Political billboards all over this city on the Chesapeake Bay show the faces of mayoral hopefuls.
But it is the painted face of a dead man that speaks even louder.
One year after Freddie Gray died after being stuffed into the back of a police van, street art and murals punctuate almost every block in the neighborhood where he died. Some of the colorful pieces are huge and elaborate, some small and simple. Some encourage peace. Some promote rebellion.
Together, they paint a picture of a city trying to come to grips with itself. Gray, a 25-year-old black man, has come to symbolize a national struggle of sorts between police and young black men.
“It should never have happened,” says James Brown, 54, a home improvement specialist who lives in the Gilmore Homes, about 20 feet from the site Gray was arrested. “His legs were crushed. They (police) picked him up like pallbearers.”
In some ways, life has changed here after Gray’s death. Police vans now have cameras and the police department is working to improve its relationship with city residents. The mayor is moving on. A CVS pharmacy that was burned to the ground amid racial strife has reopened.
But one thing remains the same: The tense relations between the cops and the impoverished city neighborhoods where Gray grew up. The dynamic is similar to that of many large American cities.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a native of Baltimore’s well-to-do Ashburton neighborhood, believes she will leave the city of 621,000 a better place. Her term ends in December.
“I think the lessons are still being learned,” Rawlings-Blake said in an interview with USA TODAY. “I think what we adopted was resilience and a community coming together and a resolve to be better than our worst days.”
But some residents would not agree. They say change has been slow or nonexistent, even after six police officers were indicted last May in the death of Gray.
The Freddie Gray incident happened because of a culture launched during the era of the crack-cocaine epidemic that promoted an attitude of police versus the community, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis told USA TODAY.
“Going out and stopping 300 people and stopping 30 bad guys, that’s been tried and failed,” Davis said. “What about the 270 other people who we encounter in an aggressive, uncivil way?”
The commissioner, who also has held high posts in Prince George’s County and Anne Arundel County in Maryland, is trying to erase the gap by instituting foot patrols into every shift, requiring new officers to spend their first months on a beat, and through a program that includes one-on-one outdoors interaction between police officers and local youth.
Source: USA Today | Melanie Eversley