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A Closer Examination of the Freddie Gray Case with ‘Baltimore Rising’ on HBO
November 20, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 2 comments

Baltimore Rising finds little rays of optimism and hope in the case of Freddie Gray (below), a place where few people would even think to look.

Sonja Sohn’s 90-minute documentary, which premieres Monday at 8 p.m. ET on HBO, has dozens of Baltimoreans talking about the man who suffered fatal injuries in police custody after his April 2015 arrest, and the street rampage his death triggered.

Sohn works hard not to take sides, which puts her in a distinct minority where the Gray case is concerned. Perhaps because of that approach, she finds honest and admirable intentions on both the community side and the law enforcement side.

She also gives at least two shades of meaning to the title Baltimore Rising. It’s shorthand for “uprising,” which is what community activists call the protests that followed, and it suggests Baltimore could emerge a better city, though at a steep price.

The basic facts of the case are chillingly simple. The slightly built 25-year-old Gray, who lived in a poor section of Baltimore, was arrested after he spotted police on patrol and fled. When he was caught, he was charged with possession of an illegal switchblade knife.

Videos showed he seemed to be in pain as he was dragged to a police van. When the van arrived at its destination, he had a badly fractured spine that led, a week later, to his death.

Six police officers eventually faced criminal charges. None was convicted, and the federal government declined to press federal charges. In October it was announced there will be an internal Police Department review.

Meanwhile, in the immediate aftermath of Gray’s death, Baltimore boiled over with several days and nights of both peaceful marches and violence. Eventually, the governor called in the National Guard.

Activists called it an uprising among disenfranchised people demanding justice and police accountability.

Others called it a riot and argued that destroying businesses and large swaths of downtown Baltimore was hardly a first step toward justice.

Baltimore Rising also notes that the police were only one aspect of the protestors’ demands. They argued that without economic opportunity, largely meaning jobs, too much of Baltimore would remain susceptible to the crimes bred by poverty and consequently disproportionate attention from the police.

Sohn focuses the activist part of the story on two young people: 20-year-old Kwame Rose (right), who was fired from his job for joining the protests, and 17-year-old Makayla Gilliam-Price (below), an articulate high school student who felt honest dialogue was the best way to acknowledge problems and move forward.

On the police side, Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis works on opening a dialogue with activist leaders. He promises he will take their concerns about police practices seriously, and will join their campaign for more job opportunities. He also warns that street violence makes accommodation more difficult.

Sohn places all this in the context of a city that’s been struggling for decades with issues of poverty, housing, and employment.

The documentary’s opening shot has Councilman Carl Stokes making the salient point that all those boarded-up buildings didn’t get boarded up after Freddie Gray’s death. The boards have been there for decades.

While Gray’s death had its own significance, it also dusted off related issues.

Sohn doesn’t have magic solutions. She finds it encouraging that many people on both sides want to make things better, not just wait for bad things to happen and react.

Will, Baltimore Rising seems to suggest, is the first essential step.

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Sounds like a documentary I want to see because of the hope factor- not something found in most documentaries and especially ones about police brutality. On the aside, I was reminded of a TV series, The Wire because there's a plot-line about the boarded up buildings. It still gives me goosebumps when I think of it.
Nov 24, 2017   |  Reply
Michael O’Pecko
While looting and property damage occurred in neighborhoods scattered around the city and in the city’s center, to say that it destroyed “large swaths of downtown” is a hugely misleading description of what really happened.
Nov 20, 2017   |  Reply
Tim I
You miss the point. Sure, they destroy businesses in their own neighborhoods, because they're seen as "other". They are as much the enemy as the cops patrolling their streets. Why? Because they seek to oppress the voice of the voiceless, it's economical and tidy. We have or have not, we violently buck against those with more than us because we ask, why.
Nov 27, 2017
As usual the rioters ransacked/burned down/destroyed their own neighborhoods and the few small 'mom&pop' businesses that tried to operate in those poor neighborhoods.
Nov 20, 2017
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