Baltimore is Burning: Who Defines ‘Violence’?


If an individual is considered to be a danger to ‘self or others,’ the law readily claims them for incarceration by jail or hospital. However, when the roles are reversed … when the environment presents the danger to the self … then one is most often either rendered invisible or criminalized for their attempts to survive.

The person living on the streets with whom no one will make eye contact, or who the police hassle for requesting spare change from passersby. The individual who has learned to cut themselves to manage emotional pain, and so is punished by emergency room staff who sew them up without anesthetic (both physical and emotional pain disregarded), or confuse their efforts for suicide and contain them against their will. The person of color who some might cross the street to avoid, or who is arrested for lashing out when another is murdered at the hands of those employed to ‘serve and protect.’ Each is only looking for a way to survive, but instead finds themselves ignored or blamed.

So, then, who is truly more dangerous? The community that fails to provide enough housing to go around (or a living wage with which to afford it), or the person without a home? The person who has learned to manage emotional pain by causing themselves physical pain so that they can fathom remaining on this earth even a little bit longer, or the person who would rip that manner of surviving away from them in favor of involuntary confinement? The person who causes property damage or throws a rock because they’re so enraged at all the people dying, or the person whose hands are bloody with actual loss of life?

Freddie Gray died on April 19. He was arrested on April 12 after making ‘eye contact’ with a police officer and then fleeing. This sent said officer into an apparently uncontrollable fit of pursuit. (So far, there does not appear to be any reason that the officer chased him, other than that he ran.) Some time during the arrest and subsequent transport, Freddie’s spinal cord was severely damaged. This is why he died.

And so the protests began, calling for justice in yet another instance of a black man (or child) dying at the hands of the police. The riots followed. Images of buildings burning, charred remnants of vehicles, and citizens facing off with police and military forces decked out in riot gear flooded the news.

Of course, this also hastened yet another influx of hate on social media such as Facebook. Protesters were referred to as “animals” with increasing frequency. Words drenched in violence plastered across my screen.

“We open up hunting season on animals that run wild … time to open fire on stupid … really why are they allowed to breathe.”

Yet, the person who wrote that very statement seemed shocked when I challenged their aggression. Not so unusual, really. As these waves of hate have risen, I’ve repeatedly challenged the violent statements people have made. (“Run over those losers blocking traffic!” “Pile the bodies high!”) However, what’s more disturbing than the statements themselves is that – on more than one occasion – others involved in the same thread have retorted, “I don’t see anyone saying anything violent!”

Violence is invisible when it’s carried out by the hands of those in (or on the side of) power.

When our cultural emphasis is on keeping things ‘status quo,’ then the people who are threatening or inconveniencing that way of life become ‘the violent ones.’ Everyone else is simply engaged in righteous efforts to control ‘the threat’ or expressing justifiable outrage at the world’s failure to do so.

Worse yet, the whole mess is self re-enforcing. Society is set up with the decks stacked so high against certain groups of people that they are – at times – quite literally set up to do the very things society claims not to want them to do. Our societal structures are boxing people in (through poverty, discrimination, lack of choice, etc.) to untenable ways of life. Once boxed in, society then proceeds to keep an extra close watch on those ‘high risk’ types (i.e., people whose basic needs are not being met by that society), just waiting for them to step somehow out of bounds in order to make do in a world not necessarily set up with their survival in mind. Society then uses that as the proof they needed to be boxed in in the first place. And, voila: “See, we told you ‘those people’ are bad!”

Never mind that people are angry and desperate because they want to survive. Never mind that they are even angrier and more desperate because they aren’t surviving. That all was well in Baltimore before the riots befell its peaceful streets is little more than an illusion palatable only to those who have distance from the harsh realities thanks to race, geography and/or some other source of privilege. The violence has been there all along.

Strangely, when I say these sorts of things, people seem to hear them as being ‘pro-riot.’  I’m not ‘pro-riot.’  But, nor am I willing to see only one side of the violence while remaining blind to the other.  In fact, it’s the institutional violence that has the much more longstanding and far reaching impact.  CVS will be rebuilt.  Lives will not.  One needn’t go so far as being “happy” about the riots to understand that simple truth.

I continue to worry (as expressed in my earlier blog, “Michael Brown and the Peer Movement“) that those of us who post on ‘Mad in America’ and/or see ourselves as part of some sort of movement related to psychiatric labeling don’t see these issues as connected.  In reality, this bears much comparison to the violence experienced within the mental health system and that goes unchecked and even unlabeled as violence. So many times we’ve heard that one has been deemed to “need” the psych drugs forced upon them; one would have been a “danger” had we not restrained them; one would have been unable to “care” for themselves had we not contained them.  In some ways, yes, these are different movements, but in some ways they are the same.  People within both are experiencing discrimination and oppression.  Both are being sold a multitude of paths to disenfranchisement as if they represent any real choice at all.

Honestly, I’m far from fully informed about what is happening in Baltimore, or in related efforts. I find myself overwhelmed by the hopelessness of it all, and often paralyzed about what the ‘right thing’ to do could ever be or just how much of it I can bear to take in. But, it’s clear to me that we’re not doing ourselves any favors by acting like ‘business as usual’ over here in Mad in America land, while a whole city burns. We’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle if we don’t see that this is about us, too.

If you don’t already get that… If you’re not already afraid or seeing the connection… Try reading this article published just yesterday: Police officer in Freddie Gray arrest once hospitalized over mental health.

Yes, that’s right, folks.  If you finally stop being able to stand your ground by blaming one oppressed group, blame another one!  Just, whatever you do, don’t blame yourself.  Especially not if you’re the one currently in power.  That could lead to actual change, and we wouldn’t want that.


  1. “Violence is invisible when it’s carried out by the hands of those in (or on the side of) power. ”
    Well observed.

    “It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. ” MLK

  2. Yeah, I sure agree that our critical/anti-psychiatry movement should pay more attention to what happens to other disrespected groups in our society. As I go back a long way, I came to this movement from being a supporter of the civil rights movement in the 60’s and early 70’s.

    As a child, I already understood that what was being done to black people was the same as what was done to us, the inmates of the crazy house.

    I hope that this new rebellion, people refusing to be abused like this, will lead to OUR movement waking up and starting to fight back. The civil rights movement of the 60’s inspired everyone, and I hope it inspires us again.

    • Ted,
      I just wanted to suggest that you review the way the State Prosecutor intervened, or rather jumped on this case with the brilliant move of initiating an independent investigation. A tactic that was honed from repeated failures to counter the *Police Bill of Rights* that protects Maryland police from even receiving disciplinary action for their role in a sentinel event. Unheard of anywhere else. ??

      Fighting back with the criminal justice system is a tactic waiting to be employed … In her closing remarks, after publicly reading the charging document, State’s Atty. Mosby addressed the youth of her city– saying “Our time is now”–

      Food for thought 😉
      In solidarity,

  3. The GREAT news is that real Justice is currently happening in the United States! I, for one, am SO happy and very thankful. I see this as a great big win for the entire country.

    Six officers charged in death of Freddie Gray

    Of course, the Baltimore Police are asking Marilyn to recuse herself.

    Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3

    The United States has been descending into a very real Hell for a long time now. The ONLY thing that can make a difference is achieving actual, real JUSTICE. The more Justice, the better.

    We need actual Social Justice, we need reparations (, we need the eradication of penury (my new favorite word).

    No Justice, No Peace.

    Know Justice, Know Peace.

    By the way, today is Basic Income Day.

    • Don’t think this is justice, it is merely the assimilation of justice meant to appease the people in the streets, as the powers-that-be are currently having the crap scared out of them by the growing unity between oppressed populations across the nation.

      I’m not, of course, saying that murderous cops shouldn’t be prosecuted, or that the D.A. isn’t being pretty courageous; still I’m sure she had to ask permission from, someonebefore bringing the charges.

  4. Sera, Another great article! I really like your perspectves. I see this as a huge multilevel problem. I think there are layers of oppression and that even the police are caught in the terrible web that so many are victimized by. In the past police were not automatically called for help with those with altered mental states. Many families had a high tolerance for d difference and stayed away from services. Now the police are called for anything.
    I think we are all traumatized in someway shape and form and it gets replayed over and over and over ad nausuam.
    Since 1968 things have only gotten worse in so many ways. If you have been lucky, if you find the right people to know, if you have some family money things are not bad. But for those of us who have fallen into the system our lives like so many urban folks have been destroyed and it is so hard to get back or get into the idea of American life.
    I know young people in urban areas who had nothing to look forward to in life. They all thought they would be dead by 25. Not right, not just, and certainly not fair.
    I am hoping this death will be a clarion call for the American people to see how much things need to change. Let’s hope we can all of us that the powers that be don’t want to see will be heard seen and listened to!

  5. Sera – Please take into account that I owe a read to your earlier piece on Michael Brown, and my age doesn’t permit me to claim to have done anything but homework during the civil rights era. So, anyway, what Cat Night offers up, is very palatable and welcome to me as the relevant enhancement of the dialogue you opened the space for. My feeling about the struggle is that we have to notice lots of details if we build comparisons for injustice from psychiatric to the more widely social–I know you’d see what I mean, since it’s not disagreement in principle or with any of your illustrations of the purpose itself. My thought is just for how to advance any given conversation along those lines. We have to say, you know how you can’t trust that anyone has ever had anyone learn what they’re distressed about…? and then they…? And then we have to bridge the gap to the race issue or other obvious social injustice problem and do the same thing in terms of it. So the recognizable comparisons lead in the one sense to very general commonalities of cults of authorities for this or that, equally appalling disfranchisement of various groups, the rampant colonization and welfare-ish co-optation efforts churned out by the establishment, the opportunistic drivel of pundits, yadayada. Just endless bad faith rescue missions fully in step with the abandonment of the virtually forever insecure “targets”. It’s all ugly, but we have each other, most cops included, interested in realizing the better possibilities. Thomas Szasz once really bravely wrapped up some awful social analysis related to his profession, by saying in his own way, “We need to make the changes to our institutions that allow for new conversation about what the good life means.” Thank you for your carefully stated reflections, yet another time.

  6. Who defines anything ? Who defines hypocrite ? Who draws the line ?

    Did the fundamentalist muslims that carried out the 9/11 attack have a legitimate gripe… and so what they did was ok ? Was it ok… as long as you weren’t in the tower when it happened ? As long as a family member, or someone you knew wasn’t killed ?

    Should you be mad at the terrorist/freedom fighter ? Or the government ? Both ?

    Maybe it’s ok to say you understand why the riots happened, but it’s not ok to offer any kind of excuse for them in my opinion. There is no excuse, it’s just stupid, and if you’re cheering them on or think they’re achieving anything other than worse conditions longer term you are also stupid.

  7. Sera, I so much love to read your blogs, even the very “hard” ones, as this one is. In the sense that you raise a question which involves all of us, more or less of course. Iagree, most of what happens is part of a larger societal context and has to be seen like that. Right now I wish English would have been my first language since sometimes it is tricky to express things in another language. Issues about power, status, taking a personal stance and to make some essential decisions is crucial.
    Anyway, thank you and I so much hope to see you not too long in future and to keep in touch.

  8. Sera

    This is one of your best and most important blogs at MIA. You have led the way at MIA in addressing these vitally necessary and controversial topics. Your analysis of the links between the struggles against racial oppression and psychiatric abuse are spot on, and point to a future where it will be important and necessary to link up these struggles for broader revolutionary change throughout society.

    As usual Oldhead has made some insightful and uncompromising political critiques of this situation.

    Sera, your response to Barrab and others who might want to trash this struggle because of some of the destruction of property was good.

    I still quibble and strongly disagree with any use of the term “riots” to describe these rebellious actions. These are rebellions of the oppressed, plain and simple, and must be defended as that.

    In any historical uprising of the oppressed there are always a minority of specific acts that are misdirected toward the wrong targets or are out of character with the overall goals of the struggle. This will inevitably happen no matter how organized and disciplined these activities may be. The anger and outrage of the broad masses cannot always be contained nor will everyone adhere to the same strategy. These kind of mistakes should NOT therefore change how we characterize these historical moments or somehow diminish their significance.

    If someone promotes indiscriminate violence as a strategic goal in a particular struggle, of course they should be criticized and even condemned if they want to advocate this kind of leadership. But in this struggle in Baltimore there is no evidence that this is the case. It is most likely the anger and outrage of few people not thinking in a strategic way about how to build a broader struggle.

    Suppose people in those communities in Baltimore took over a certain section of the city and refused to allow any police to have access. This would have been a form of civil disobedience by definition (breaking the law). Because laws are being violated is this somehow transformed into a “riot” instead of being characterized primarily as a rebellion of the oppressed masses?

    And now suppose in that same area seized (for a short period before the Nat’l guard came in to take it back, or Marshall Law was declared and enforced by the military) the masses targeted a police station (and ONLY a police station) as both a symbol and an instrument of oppression in their community, and then they burned it to the ground – how then would people react to those who want to condemn any or all forms of violence, and at the same time declare all rebellious youth as “rioters” and “thugs?” Are some people here willing to admit how their inner most feelings would have reacted to those particular set of hypothesized events?

    In another different (but related) situation for the oppressed – suppose the inmates in a locked psychiatric ward, where forced drugging was an everyday occurrence, rebelled and seized control of the entire facility – and suppose they had a set of righteous demands calling for the end of multiple forms of psychiatric abuse – and suppose in the course of this struggle some property in the hospital was destroyed by a few people or even some hospital staff member got bruised up by one inmate who lost control of his/her emotions – how then would we characterize this uprising? Would it suddenly become a “riot” due to the inclusion of some forms violence by a minority of the participants?

    I know where I stand on these historical uprisings, both those that have happened in the real world and those that are hypothesized as imaginary possibilities for our future. These struggles bring me great joy and I refuse to stand on the side lines and criticize them because they were not perfect, as if any significant historical form of struggle ever was or ever will be perfect.


  9. Hi Sera,

    another piece that has me thinking about the issue of when violence is justified. I wonder about the line bolded.

    “Violence is invisible when it’s carried out by the hands of those in (or on the side of) power.”

    Is this true of the people who have the power when rioting? Are the results of their rioting invisible to them too? Because that is what the police are trying to take back, and the media are trying to convince ‘us’ that we have no power at all. Simply not the case for me, I chose not to exercise my power in this manner. The angry man can again be happy, but the dead can not be brought back to life’ (paraphrasing Sun Tzu)

    I think it was Wole Soyinka who spoke of “silent violence”, the type of institutional violence done by the State. Are there not times when so resistance is required? Just a reminder that power is not the sole property of the elites?

    Thanks for some great articles pointing out the connections with other oppressed groups.


  10. I think its funny when the government says please protest our violence peacefully.

    The problem is “zero tolerance”, policing for revenue, the war on people who like doing drugs and basically turning America into a police state.

    I watching the news and now they are turning the problem of abusive government into a racial black and white and a rich and poor problem …

    Divide and Conquer:

    When faced on the battlefield with a numerically superior enemy, one must to divide his enemy into smaller, more easily dispatched opponents – or even more ideally, divide them against one another, and have them defeat each other.

    It’s the most effective way for tyrants to rule over large groups of people who, should they ever learn to cooperate, would easily throw off such tyranny.

    And that ‘riot’ looked phony to me anyway. They park older police vehicles and leave them unattended in the path of the marchers on purpose so they get smashed for the TV cameras and all I saw on the news was every channel showing that little trash fire they made in that one intersection.

    This whole thing is turning stupid and I am kind of getting sick of it.

    It is kind of funny watching them try to figure out how to make a kinder softer police state.

  11. I am watching the rally at the Baltimore city hall on CNN. This one teen was complaining there are no recreation programs. No this and no that and we need we need…

    Why don’t people in inner cities just move ? In America we do still have the right to travel.

    No one is really forced to live anywhere. Everyone in Baltimore could just pack up and leave and move to ‘greener pastures’ if their current location has all kinds of problems.

    I know someone is going to come at me calling this an ignorant comment but no its not. If you community really sucks make a plan then pack up your family and move.

      • Have you ever lived off grid? It ain’t cheap. Where does the water come from-will you have the money to drill a well or develop a spring if you are so lucky to have on on ‘your’ land? The above link to the ‘cheap land’ most assuredly does not.

        Where will your food come from? Have you ever developed a working garden before? What is the climate like where this ‘cheap’ land exists? What crops can be grown there-can they be grown year round? Where will the amendments come from? Animals require fencing-are you strong enough for the labor involved or do you have the capital to pay for the infrastructure needed?

        Where is your nearest town-you are going to need gasoline, groceries, a modicum of health care…vehicles are expensive to buy and maintain…a crappy vehicle that breaks down is of no use to you ‘off the grid’…

        I have lived that lifestyle. It was a pleasure, but damn hard work…and very expensive. And not many people out in the woods want to live in complete solitude without access to some sort of society.

        All of that blathering about living ‘off the grid’ isn’t based on any realistic alternative, and sounds like an excuse not to fix the inequities that exist in Baltimore’s communities (or any other urban blighted under-served infrastructure collapsing city).

        Something systemically is deeply wrong and moving to the woods isn’t going to change it.

        It takes bucks to move. Most folks are living paycheck to paycheck. Not at all that simple.

  12. There’s a lot I disagree with in this blog. But my main problem is that I really don’t believe this topic belongs in Mad In America. I read this site because I’m interested in mental illness, research on mental illness, criticisms of psychiatry (of which I have plenty), drug misuse, drug company fraud, things like that. I’m not interested in reading about the problems in Baltimore, police misconduct, or riots, not on this site anyway. Some people may see a connection between a man who may have been so mistreated by police that he died and individuals diagnosed as schizophrenic who are trying to survive incompetent or even corrupt psychiatrists. I don’t. I think if Mad In America wants to make an impact it should narrow its focus. That focus is broad enough without branching out to include the supposed oppression of rioters who loot and burn their own community.

    • That is all good but then you simply don’t have to read this post. I think the title makes it pretty clear regarding the topic – if you don’t find it relevant, why not just skip it?

      I and as one can see from the comment section many other people do find it relevant in terms of systemic oppression.

  13. Sera,

    I find all of this distressing. My first thought when I heard of the young man who died of a broken spine was overwhelming sadness, followed closely by outrage with the thought that the fatal injury was at the hands of police. These feelings remain.

    However, I’m deeply troubled that nothing seems to have been learned by Ferguson, where an innocent police officer protected his own life, and was left to be pick up the piece of his life after being no-billed by a grand jury, and exonerated after a full federal investigation.

    This case has all the appearance of negligent manslaughter or possibly homicide, but we don’t know the facts yet.

    The young man is dead. It’s tragic. But equally tragic would be to hang the officers out to dry without a fair trial. They deserve their day in court. We don’t know the facts. There may have been one officer of the six who put everything on the line to stop the other five, but was outnumbered. He/she would deserve a voice, whether one of the black officers or one who is white.


    • You asked what is violence?

      Burning a Koran, a bible, or a flag is free speech. Burning a building is violence.

      The first is disgusting, but protected. The latter endangers innocent life, and is a felony.

      First protectors were injured in all of this – both police officers and firefighters. Cement blocks were thrown, hospitalizing some of these folks.

      Our youngest son is beginning to look into joining a local fire department, so this hits close to home.

      Richard, if you truly believe a so-called “protester” has a right to torch a structure… I say “your home first.” When it comes to entering the flaming house to make sure nobody is in the structure…. He is the kid who would run to make sure you were out.

      No further comment.


      • Lastly, the “power” in this case was held by six police officers – three black, three white (one female).

        The “authority” is held by a black police chief, mayor, state prosecutor, U.S. Atrorney General and president.

        This may be about youth who justifiably feel disenfranchised, but it is not about whites having all the power or authority.

        Sadly, the trillions of dollars spent on welfare programs have led to a breakdown of the family. To qualify, men started leaving the home. Where are the dads?

        Kids need good dads.


        • You may want to read this – from a former Baltimore police journalist and later the creator of “the Wire”:

          and this:

          It is hardly too much welfare that’s causing the problems. Problems are systemic and one or two black people in authority won’t change anything because they have to function in a framework of a dysfunctional system.

          Much like one or two good psychiatrists can’t do much working within a broken psychiatric system. At some point it’s not about individual being good or bad – it’s about the machine.

          Btw, if you’ve not watched the Wire I highly recommend – it’s a perfect example of systemic dysfunction on a real life example (but the mechanisms are hardly limited to Baltimore). It’s also good entertainment if you manage to forget it’s so close to reality.

          • He wants to look for money where there is none. If you want to help the budget and save money maybe one should cut the defence budget and tax the rich. When 80 guys have more money than 50% of us clearly we are not the problem:


            Welfare actually boosts economy by redistributing the money to people who spend it rather than hoard it thus creating more demand for production. I happen to have lived in a few countries which in US are regarded “socialist” and I can tell you that I’d not exchange that for the “trickle down” economics (the name itself makes you wonder what is that thing that “trickles” down on you).

            Making claims about cutting welfare to make people pull themselves by tehir bootstraps is actually a different way of saying “poor people are lazy”. I did live of unemployment money for several months and if I didn’t have that I’d be dead now or locked up in a psych ward with a brain damage. Welfare saved my life and yes, I am employed now.

          • Btw, the idea that people don’t want to work because of poverty trap is perverse. If working makes you get less money than the benefits that just keep you from starving to death then there is something wrong with the wages. In fact the biggest “welfare queens” are corporations because because of welfare to working people (food stamps) they don’t have to pay tehir workers a living wage. What they want is to have a class which is economically below slaves because if you own slaves you have to at least feed them yourself and not ask the taxpayer to do that. The otehr thing is that there are people who are looking for jobs and can’t find them because they have Chinese and Vietnamise people working in XIXth century conditions, slave labour etc. which is cheaper than even the cheapest US worker. When corporations have to pay almost no taxes to get their products from abroad or to bring in the profits then there’s zero incentive for them to invest in national industry. With the advent of TPP and TTIP it’s likely to get even worse.

            I wish people stopped blaming the poor , who have no political power, for their situation and looked at those who really create the problem. It’s like in this “joke”: 3 men – the rich, the middle class and the poor sit at a table on which there are 10 pieces of a pie. The rich guy takes 9 pieces and turns to the middle class guy – “watch out, the poor is after your cake”. There is another name for it and it’s called class warfare.

          • B,

            I’ve said numerous times on this site that I think a safety net is needed to have a civil and compassionate society.

            What I’m trying to say is that there must be more creative ways to help temporarily help support people in the middle cities (and other areas as well) in ways that money is not wasted.

            The article from Forbes points out that a trillion dollars per year is spent on welfare in the US. Very little of that money is getting to the people who need it. Federal programs are ridden with waste, fraud and abuse. They are also ridden with federal bureaucrats who make much higher earnings than the private sector; complete with opting out of Social Security; pensions than can easily reach a million dollars per employee.

            The other problem is that the ‘War on Poverty’ has been a failure, because it created a *system* that encourages the family to dissolve in order to receive benefits. It created a generational condition of young children giving birth to young children.

            Building families between a married couple became the task of a single mother. Young males are the ones who are harmed the most by this. Raised without a male role model. Again, this is not the fault of these young men. They are caught in a *system* that is broken.

            IMO, welfare programs should be block-granted to the States, where innovative ideas can be put in place. Where there is less bureaucracy. Gaining the education/training needed to compete in the labor market would go a long way to help, as would making welfare benefits temporary, not lifelong.

            In psychiatry, NAMI mothers are their sons are victims; they need lifelong support with drugs… They cannot make it without drugs. In the inner city, the federal government sends a similar message.

            This is not about telling people to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” It’s mot about abolishing any/all support systems (public and private). It’s about admitting we have failed and looking for ways to address these issues. NEW ways!

            In the 1960’s the chant was “We shall overcome.” Where is that chant today? The social programs put in place to help have made things worse. In psychiatry, when the drug fails, the dose is raised. We do not need more of the same in the inner city!

            Lastly, neither of us have the space to debate economic theories. But I would like to say that a strong economy needs many different kinds of people with many different skills, talents. One of these is wealth creators.

            Economies are not pies to be divided. They are pie shops to be created. Economies grow, not only because of production and distribution; but because of risk taking, entrepeneurship, dreams of people who have ideas on how to make a better product, a better service… making the world a better place.

            And there needs to be *plenty* of space for people in the inner city to take part in all of this. Unfortunately, the one-size fits all, dehumanizing welfare system is not the place to find these things. Short term relief, sure. A way of life, no.


    • Hi Duane,
      Are you surprised that there was no *police crisis* transpiring during the events that began with the arrest of Freddie Gray and ended with the police call for emergency medical care? Did you note the matter of fact way both Freddie Gray and Donte Allen were picked up? Police had not been called into a crisis– no threat of violence anywhere around the police. Why were these two (repeat offenders) arrested and taken into custody under such superficial, contrived circumstances? The residents of this [and other] West Baltimore communities would tell you that this is partly the way their communities are *policed*– young black males with long rap sheets for mostly drug charges become police assistants– via harassment, coercion. Many also become targets of violent reprisal from those who believe they have been *outed* by this method of policing these *high crime* neighborhoods. The complaints about the way Freddie Gray was pursued and *mistreated* were coming in before the police van meandered its way to the police station. What anyone outside of West Baltimore did not already know, would still be unknown if the independent investigation into his arrest and the events that led to his death had not been initiated the day after his arrest– 6 days before he died.

      There is a video of Freddie Gray being loaded *back*into the police van in hand cuffs and leg shackles– on his stomach- prone, head first. this was done at the very first stop after his [now known to have been:illegal arrest]. Three other stops were either recorded or witnessed. Each officer is named with regard for their level of responsibility, their actual actions the requisite accountability regarding the death of Freddie Gray.

      Actually we do know the facts of this case. The independent investigation launched by the prosecutor on the day after the arrest, assured that the *facts* would be known; facts already known by the community members who made complaints- starting immediately after Freddie Gray’s arrest and Before any of the documentation could be altered. What we don’t know is whether the charges cited by State Prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby on May 1st will stand– or if convictions and punishment will reflect the facts of this case.

      The most amazing part of this story is the explanation for the immediate and thorough action taken by the State Prosecutor, 35 year old, Marilyn Mosby. She is well aware of the how *these incidents* usually play out and why it is next to impossible to hold police accountable. Note there was no gun violence either– no high adrenalin rushing moments to justify use of lethal force, and hardly a second thought about the possibility of a fatal spinal cord injury from the way Freddie Gray was loaded into the van. It is actually the casual dismissal of ALL aspects of police responsibility for law and order coupled with rather abject neglect for their prisoners safety that makes this case so outrageous– though, excepting the brutal killing of a suspect in their custody, the scenario is *police business as usual* in communities throughout this country that share the same demographic as West Baltimore. State Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby believes this is unacceptable– and her actions are exemplary of simply doing her job.

      This tragedy has deeply affected me on many levels. I lived in Baltimore and 1992-95, still have many friends there have many positive memories of the culture and the climate of the West Baltimore communities– from encounters as a nurse and resident of Baltimore. I was heartbroken and extremely angry.

      WE have the original careless police reports that contain things like “Mr. Gray suffered a medical emergency and was transported to the hospital”. When in fact “not breathing and no pulse” indicates Mr. Gray was dead on arrival to the police station– while STILL in the van where police were driving him around shackled and hand cuffed– etc.– The officer cited for *failing to assess Mr. Gray’s condition or summon medical assistance * had been informed of the complaints about both his arrest and concerns about his medical condition. Officer Alicia White (stop #3) called the suspects name– addressing the back of his head. He did not respond– SHE DID NOTHING. Forgot her CPR training? Did not check for pulse and respirations? OR summon a medic to do so. I cannot put my reactions to the *facts* into words. It sickens me to contemplate the attitudes of these officers with regard to this young man who had committed no crime, did not resist arrest or pose a threat to any of them– or anyone else. Was he not deemed valuable to those officers– even in the sense of his *assisting them to arrest dangerous criminals*?

      I am writing this comment to illustrate how difficult it is for the facts to be considered– even when ALL pertinent ones, pertaining to the guilt of all 6 officers are as well known as the evidence the public saw way ahead of the trial for the younger, surviving Boston Marathon Bomber. Guilty? YES. But that is not the same as charged to the full extent of the law– or convicted for these crimes– much less sentenced in accordance with them. Or, I should say– not the SAME for all criminals thusly exposed and dealt with by our judicial system. (BTW I oppose the death penalty).

      I believe there should be public accountability from each of these officers for what each of them did and did not do that resulted in a senseless, brutal death. I also hope there will be appropriate acknowledgement for the expediency of action taken by some leaders in public office in Baltimore to quell violence that they understood the roots of– meaning those are the only FACTS that have not been made public– yet.


      • Katie,

        This will now move from the “court of public opinion” into the justice system, where hopefully, the state prosecutor will be able to present her case on the part of Maryland, and each of the six charged will be given adequate defense.

        The state prosecutor has an oath to uphold:

        “I do solemnly (swear) (affirm) that I will at all times demean myself fairly and honorably as an attorney and practitioner at law; that I will bear true allegiance to the State of Maryland, and support the laws and Constitution thereof, and that I will bear true allegiance to the United States, and that I will support, protect and defend the Constitution, laws and government thereof as the supreme law of the land; any law, or ordinance of this or any state to the contrary notwithstanding.”

        Yes, the facts.
        If the state proves its burden, and any/all of the six are found guilty, then they need to go to prison.



        • Duane,

          With regards to your statement about the “court of public opinion” , I wonder if you watched the televised statement made by State Prosecutor Mosby? She states that there was nothing the police investigation turned over the day before, that she did not already have– AND that the detailed accounting of the events that supported the charges were all a matter of public record– meaning, that these are facts continued in the combined efforts of an independent investigation team.

          The proverbial court of pubic opinion is, as I referenced, a matter of discussion and debate regarding how these facts are death with by the court. — Big difference.

          As for defense of the 6 officers charges, one can only hope they are capable of accepting responsibility.


      • Katie,

        We are a *long* way to having a jury look at the *facts* of this case:

        “Any prosecutor interested in the truth and in justice would have used all the tools at her disposal to find them. Ms. Mosby ignored them. She has one of the most experienced homicide prosecutors in the state of Maryland as chief of her homicide unit, but did not ask him to investigate. She had the police report all of one day before filing charges, her mind already made up. And she failed to make use of the grand jury to gather, probe and test the evidence before a group of average citizens.”

        “In fact, Ms. Mosby was so hasty it appears she locked up two completely innocent officers. She charged Freddie Gray’s arresting officers with “false imprisonment” because she said the knife that Gray had on him was legal. In fact, as The Sun reported, the Police Task Force found it to be illegal after all. It was Ms. Mosby who had no probable cause to lock the arresting officers up, an injustice she could have easily avoided by taking her time….”

        More here:

        This is really getting to be too much, and I’m worn out. I’ve certainly made more than my share of comments on Sera’s piece. My apologies, if I made too many.


        • Here is link to detailed statement from Prosecutor Mosby:

          Standing alongside and behind Mosby of independent investigation team.

          You will note that she admonished police releasing if from investigation — which they had already done– giving falsified statements to Washington Post about the *witness statements* from Donte Allen, the 22 year old arrested and put in the van at the next to last stop. Jayne Miller – corrected this 🙂 BTW- Allen was released without charges.

          Police officers were arrested and released on bail– NOT locked up.

          Preliminary hearing is May 27th- . Yes, there are aspects of the process that may influence the disposition of the case.

          Police union is busy — in this case, the corruption there will be exposed.

          Lessons available here– for those interested in studying a broken system.

  14. I found something very interesting the other afternoon on Mad in America. It was a video of an African American woman named Dr. Joy de Gruy. She talks about something she calls Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome. It was very informative and very eye opening. I watch all of what’s going on in this country and our society as a First Nations person, what white people call Native Americans. Go to Youtube and search her name and watch the one and a half hour presentation that she does. It helps to explain a lot of what is happening today.

    I also agree that there is definitely a connection between our movement and the fight for civil rights, which has never been fulfilled in this country, no matter how many Civil Rights Acts have been signed into law. Oppression is oppression, no matter who it happens to or how it’s dressed up. We all have something in common when we are oppressed.

  15. Sera,
    Thank you for writing from the perspective of seeking connection with this very emotionally charged, recent news story. I am not always able to delve into a media generated exposure of suffering on par with the death of Freddie Gray. It just so happens I have a strong connection to many of the people who were deeply hurt by this tragedy. If you do want to follow the story, MSNBC and WBAL in Baltimore are the most trustworthy sources. Jayne Miller is the “on-the scene-reporter” with the best track record for getting it right.

    I already knew of the young leaders in public office in Baltimore who were committed to changing the culture of oppression and brutality that is well documented as at least 2 decades of BPD history. I already knew how some BPD practices fueled distrust and fostered a sense of worthlessness amongst young black males especially in the West Baltimore communities. I shared my friends’ sense of doubt that much could be done to change these destructive forces, especially when the financial power of the police union lobby flexed its muscle just last year.(Reform legislation to the Police bill of Rights, introduced by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was shot down) What happened with respect to the criminal charges announced by the State Prosecutor , Marilyn Mosby, last Friday is a ground breaking news. This young woman demonstrates what is possible when an elected public official understands the roots of a problem and has spent some time working out possible ways of solving even those problems that *power* mongers do to want exposed. much less solved. There is a strong investment in maintaining the narrative of *danger in poor black communities*- due to the inherent nature of the black residents. Sound familiar?

    I know it is hardly a secret that psychiatry has created its own business, investing in narratives that support the need for their having power and authority to use another type of deadly force against those they alone can identify –*diagnose*. Psychiatry operates with no significant oversight- zero regulation outside of its own ranks. Regardless of instances where it might be deemed as having gone well, there is no means for rebuttal , much less protest when those harmed by psychiatry challenge the ultimate authority/power of psychiatrists. Of late, a few psychiatrists have suggested that this is a recipe for violent reprisal from — you know who. Nothing could be worse than that— I think it would invite a much worse reaction , a much more * see what we’re dealing with* attitude than those expressed in the wake of the violent destruction of property and the rock throwing that occurred recently in Baltimore. I do not doubt the commitment to peaceful protest and nonviolence from *our movement*, but I also acknowledge the historical relevance of the formulas that produce violent reactions from *the people*.

    I was sickened by the media portrayal of the *out of control protests* in Baltimore. They were rendered out of context of the background specific to this arrest and this death of a young black male in police custody–important background well known to the Mayor of Baltimore who stands her ground despite media incited criticism. AND, I am sickened by the narrative that was used as context– “the animal nature inherent in these residents of Baltimore”- which, of course conveniently supports the practices of policing these neighborhoods -; long standing practices that actually have a great deal to do with the violence that erupted. I hate the way the complexity that is in the voices of *the people* effected most by this tragedy is ignored. And I mean the people whose neighborhoods were effected by the *out of control protests*, too. . Also missing are the actual responses of those who rolled up their sleeves and stood alongside the youthful clean-up crews and initiating some astounding peace making actions- including addressing the needs of people most effected by the loss of their neighborhood CVS.

    I intend to continue to closely follow the progress underway in Baltimore– . For anyone who believes the States Attorney was applying a band aid to appease the *angry mob*, I say , “Wrong”! The application of the law and the initiation of our very own judicial system was the result of a tremendous amount of timely effort. Brilliant work accomplished by a young elected public servant, who knows that justice is the place to start. I believe this carries a message of both hope and direction for * our movement*– filled with many voices who are a chorus of pessimism resounding just as loudly as the voices of dedicated civil rights advocates I know in Baltimore– before May 1, 2015

  16. Thank you, the amount of invisible violence has become over-whelming for many. Propaganda and scapegoating has become so common in our society that many have just accepted it as truth. Going beyond our community and reaching out to address larger problems may be necessary to achieve greater success. Among the things which would benefit all of society – and useful to police, social workers, rioters, psychiatrists, family members, teachers and students is Non-violent communications – An excerpt from the course: Respect for Authority involves three ingredients. We get respect for our authority when:
    1. We know some things or can do some things the people we are working with or living with do not have.
    2. The people see these things as valuable. They see how these things will enrich their lives.
    3. They see us as offering these things; not imposing them.
    Fear of authority is something different. It is when it is built into the structure… which gives us the right to impose things on people – reward or punish people to have people to do what we want.
    Respect for authority needs to be earned… People can see the value in what we are offering. Another difference is to know the difference between obedience and willing cooperation. Obedience is maintained when people submit because we have the power to reward or punish. Willing cooperation can only be received when people feel free from this kind of coercion and they trust that their needs as human beings are valued. When they feel that they are open to whatever authority we have that might be valuable.
    For more info on the Non-Violent Communication Training Course go to:

  17. It is rumored that in some police forces in certain cities that when an African American person is killed the police on the radio refer to the situation as an “NHI” case. Guess what these letters stand for? They stand for “No Human Involved”. If this is true, then it’s no wonder that people of color can and will be treated as we’ve witnessed in the news for many months now. And these are the very people who are sworn to “serve and protect” us. This is not just a problem belonging to the police across our country.

    I would venture to say that the days of Jim Crow are still around, they just play themselves out in much more subtle ways now. African American men were hung from trees like bitter fruit and African American women were raped with impunity and this happened long after the days of slavery. This happened even in my own lifetime. There are photos in newspapers and magazines showing White men, women, and small children standing around these trees with the dead body hanging, and in one case people were dressed in their Sunday best as they surged forward to be included in the photo of the body of an African American man who’d been tied up and then burned to death. The flames were still burning when the photo was taken. People were smiling, even the children. People took charred pieces of his body and organs home to place on their mantles. This really wasn’t that long ago.

    I work with an African American woman in her thirties whose uncle was murdered by the three white men who he thought were his friends. All four of them went into the woods to hunt and they murdered him there and then cut off his sexual organs and threw them on his mother’s front porch. The only way that something like this can happen is if you do not see the person you’re doing such things to as a human being. This incident did not happen that long ago!

    This is not just a problem with the police but a problem with our society and most of us do not want to look at or deal with any of it. There are some posts here that say that these things have no place being discussed here on MIA. I strongly disagree because much of the same attitude that’s directed against African Americans is also directed against people labeled as “mentally ill”. In the 1930’s in Germany, before the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, German psychiatrists with the permission of the government, were sending people labeled as the “mentally ill”, the developmentally disabled, and people with dementia etc. to gas chambers and the ovens. German psychiatry created the gas chambers and the ovens. The people sent into the chambers to be murdered were referred to as “useless eaters”. German psychiatry taught the Nazis how to use the gas chambers and the ovens so that they could be used for Hitler’s “Final Solution” of the “Jewish problem”.

    Now, I know that there are people out there reading this right now who are thinking and saying, “Can’t he just let this Nazi thing rest!!!!” My point is that at the 1941 annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association the doctor who gave the keynote address stated very plainly, in black and white so that his point could not be mistaken, that the same thing that was going on in Germany with the “euthanasia” of the poor “mentally ill” should also be done with the “mentally ill” right here smack dab in America! You can find this in the Library of Congress, it’s on record. And guess how many psychiatrists stood up to oppose such a view????? Two. Two psychiatrists actually spoke out against it and then only because they wondered who we’d get to pick up our garbage and trash and do menial labor if we killed these people! And then, in 1942 in the American Journal of Psychiatry (I think this was the name) there was an anonymous editorial by two people again supporting the idea of “euthanasia” for the “mentally ill”. I consider this to be very problematical, especially when I hear so many politicians these days calling for “more treatment for the poor mentally ill”. The murder of all the people in Germany labeled as “mentally ill” was listed as “problems with treatment” on the death certificates given out to the family members.

    I appreciate Sera speaking out about this here on MIA and I believe the discussion to be of vital importance.