In April 2015, Baltimore was burning. A twenty-five-year-old Black man named Freddie Gray had died after a week-long coma following his violent arrest and “rough ride” in the back of a Baltimore Police Department van. Anger at police brutality had spilled out onto the streets.
I flew to Baltimore to cover the city’s history with police brutality for a documentary I was making for CBC Radio. I arrived the day after Baltimore state attorney Marilyn Mosby announced charges against the six police officers involved in Gray’s arrest. (They were never convicted.) The charges were considered so rare a sign of accountability that they prompted celebration in Gray’s West Baltimore neighbourhood, the first place I headed with my recorder and notebook. It was a partly cloudy day, and a block party was alive with music blaring from massive speakers. DJs, parents, and youth held signs in honour of Gray. This past May and June, I watched more sombre versions of this scene play out with crushing familiarity as, in all fifty US states, crowds of protesters took to the streets with signs commemorating more victims of police brutality.