked police forces from other states for help, a 10 p.m. curfew is in place until next week, and Baltimore schools are closed. But, even after a night that saw riot police in the streets and angry residents breaking windows — and another protest planned for tonight — the anger behind the protests and property destruction go much deeper than the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.
At Gray’s funeral on Monday, Gray family attorney Billy Murphy put it simply: “Most of us knew a lot of Freddie Grays. Too many.” Proof of that has been easy to find long before riot police descended upon the city. Police brutality in Baltimore is real — and it is awful. Since 2011, the Baltimore Police Department has paid $5.7 million dollars to victims of police violence. The city spent another $5.8 million defending cops against brutality lawsuits. Members of the department admit that "rough rides," jarring and dangerous police van rides for suspects, are a well-known occurrence. Gray died of a massive spinal cord injury after being arrested and loaded into a police van. Economic inequality puts Baltimore residents at risk even before police enter the picture. As City Council member Nick Mosby put it to a Fox News reporter, this “is the symptom of something going on out there,” in all communities struggling with poverty and overpolicing, from Charleston to Ferguson to Los Angeles. "This could happen anywhere in socioeconomically deprived America," he said. Because the city closed schools, thousands of children of all ages have nowhere to go today. With 84% of students eligible for free and reduced lunch, no school can mean no food for a lot of kids. Community groups, businesses, libraries, and churches have been organizing food drives and opening their doors to kids and families in need of somewhere to go.
In a Facebook post Monday, Baltimore Bloc, a community organization called Monday’s events “the crossing of a tipping point by communities that have remained unheard for far too long.”
Since last summer, protests over police brutality, profiling, and systemic inequality have popped up all over the country. The tragic death of Freddie Gray has given another community that has spent decades suffering from poverty, inadequate education, drugs, and overpolicing a reason to confront those issues head-on. But, protesters are making their voices heard in more ways than marching and confronting lines of riot cops — multiple cleanups are happening Tuesday, activists are organizing legal support, and groups like Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle Baltimore and Baltimore Bloc have long been active in the community. Leaders have called for calm, but even if things quiet immediately and nothing else happens, the problems and struggles highlighted by Gray's death will still need urgent attention.