In April 2015, Freddie Gray was arrested by the Baltimore Police Department and later died of spinal injuries sustained in a police van. His death sparked riots and calls for change in both the police department and the political arena. A year later, Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson takes a look at what has and hasn’t changed in Baltimore with community activist J.C. Faulk.
Interview Highlights: J.C. Faulk
One year later, what does the name of Freddie Gray mean to you?
“It means a great deal to me. I did not know Freddie Gray but his death brought people together in this city who would not have come together had he not died.”
Although you didn’t know him, he still moved you to work on this cause for the last year
“Yes he did, because a lot of people are represented through Freddie Gray, people saw themselves in Freddie Gray. Last year, there were 344 people who died in this city and then there’s an air of hostility, brutality from the police in Baltimore that there’s no one in low-income communities in Baltimore who would be unaware of that, so his death by the hands of the police in Baltimore, it just kind of highlighted what people on the ground already know. And so, when he died, it was like a part of us, a part of everyone else, we were dying with him. People rallied and did what they did because he died in a way that many of us are afraid of. It’s been proven that the police here in Baltimore are brutal to people in low-income and minority communities.”
What do you think has changed in the last year?
“What has not changed is on the ground. This morning, I looked up The Baltimore Sun. They say that, right now, to this point in the year, 69 people have already died from homicide and 61 of them died from bullet wounds, so we’re right on track. Last year, 344 people died in Baltimore. That has not changed. The brutality from police in Baltimore has really not changed. A block and a half away from my house, two weeks ago, two police officers shot 56 shots at two men, killing them and the men never shot at them. So there’s something going on in the city right now, even though all of the stuff happened around Freddie Gray. We have a new state’s attorney in office, Marilyn Mosby, who has sorely been a disappointment to the people on the ground in Baltimore. She has not done what we expected her to do when she walked in.
"However, what’s changing is the people are tired and we have not stopped. The people are still rallying, still doing the things that they do and, this year, there’s going to be a huge turnover in terms of political leadership in this city. Half of the city council members decided not to run or won’t be running, so we’re going to have at least half of the city council replaced. Another thing that’s happened in the state of Maryland, felon voting laws have changed so now anyone who has finished their sentence and they’re out of prison and they’ve done all of their time, they can now vote. That’s tens of thousands new voters who can vote this year and they can decide many of these elections.”
One of the things we all watched unfold was rioting. There were fires, a lot of property was destroyed. Was that a mistake?
“I don’t know if ‘mistake’ is the right word. What I would do is I would turn that around and say something else about it. Like right now in Sandtown, one zip code, 21217, there are about 450 people from that one zip code who are in prison. They are treated like they're the most dangerous people in the world and they are not. The word ‘riot,’ I’ve heard that word over and over and over again and what we call it is an uprising. When you have people who are dying at the hands of a brutal police system, what do we expect? Do we expect them to just stand there and continue to die? So we call it an uprising, other people call it a riot, but we call it an uprising.”
If another development causes anger, would you advise people to react differently?
“This is what I’m going to advise. I’m going to advise that you ask the question about the police and the system reacting differently. You are pointing to the people and I’m going to ask you to take a moment and point to the systematic structure that murders black people, that murders poor people, that destroys the lives of children and mothers. ... I say that people have the right to defend their lives. They have the right to stop police from killing their children, they have the right to call their political leaders to action. I’m asking the system to respond. We put too much of the weight on the people. Seriously? That one CVS is not more important than Freddie Gray. I see that you want to talk about the people and their response. What I want to talk about is the system and its response and the brutality towards people who look like me, who act like me. If people step up and throw bottles or burn down a CVS, which they did last year, yes that’s something to be concerned about. But I’m more concerned about why they responded that way in the first place. What do you expect a man to do if he’s down on the ground and he’s got a knife at his throat and a boot on his head? He’s yelling, ‘Let me go!’ and then he dies and then we want to talk about them throwing bottles and setting fires. Come on. There’s people dying here.”
This segment aired on April 19, 2016.