Beth Stebner
April 28, 2015 1:41 pm

If you’ve been paying attention to the news this week, you’ve probably seen nothing but the unsettling images coming out of Baltimore. Right now, Maryland’s largest city is dealing with the aftermath of widespread protests Monday night. Hundreds of people filled the streets after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died in police custody. It’s a story that’s all too familiar in recent years, echoing the tragic deaths last summer of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City at the hands of police officers. As the night went on, some of the protests appeared to turn into clashes with Maryland state troopers and Baltimore city police. Photos of smashed windows, burning buildings, and vehicles caught aflame filtered through the media. Today, a clean up has begun, a state of emergency declared and a city-wide curfew put into place. We’ve broken down the major points to try and make sense of all that is happening.

What is happening?

Protestors swept through large parts of Baltimore after Gray’s funeral on Monday night. Gray was a Baltimore resident who was taken into custody on April 12 allegedly for possession of a switchblade. Though he was arrested without incident, police reported that he had suffered a “medical emergency” during his ride in the police car. He slipped into a coma, and died a week later. Though details about Gray’s injuries are murky, suspicions have been raised that the incident leading to his coma and eventual death was related to police brutality. Yesterday, hours after his funeral, protestors began to clash with police, leading to more than 200 arrests. The unrest follows a week of peaceful protests.

Currently, Baltimore is under lockdown. City schools are closed, a curfew has been placed on residents, and and more than 2,000 National Guardsmen have been called in; the most since 1968, after Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.

How was Gray injured?

We don’t really know. Baltimore police say they’re still investigating the cause of Gray’s fatal spinal injury. Medical experts said that the damage done to Gray’s body was akin to injuries typically sustained during a car accident. According to authorities, Gray was arrested after he ran away from police, leading them to hold him down, snap handcuffs on him and put him into a police van. Bystanders say it looked like he had a broken leg when he was taken into the car. We also still don’t really know why he was arrested. As for the injury, there’s no clear report from the authorities as to how it all happened.

As the Baltimore Sun points out, there are 45 minutes where police actions around their arrest of Gray are unaccounted for. There are neither police dispatch recordings or 911 transcripts available. “We know our police employees failed to get him medical attention in a timely manner multiple times,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said in a news conference.

Why is this important?

After Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner’s deaths at the hands of police (and all those just in the last year), the incident appears to be another situation in which a black man may have died while interacting with white police officers. The issue of racial injustice, whether in Baltimore or around the country, has sparked increasing frustration, sadness and cries for equality.

In Baltimore, Gray’s death in police custody touches on deep-seated tension between authorities and a community long in mourning.

“What’s crucial to understand, as Baltimore residents take to the streets in long-simmering frustration, is that their general grievances are valid regardless of how this case plays out,” explains The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf. “For as in Ferguson, where residents suffered through years of misconduct so egregious that most Americans could scarcely conceive of what was going on, the people of Baltimore are policed by an entity that perpetrates stunning abuses. The difference is that this time we needn’t wait for a DOJ report to tell us so. Harrowing evidence has been presented. Yet America hasn’t looked.”

What has been the response to the protests?

City, state, and national officials have condemned the few protestors that turned violent in Baltimore, including Gray’s twin sister, Fredericka. “I think the violence is wrong,” she told the Associated Press. “I don’t like it at all.”

At the same time, many protestors feel focusing on the people who looted or clashed with police is a distraction from the issue of police brutality and prejudice against people of color.

While President Obama has condemned the violence, saying there’s “no excuse” for it, he also called for a moment of national reflection on the situation. ” If we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could. It’s just that it would require everyone saying, ‘this is important, this is significant,'” Obama said. “And we don’t just pay attention when a CVS burns. That’s how I feel.”

[Image via AP, via Time, via AP]

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