Fear and Fury in Freddie Gray’s Baltimore Neighborhood as First of Six Officers Goes on Trial

John Woodrow Cox and Peter Hermann, Washington Post, November 29, 2015

The morning sun had just reached West Baltimore when William Tyler stepped out of his rowhouse into a neighborhood that, nearly seven months after the riots’ fires had been extinguished, was still smoldering.

He stood for a moment in the long shadow of the battered public housing project across the street, where Freddie Gray spent much of his time before suffering a severe spinal injury while in police custody on April 12 and dying a week later. Tyler, 44, knows many outside this world hoped that the charges filed against the six officers involved in Gray’s arrest would bring a measure of peace and optimism to a place chronically devoid of both.

They haven’t.

Instead, in the riots’ wake, violence has exploded. Earlier this month, the city topped 300 killings in a single year for the first time since 1999, bringing the near-constant sound of blaring sirens and droning helicopters to West Baltimore and the deployment of dozens of additional officers to the most desperate areas.

Now, the long-troubled relationship between law enforcement and the community where Tyler has lived since childhood faces a new, complicated test as the accused in Gray’s arrest and death go on trial. On Monday, jury selection begins in the case against the first officer, William G. Porter, and with it comes a sense of foreboding likely to linger over this city for months to come.

In Gray’s old neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester, it is nearly impossible to find someone who says that they believe prosecutors will deliver a single conviction. Such certainty has led to intense fear here that, if the officers do indeed go free, the community will erupt in unrest far more destructive than what happened in April.

“There’s going to be killings, shootings, buildings burning,” Tyler predicted, echoing what so many of his neighbors also say.

He hopes he is wrong.

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Tyler doubts much improvement is possible, at least for now.

What so many people don’t understand, he said, is that the rage his community exhibited after Freddie Gray’s death only had so much to do with Freddie Gray. It was also about abandoned rowhouses left to rot and forsaken addicts left to die. About the absence of places where kids can safely play and the near-nonexistence of good jobs. About generations of poverty and lifetimes of perceived mistreatment by police.

“You can only shake a bottle for so long,” Tyler said, “before the bottle busts.”

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