Telling the truth requires courage. Lying is easy. Telling half-truths is the coward's way out. But telling the truth in the face of adversity calls for great courage. Accepting the truth, especially when this truth offends your sensibilities, requires even greater courage.
Discussing Freddie Gray's homicide without discussing race is as incomplete as discussing the history of the United States without discussing slavery. It's a half-truth.
There's a well-known poster from the abolitionist era that depicts a shackled male slave with the words "Am I not a man and a brother?" When the Baltimore Sun chronicles how hundreds (and the unreported thousands) of our sons, fathers, even young children, pregnant women, and grandmothers were systemically mistreated by those sworn to protect and serve them, we are forced once again to ask if our humanity as African Americans is recognized.
So to speak the truth about this homicide requires us to begin with the fact that Freddie Gray was a young black male, living in a city where young black men have good reason to historically not trust the police. To know the truth is to take the time to read about and recognize the undeniable history of police brutality in this city. The documented evidence is irrefutable.
Widespread police brutality has been a dirty little secret among us all within the city's criminal justice system. This includes judges, prosecutors, police officers, public defenders, and politicians. Many local criminal-defense attorneys report that the Central Booking and Intake Facility often refuses to immediately accept anyone who has been arrested by the Baltimore City Police Department with visible signs of police brutality.
Once the truth is known, once dirty little secrets are revealed, the frustration shown yesterday is better understood, which is not the same as condoning any more violence. Freddie Gray's homicide was not an isolated incident; it was the tipping point. That said, the question now is how to honor this truth?
How do we prevent another Freddie Gray? How do we prevent explosions of community anger and frustration that burn down portions of our city?
The first step is acknowledging and accepting the painful truth. Police brutality exists and young black males are disproportionately the victims of this brutality.
Next, we must show the community at-large we are taking action. What type of action? A good first step is requiring police officers to wear body cameras. Strictly regulating body-cameras and penalizing officers for illegally deactivating those body cameras will prevent the mysteries surrounding cases like Freddie Gray. Had the police worn body cameras, there would be no question as to how Mr. Gray's spinal cord was severed while in police custody.
However, let's be clear: police body cameras are not the cure-all. Eric Garner taught us that. But history has also shown us that we can bring to light what's done in the dark.
Let us shine a light on the problem of police brutality before there is another Freddie Gray. Shining a camera is a step in the right direction. Let us accept the truth surrounding black victims of police brutality. It takes unique courage to accept this truth. But that's only the beginning. To change this truth will require much more.