The 28 criminal charges against the six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray suggest something important about the past week in the city: there's significant evidence that the protesters were right. Gray shouldn't have been arrested. And he shouldn't have died in police custody. This was an instance of lethal brutality by police at worst and terrible negligence by the police at best.
Police claimed they arrested Gray because he had a switchblade, which is illegal in Baltimore. But on Friday, State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said the knife wasn't a switchblade — it was a pocket knife, and was therefore legal. Police, in other words, shouldn't have arrested Gray, according to Mosby.
Protesters also believed that Gray received his spinal cord injury as a result of negligence and abuse by the six officers involved in his arrest. The investigation's findings, long list of charges, and the medical examiner's declaration of a homicide suggest — although not conclusively — that the protesters were right.
At a press conference, Mosby described Gray's custody in very stark terms. "Mr. Gray suffered a critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet, and unrestrained inside the BPD wagon," she said, adding that Gray was placed headfirst and on his stomach into the van.
So Gray was simultaneously unrestrained by a seatbelt and shackled by his hands and feet as he was tossed around inside the van, unable to protect himself from the impact as he crashed into the interior of the vehicle. Medical experts told the Baltimore Sun's Scott Dance that the injury that killed Gray is possible in car accidents.
It's unclear if the officers involved left Gray unfastened in the van on purpose. That would be akin to "rough rides," in which handcuffed detainees are driven in a reckless manner while they're not wearing seat belts — all to purposely cause injuries. But it's possible, even with the charges, that the officers were simply negligent, perhaps ignoring Gray's many calls for medical help while he was in police custody because they thought he was exaggerating or lying.
Still, the charges suggest officers were at the very least criminally negligent, if not downright abusive. The protesters in Baltimore were right to be outraged.