How Has the Baltimore Police Indictment Changed Public Opinion?

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Alex Wong/Getty Images

When one looks at reactions to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the death of Eric Garner in New York City, it’s clear that views law enforcement charges and indictments are very much divided based on race. This is unquestionable, at least based on the polls available, which show division on most questions in a significant way on racial lines. Pew Research shows that in the grand jury decision for Darren Wilson’s death 64% of white respondents believed the decision was correct, while 10% of black respondents said the same.

In the case of Eric Garner, only 47% of white respondents said that the grand jury decision was wrong — a majority over 28% who believed it was the right choice — but nothing compared to the 90% of black respondents who believed the wrong decision had been made. Comparatively, in the case of Freddie Gray, where criminal charges were brought against some the Baltimore police officer, 21% of white respondents and 7% of black respondents considered the decision wrong, while 60% of white and 78% of black respondents considered the decision to be a correct one. A racial skew still remains, it’s unquestionable, but the divide on this issue appears to be considerably diminished?

Which brings up the question as to why this is the case with Gray’s death, and what’s changed, or difference, since the death of Garner and Brown, two African America men killed by police officers, whose deaths resulted in protest and national coverage. 

The difference in racial reaction to the death of Freddie Gray could be because of a considerably more succinct process from investigation to criminal charges, with criminal charges confirmed at the District Court level even before reaching the Grand Jury. The autopsy report was quickly produced, and video footage of the arrest was available in this case, showing Gray’s inability to walk, and his non-combative entrance to the vehicle. While there is some uncertain regarding where his injuries occurred, before or after being placed in the police vehicle.

There is also the matter of the order of these cases, with Eric Garner and Michael Brown’s cases heard obviously prior to the case against police officers involved in Gray’s death. The increase in attention to racial issues in America and problems with police force and prejudice may also have contributed.

There has also been the matter of protests that have drawn attention to the issue across the U.S., and the riots in Baltimore, while condemned by most, played their own part in bringing publicity to the case of Gray’s death and events leading up to it. While Darren Wilson, the officer brought before a court in the case of Michael Brown’s death, was not charged, the investigation into that case brought a number of concerns to the forefront, regarding over-use of police force, the unfair racially biased treatment of civilians in the area, and the need for both police reform and new methods to hold officers accountable.

Finally, there is the question of how many officers were involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray. While Michael Brown’s case brought up questions of self defense — whether that explanation was accepted by all is another question — while the case of Gray has video evidence showing an obviously physically overwhelmed man of a similar size and physique to the men arresting him, of which there were four.

There’s also the way that Gray died. Unlike the death of Brown, which was immediate and by gunshot, Gray was in a coma for seven days before he died of severe spinal cord injury sustained during his time with police. The list of things that are not known about the altercation is significant, but compared to the conflicting evidence seen in the Brown case, the kind of missing information and the extent of confusion regarding events is strikingly different, which likely has contributed to the reduction in uncertainty both within and between racial groups.

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