When Marilyn Mosby, state’s attorney for Baltimore city, stood before cameras that introduced her to the world Friday as she declared that six Baltimore cops would face felony charges in the death of Freddie Gray, she arrived with personal knowledge of how the streets can swallow young black lives. When she was 14 years old in the summer of 1994, her closest friend, a 17-year-old cousin, Diron Spence, was shot to death by 18-year-old Kevin Denis, murdered simply because he was in the right place at the wrong time, outside her house in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston.
I don’t know if Marilyn Mosby ever read the initial incident report filed by Boston police late in the evening of August 19, 1994. It is depressing for the simple fact that it bears such resemblance to thousands of others written by cops in different cities across America nearly every single day of the week in the months and years that have passed since Diron Spence died.
“Shooting at McLellan St. and Bradshaw St.,” it begins as noted by then Boston Police Superintendant Robert Faherty. “Upon arrival found a black male later identified as one Diron Spence –b.m. 11-16-76 (17) of 23 Nelson St. Mattapan. (Son of police officer Preston Thompson. ) He was found lying in driveway at 88 McLellan St. He was shot once in the right side of the chest and leg. Removed to BCH ( Boston City Hospital ) in critical condition. Shooter ran into 8 Fowler St. third floor. Police entered and recovered a .357 Magnum handgun. No shell casings found at the scene. Arrested Kevin Denis a.k.a Kevin Montoya – bm – 18 years of 44 Marie St. Dorchester…Called Operations…Deputy Casey at hosp. and states victim passed away.”
At a press conference a few days ago, President Barack Obama was asked to comment on what had been taking place in Baltimore in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death. He spoke eloquently and at length about the historically troubled relationship between the black community and the police that has been an American reality in too many cities for too long a time.
“Since Ferguson,” the President said, “…we have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals – primarily African American, often poor – in ways that raised troubling questions. And it comes up, it seems like, once a week now, or, once every couple of weeks. And so I think it’s pretty understandable why leaders of civil rights organizations but, more importantly, moms and dads across the country, might start saying this is a crisis. What I’d say is this has been a slow rolling crisis. This has been going on for a long time. This is not new and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.”
Along streets where many of the poor live in this country there are a few stark realities that go unnoticed and largely ignored by many politicians and most citizens, busy with their own set of problems in their own neighborhoods and lives. The biggest, of course, is the lethal nature of the street itself, a constant peril that can claim a life because of the ocean of drugs available, the gangs or, in many cases, the fact that guns are more present than parents or books or laptops or a superior public school education.
A young man or woman can be shot and killed for the most bizarre, illogical reasons – a pair of sneakers, a look, a certain hat of a certain color, money, a sidewalk ‘dis,’ talking to a cop, talking to a kid from another crew – and any or all of it ends in a morgue. In many places, the street is a life sentence to hopelessness and an individual’s imagination, often vivid and electric, is eventually dulled to the point where they define their future in blocks of time measured by weeks not years.
It’s often the case that if they attend school, the poor find it is the safest place they’ll know during a day as well as the one place where they might get a hot meal or a healthy breakfast. Jobs that might be available or pay well enough are often located miles from where the poor live, and public transportation can be spotty, unavailable, or expensive. Being poor in the United States is a hard job all by itself.
And parenting is just as difficult and in a huge percentage of the poorest households it is tasked to only one person whose daily worry is, “What can I do today to keep my child alive?” Imagine the toll that burden takes on any caring mother or father.
For now, the focus is right where it ought to be: on one police department and what happened to a single individual in Baltimore, Freddie Gray, who died in police custody. According to initial reports, his spine was broken. But reading about his life and realizing where he existed – on streets paved with danger – it is clear that he was broken in spirit well before he was picked up and thrown in the back of a wagon.
Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore prosecutor with a living memory of her cousin Diron Spence, will go to court seeking justice in the case of Freddie Gray. Meanwhile the case of what occurs every day in the lives of so many poor people in the United States of America and why solutions seem so difficult to achieve or even address is barely on the docket.