Context — June 24, 2016, 11:04 am

The City That Bleeds

Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising

Published in the July 2016 issue of Harper’s Magazine, “The City That Bleeds,” examines the trial of William Porter, the first of six Baltimore police officers to be tried for the killing of Freddie Gray.

Freddie Gray’s relatives arrived for the trial in the afternoon, after the prep-school kids had left. By their dress, they seemed to have just gotten off work in the medical and clerical fields. The family did not appear at ease in the courtroom. They winced and dropped their heads as William Porter and his fellow officer Zachary Novak testified to opening the doors of their police van last April and finding Freddie paralyzed, unresponsive, with mucus pooling at his mouth and nose. Four women and one man mournfully listened as the officers described needing to get gloves before they could touch him.

The first of six Baltimore police officers to be brought before the court for their treatment of Freddie Gray, a black twenty-five-year-old whose death in their custody was the immediate cause of the city’s uprising last spring, William Porter is young, black, and on trial. Here in this courtroom, in this city, in this nation, race and the future seem so intertwined as to be the same thing.

During a break, I offered Freddie’s twin sister, Fredericka, a cup of water, which she refused, perhaps wary of the strangers now expressing concern, the same people who would have ignored her waiting for a bus in the rain on North Avenue. After court reconvened, Freddie’s mother, Gloria, balled up a tissue and dropped it on the floor, where it rolled under her seat. She didn’t know that in his morning testimony Officer Porter had presented himself as a light of reform, telling the jury how public littering was one of the few offenses for which he issued citations on his beat at the Gilmor Street public-housing buildings, where residents like the Grays regularly gathered to interrogate the police during arrests. When the prosecutor asked Porter whether he had protected public life, he said yes. Gray’s stepfather snorted sarcastically.

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The City That Bleeds

Freddie Gray and the makings of an American uprising

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