Statement of CASA’s Executive Director Gustavo Torres on the Death of Freddie Gray

Posted April 27, 2015 /

(Baltimore, MD)- CASA, the region’s largest Latino and immigrant rights organization, condemns the killing of Freddie Gray. His death in police custody from a severe spinal injury evidences a culture of impunity on the part of law enforcement and is an extreme example of the daily practices that leave young people of color victimized by the people sworn to protect them. On behalf of its almost 70,000 members, CASA expresses its deepest regrets for the suffering of the Gray family and the broader Sandtown-Winchester community and calls on Marylanders to address epidemic racism here and elsewhere.

Across many days of protests, consultations with partner organizations, discussions with CASA members who have led on issues of police accountability, and reflections of the failure to act in just this last state legislative session, CASA will focus on moving forward a set of political reforms that are long overdue. And while the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland never should have reached this point, we hope that Mr. Gray’s tragic death and the public outrage in response will galvanize the policy response that has been shamefully lacking.

More than a dozen bills that would have begun to address a deeply dysfunctional legal framework that provides far too much protection to police and scant justice for victims stalled in either or both the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Each committee had members deeply committed to reform. Unfortunately, that commitment was not shared by legislative leadership. After sitting through countless hours of hearings in where uniformed police sat in audiences and openly mocked mothers testifying about the deaths of their sons, our members are calling on the Governor to take action because clearly a Democratic legislature is unprepared to.

Together with the State Conference of the NAACP, the ACLU of Maryland, faith leaders, and many others, we call on Governor Hogan to:

  1. Request and fund the Attorney General to begin an independent investigation into the incidents of injury and/or death of persons while in police custody across the State, and any other reported instances of injury or death of civilian or officer in the performance of police duties;
  2. call for a Special Session of the General Assembly to overhaul the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights and other areas of law that have provided a cone of protection to outlaw actors in law enforcement;
  3. convene a blue ribbon panel to formulate recommendations for executive action and legislative remedy, and
  4. Utilize the full resources at his disposal to support and assist in the development of a thorough, comprehensive urban redevelopment strategy that will target the concerns of housing, education, employment and economic viability that place communities at risk.

In Baltimore City, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has shown real commitment to addressing the structural problems that put so many city residents at risk of police misconduct. And while this crisis is certainly not just a Baltimore City crisis, the state legislature has already refused to help her resolve it so Baltimore must do what it can to address it locally. Together with BMore United, a coalition of local grassroots organizations working for justice in Baltimore, we ask that:

  1. The Mayor’s office and that of State’s Attorney Mosby must aggressively investigate why Freddie Gray was chased and killed by the police and hold officers who committed or failed to report the commission by others of illegal acts to the highest level of responsibility.
  2. We also call on the Mayor, the Police Commissioner, and the State’s Attorney to publically endorse the state reforms to the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights that were sought last session and lobby for their passage.
  3. We support the Department of Justice investigation into Baltimore city police practices and call on the mayor and police commissioner, who requested the investigation, to provide access to materials and interviews to facilitate the investigation.
  4. Finally, the conversation on reform in Maryland has been astonishingly one-sided. Comforted by legislative inaction, the Fraternal Order of Police or other representatives of law enforcement repeatedly opposed any legislative reforms. We ask the Mayor to bring all parties to the table to start the conversation.

An official and public devaluing of black lives is just one of many symptoms of the unfinished business of the civil rights movement that Latinos share with our African-American brothers and sisters. We weep for Freddie Gray and recommit to grassroots anti-racism organizing for permanent change in the structures of oppression in Baltimore and across the state, because we recognize that Freddie Gray’s death by police violence is not isolated from lack of quality schools or economic opportunity in his neighborhood or from policies and practices of over policing and over incarceration of black and brown men in our criminal justice system.