Remember the "fuck your breath" incident in Tulsa? Remember, that was when Eric Harris was accidentally shot by Reserve Deputy Robert Bates? You know, Bates is the rich 73 year old insurance salesman who got to play cop because he donated enough to the Tulsa PD to earn himself a gun and a badge? And then Eric Harris was shot and laying on the ground bleeding, saying, "I’m losing my breath". Remember? Then that fine officer, Joe Byars compassionately replied, "fuck your breath"? You remember, that all happened 3 weeks ago.
It’s starting to feel like "fuck your breath" is standard operating procedure. We had another incident in Baltimore where a seriously injured (and subsequently dead) ward of the police didn’t get medical treatment when it was clear that he needed it. Details are really sketchy right now, even though the incident occurred 2 1/2 weeks ago, but let me tell you what we know. Freddie Gray was arrested on April 12th for no reason that we’re yet aware of. According to "the city", Gray made eye contact with a couple of cops near an apartment complex. Gray then ran, and since this isn’t illegal, cops naturally chased after him. We don’t know what happened immediately after they caught him, but we have video of the incident after he’s in handcuffs and being dragged into a police van.
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He’s obviously badly hurt at this point. The police report states that Gray “was arrested without force or incident” so he wasn’t fighting to get away once they had caught him.
I’m going to backtrack for a second to address something I said earlier. Running from cops is not a crime. Cops chasing after someone who runs away from them is completely understandable. Arresting someone for running is not at all understandable. I would think that once they catch the runner, the next step would be to search him and run his name to see if he has any outstanding warrants. If there’s no reason to arrest the runner, the runner should not be arrested merely for running. We would most definitely have heard the reason for the arrest by now if there was one, because what better way to say that he deserved what he got, than to explain what he was arrested for? Police have said that he had a switchblade on him, but since we don’t know the exact size of the blade, it’s safe to say that there was nothing unlawful about his possession of it. We do know that Gray had been charged with crimes on eighteen different occasions before this incident, and we know that he’s spent time in jail.
But we have no idea why he was being taken to jail this time. It’s been 2 1/2 weeks since this happened, and a week and a half since he died, and we still don’t know.
Okay, back to the timeline of what happened. So he’s arrested, he’s screaming out in pain, and his legs aren’t moving. He’s thrown in the van at 8:42 am. According to the attorney representing the cops, Gray was not seat belted into the van. This is referred to by cops as "the nickel ride". I’ll get to that later. According to the police, the van was stopped at 8:46 because Gray was "acting irate". I guess this is considered unusual, since most people who are sitting in the back of that van are usually singing "Tomorrow" from Annie. So when they didn’t hear "Tomorrow", they felt they needed to stop? They say they stopped the van “so that paperwork can be completed, and at that point Mr. Gray is placed in leg irons and put back in the wagon.” At 8:59 something ambiguous happens. The van driver requests another unit to drive over and check on Gray. There is no description of that "check" in the police report. He’s handcuffed and is in leg irons, but you need for another unit to check on him? Huh. Sometime between 8:59 and 9:24, the can picks up another suspect who, as far as I know has not yet been identified. At 9:24, they’re at the police station and call for paramedics. The Baltimore Sun laid out a timeline and included a map to help sort out what happened.
So it was about 45 minutes from the time of the arrest and the time the paramedics were called. Did I mention that Gray, who is asthmatic asked for his inhaler at 8:42, but doesn’t appear to have ever gotten it? We don’t know if someone actually said the words "fuck your breath", but we know that their actions indicated that sentiment.
The preliminary autopsy shows no injuries to Gray, other than his 80% severed spinal cord. According to the attorney for Grey’s family, three of his vertebrae and his voice box were crushed. So there were no injuries to his legs and he wasn’t beaten up. His legs not moving in the video at the time of the arrest would be consistent with the spinal cord injury, but that’s entirely speculation on my part. I don’t know how severe the injury to his voice box was, and if he could still scream out after that injury happened, but we do know that he was screaming out in the video. Note that he wasn’t screaming out words like cussing out the cops. He seemed to be screaming out in pain.
We know that the injuries to Gray couldn’t have happened casually. In other words, they were a result of serious trauma. That’s according to medical experts The Baltimore Sun spoke with.
Now would be a good time for me to explain what a "nickel ride" is. This is a term used by police for when they throw a suspect in the back of a van without a seat belt and drive the van quickly, taking as many fast corners as they can so as to teach the suspect a lesson by throwing him around the van. You know, harmless fun.
Except for the fact that in 2005 Baltimore paid out $6 million to Jeffrey Alston, who was paralyzed from the neck down because he was taken in harmless nickel ride. He was originally awarded $39 million by a jury, but he ended up settling for $6 million because by 2004, he had been paralyzed for seven years. There’s also Dondi Johnson Sr, who became a paraplegic after his nickel ride in Baltimore in 2005. He received a $7.4 million settlement. His arrest was for public urination. His award was reduced to $219,000 because there’s a state law that caps such damages. Yeah, you read that right. I didn’t drop a zero. He got less that a quarter of a million dollars because the cops turned him into a paraplegic. I’m sure he won’t have a financial woe in the world now. There’s also Christine Abbott, who mercifully wasn’t paralyzed. She is in the process of suing because she was given a nickel ride in Baltimore in 2012. From the article in the Baltimore Sun;
"According to the suit, officers cuffed Abbott’s hands behind her back, threw her into a police van, left her unbuckled and "maniacally drove" her to the Northern District police station, "tossing [her] around the interior of the police van."
"They were braking really short so that I would slam against the wall, and they were taking really wide, fast turns," Abbott said in an interview that mirrored allegations in her lawsuit. "I couldn’t brace myself. I was terrified."
The lawsuit states she suffered unspecified injuries from the arrest and the ride.
"You feel like a piece of cargo," she added. "You don’t feel human."
The van’s driver stated in a deposition that Abbott was not buckled into her seat belt, but the officers have denied driving recklessly.
Those are just the cases I found in Baltimore. I don’t know what happened, but I know that the city of Baltimore isn’t explaining it. I know that a 25 year old man who was healthy enough to run, died a week after he was placed in the care of Baltimore PD of spinal cord injuries. I know that we have another black corpse, and four cops who are on (say it with me) paid administrative leave.
I don’t know exactly what happened, but it does seem like "fuck your breath" was the prevailing mindset for around 45 minutes, while Freddie Gray was in that van, as well as the minute or so before he was thrown in it. The city admitted that much anyway.