Freddie Gray

The stories about George Floyd’s death have changed and morphed, as more video emerges, more witnesses talk to journalists, and the cops lies start to wear thin. What I recommend doing is keeping an eye on the story until the cover-up begins, because you can tell where the interesting facts are, by looking for the holes in the finished tapestry.

That’s how it worked out with the death of Freddie Gray, which ought to be getting more attention right now than it is. It’s part and parcel of the whole disgusting picture that is policing in the US, so it’s going to always be in the background, but it’s fascinating in its own right for one thing: cops and prosecutors really suck at doing conspiracy. In the case of Freddie Gray it “worked” to the extent that no cops or DAs went to prison, which they categorically and absolutely should have, but it’s pretty easy to expose their lies because of the retro-scope that video and media coverage provides. It doesn’t take a rocket scholar to look at how the story morphs, and which pieces of surveillance video are suddenly unavailable, to tell who’s worried about what.

One important thing that should jump out at anyone who looks at these things – the murder of Ahmaud Arbery the torture-murder of George Floyd, Freddie Gray – the list goes on – we’re not looking at “a few bad apples” we’re looking at a system that protects its bad apples. Which is to say that the entire system is bad applesauce. We saw the same thing with Philando Castile, too: the cop was charged with the killing, and the system deliberately and obviously threw its own case. It’s stupidly obvious that the police departments have realized they have a problem, but that maybe they can sweep it under the rug if they fire a cop, charge another, drag the case on for a couple of months while the protests die down, then lose their own case on a procedural flaw. Oops. Because of the distributed nature of police authority in the US, these police departments and prosecutors are not involved in a great big formal conspiracy – they don’t meet wearing masks in smoky rooms in a dungeon somewhere (except the cops in Mississippi) – they’re just desperate dumb people trying to wriggle out of a problem they created for themselves, and they’re trying every possible avenue. That means that they all try the same thing:

  • Attack the victim for having a history of being a bad person
  • Fire a cop or put them on paid leave for months at the taxpayers’ expense
  • Charge a cop or two and collect all the evidence for the case
  • Once the evidence is collected, now it’s been located so we can lose it
  • Lose the case
  • The police union insists that the cop be re-hired
  • Cop quietly gets another job doing exactly what they did that lead to a wrongful death

That last point is one a lot of people don’t seem to understand: the US police departments have a bigger, better, setup for playing “shuffle the bad cop” than the roman catholic church had for protecting pedophile priests. And, you should notice the similarities there, as well: the various police departments will negotiate awards for victims that are just below the maximum that the police departments’ insurance companies liability extends. Last year a friend of mine was a plaintiff in a suit against a racist police chief whose hiring practices were clearly based on only hiring white people. During the court-ordered arbitration, the negotiator made it clear that the police would never agree to a settlement over $200,000 because anything beyond that would not be covered by their insurance deductible. That raises a whole ton of questions such as: why do the shareholders of any insurance company allow the insurance company to write a policy for a police department? Give me a fucking break; they lose money hand over fist on the police departments, which means that for all intents and purposes police misbehavior is being underwritten by other policy-holders in the insurance pool. Think about that and ask “why?” When you watch what happens with these cases, the actions are being subliminally shaped by lawyers and insurance companies acting on behalf of the police; they are also part of that batch of bad applesauce.

Freddie Gray probably already had a broken neck at the moment this was shot. He was dying. But they had to carry him to the back of the van because if he died right out in the open, then the only obvious causes of death would be the three thugs holding him. The police portrayed him as an extremely low-rent character. Does he look like a down and out junkie who wanted to slam himself to death in the back of a police van?

Back to Freddie Gray.

There’s a podcast you can listen to, Undisclosed: The Killing of Freddie Gray and it’s good but painful to listen to. In my opinion, it’s a bit padded – there’s a lot of information there but they sure take their good old time decompiling it and hitting you with it. The picture they paint bears absolutely no resemblance to the picture that the police and prosecutors in Baltimore painted, i.e.: the picture the media accepted. The cops portrayed Freddie as a sleazeball, a constant trouble-maker, possibly armed with an illegal weapon, who beat himself into a broken neck in the back of a police van as a novel way of making Baltimore’s fine white cops look like bad people.

There is detailed and horrible discussion of the take-down and submission hold used on Freddie; it hurts just to hear about it. Those huge hunks of pork grabbed Freddie, threw him face down, then bent him backwards by kneeling on his spine below the neck and broke his fucking back in public, on a Baltimore sidewalk, while other people watched. Then, the podcast goes exhaustively through the rather transparent lies the Baltimore cops told, as they tried to get Freddie to a cop-friendly emergency room where he could be found dead after arriving there and nobody needed to talk about the fact that he was dying if not dead of suffocation and a broken neck when they threw him in the back of the van. There was a massive bullshit-fest from the cops about how Freddie was bouncing himself off the walls in the back of the van, trying to commit suicide by police van, apparently, but from the video evidence the only people who should pretend to be fooled are the media. Because that’s how it played out. Journalists went into exhausting spasms of talking about how he could have broken his neck hitting the floor in the back of the van as cops sped over potholes. The media are also part of the applesauce, in other words.

I followed the case of Freddie Gray in real-time when it was happening, because I grew up in Baltimore and I still think of it as “home” to some degree. Freddie was killed less than a mile from my old house and blocks from where I used to work. I grew up when Baltimore was the “shooting capital of the US” until Washington DC took that honor – during the height of the CIA-fueled crack ‘epidemic’; I also believed some of those narratives about who was the problem, because I was young and stupid and white. I’m still white but all the other parts have changed. I remember the discussions about Freddie in the van and how they were taking him to the hospital instead of taking him to arrest him. I remember nobody really asked “arrest him for what?” There wasn’t a lot of discussion about the fact that Freddie hadn’t actually done anything – if he had, it would have been trumpeted all over the place as front-page news. But I was listening to the media’s accepted narrative, which was wrong in virtually every detail. If you want to fully understand how wrong, listen to Undisclosed and don’t take my word for it.

Perhaps you remember that Freddie had an illegal knife. Not that the cops could see that, just walking by him. But they make it sound as though, since Freddie was a certified dirtbag druggie, they had good probable cause to throw him down and search him. Oops, *snap* was the your cervical vertebra? Well, he had a knife.

Maybe he had a knife. Undisclosed makes the point that the kind of knife Freddie allegedly had on him was sold by a gift store next to the police department. Perhaps that’s where Freddie shopped back when he could still move and breathe under his own power. As a knifemaker I can tell you two things about the knife the cops say Freddie was carrying illegally:

  1. It’s a piece of shit
  2. It’s not illegal

See the spud on the top of the blade near the hinge? That’s a thumb latch, so you can flip the blade open one-handed. The police who killed Freddie Gray, and the media who reported on his death, accepted that as a “Switchblade-like assisted-opening knife.” Excuse me, it’s not. That’s a perfectly legal knife, but it’s probably the one the cops were able to get their hands on easily and “find” on Freddie who, by then, was cooling to room temperature in the back of the van. Nobody in the media asked “how would having a knife that cops couldn’t see in your pocket constitute probable cause?” Nobody in the media asked, “isn’t that a perfectly legal cheap Chinese front-lock knife?” Besides that, they didn’t ask why putting someone in a dangerous face-down hold on concrete was the way to ask “do you have anything illegal on you?” Remember, in principle, in the US, you’re not supposed to be searched – let alone have your neck broken – on a whim: there’s supposed to be probable cause. The cops were too lazy to ask Freddie, “hey, are you holding drugs?” and if he ran then there would have been probable cause. But, in fact, he wasn’t. But they killed him anyway.

Undisclosed goes through what is currently publicly known about the trials of the cops who killed Freddie. Perhaps you already know this, but there was a lot of fumbling around the case and after the waters were thoroughly muddied and the protests (aka: riots) had died down, the prosecutors discontinued the case because they were “into the point of diminishing returns” i.e.: they had already realized they were going to lose (because they were trying to lose) and it was doing a favor to the taxpayers to lose faster so it didn’t cost as much.

I’m not going to tell you to listen to all 16-whatever hours of Undisclosed, but if you do I’ll make a prediction: you’ll be able to see the future. You’ll be able to predict that the story of George Floyd is going to play out in a remarkably similar way to the story of Freddie Gray. They have already started, “he’s passing bad bills” is a great bit of bullshit probable cause, almost as good as “he had a knife.” The media isn’t asking “why would passing bad bills justify holding someone in the back of your car for a while then marching him out and throwing him facedown on the sidewalk and strangling him slowly?” Isn’t an appropriate response for someone passing bad bills to ask them, “sir, may I see your wallet?” Then you have your partners keep an eye on the suspect while you go into the store and ask, “Are you the person who called about bad bills? Can I see them? And is that the guy? And what’s your name?” The media hasn’t been asking “what the fuck stupid dumbass cop assumes a store owner is good at identifying counterfeit money and kills someone without checking that out first?” If you listen to every miserable minute of Undisclosed you’ll know that the next part is where the cops’ story changes, the call records from the dispatcher are garbled, and – eventually, with deep regret, the prosecutor sighs and admits they have no case. Then, the cop that was fired gets another job as a cop someplace else – maybe even elsewhere in Minnesota. Perhaps that cop will be policing PZ Myers’ little town and, at least, we can hope he won’t kill again as long as he’s surrounded with nice white people.

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I saw over at Pharyngula that they had a cop-apologist come swanning in and saying “it’s not fair to paint all cops as bad because of the actions of a few.” Well, I’m your huckleberry: I believe a solid argument can be made that being a cop is an inherently immoral job [stderr] On the face of it, without having to go around breaking peoples’ necks:

The police officer swears to impartially uphold the laws of the land. There is zero chance that any given police officer will actually agree with all of the laws of the land, therefore they cannot uphold them impartially. Instead, what they are doing is upholding the laws they feel like upholding at any given time against anyone who they feel like upholding them against at that time. This is a permanent state of moral jeopardy.

There are no good cops. There are just bad cops and worse cops.


  1. cartomancer says

    Why does nobody remember that the idiom is, and always has been, “a few bad apples spoil the bunch”? It’s not “a few bad apples can be safely disposed of, the rest are all fine”.

  2. says

    “a few bad apples spoil the bunch”

    I thought it was “barrel” not “bunch” – though I have also heard “bushel” from a well-educated apple-grower.

  3. Jazzlet says

    Yup it’s barrel. Most things were transported and stored in barrels at one point, it made a varied load consistent for loading efficiently and they are relatively easy to move. Barrels were the containers of their day.

    And I comment on that as I have nothing to say on the main thrust of your article, I know our police have serious problems and are racist as fuck, I know they kill black guys, but at present they are merely aspiring to reach the depths American police walk everyday.

  4. lumipuna says

    I can offer some expertise, too. Here’s how to maximize the storage and shelf life of police officers:

    In police recruitment criteria, select a variety with thick, waxy skin to minimize water loss during storage. This will also reduce the propensity of officers going off too quickly at the consumer end of law enforcement chain.

    During recruitment, carefully screen out individuals that are mechanically damaged, visibly infected by fungi or show even indirect signs of hidden corruption. However, misshapen or variably colored individuals are not a particular risk.

    Store the police officers in low temperature and high relative humidity.

    Invest in a controlled atmosphere storage facility, in order to maintain a low oxygen and high carbon dioxide environment, and to remove the ethylene naturally secreted by police officers. This will essentially shut down the natural metabolism of officers, greatly extending their serviceability, and prevent the general spoiling effect of a few rotten individuals that might have slipped in.

  5. says

    Reading that, I was thinking about how ants are programmed to respond to other ants in their hive that get infected with cordiceps – they grab the affected individual, hustle them out of the hive, kill them, then the removal team never return to the hive, themselves.

    In a well-managed world good cops would do that with bad cops. I.e.: the cop-pits would empty themselves out.

  6. Sam N says

    Seems it’s a good time for cities to dissolve entire police departments and hire completely new forces. People that were doing honest labor like waiting tables a few months ago. I doubt it will solve all the policing problems, but it would reduce them.

    Unemployment is sky-high right now. They won’t have trouble finding people willing to fill those benefits-laden positions. They especially won’t have trouble finding hardworking people from those lower income neighborhoods. People who will know them inside and out, and how to communicate with them effectively.
    It will be a good opportunity for the former police officers to learn some empathy as they learn to get by during high unemployment without a safety net. I would anticipate the forming of some new, incredibly violent gangs from that former-police population, though. You’d want to keep a close eye on them.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    “Fire them all” is a very American solution to a very American problem. Strangely, it has an extremely urn-American hotbed argument : it’s impractical because the union is to strong. What other union can you say that about?

  8. Sam N says

    @7, I’d say that fire them all is a very common, perhaps universal, attitude about anyone that feels utter, complete, hopelessness about a system. I wouldn’t say it’s ‘uniquely’ American, but a lot of Americans likely feel that way. Some are conservatives that just can’t stand that two guys would actually kiss, how disgusting! Some are very liberal and can’t stand that someone would go without food for a night.

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