Freddie Gray poisoned as a child, well-known to police after 18 arrests

Freddie Gray was a 25-year-old African-American who grew up in Baltimore’s impoverished west side

Nicknamed ‘Pepper’, he was described by an ex-girlfriend as happy-go-lucky with an infectious sense of humor.

The Baltimore police knew him, however, as a 5ft-8ins felon who had notched up at least 18 arrests and a handful of convictions  – mainly for Class A drugs but also burglary, assault and illegal gambling.

He died from a severe injury to his spine on April 19th – one week after being arrested by police following a chase on foot through his Baltimore neighborhood.

He was said to have set off running at the sight of police patrolling a well known open-air drug market.

He was taken into custody for possession of a switchblade and during transport to the station he experienced what officers described as ‘a medical emergency’.

Gray, who had asthma, requested an inhaler and had trouble breathing in the van, but police didn’t provide his inhaler.

According to Gray’s family his spine was severed 80% at his neck, three vertebrae were fractured and his larynx was injured.

Exactly how he came to suffer the injury to his spine remains unclear. Police statements that claim his arrest was ‘without force or incident’ are contradicted by eyewitness accounts that state he was ‘folded like a crab, like origami’ and that while cuffed his feet were bent back to his neck.

Six officers have since been suspended with pay as local police and federal authorities investigate.

They have since admitted they should have called for help sooner.

One of the most troubling details to have emerged following Gray’s death was that he was handcuffed and put in leg irons, but left without a seat belt during his trip to the station – giving rise to the suggestion that he was left paralyzed after a rough ‘nickel ride’ journey in the back of the police van.

Court papers describe Gray’s childhood as problematic. He lived with his heroin-addicted disabled mother in a home in Sandtown-Winchester that contained enough poisonous lead in the peeling painted walls and windowsills for a court settlement to conclude that he and his two sisters were incapable of leading normal functioning lives.

Lab tests conducted in the 1990s showed that they had levels of lead in their blood nearly double what the state of Maryland defines as the minimum for lead poisoning.

In Baltimore, more than 2,600 children have been found to have high levels of lead in their blood, according an annual report released by the Maryland Department of the Environment in 2014.

“This is the toxic legacy of lead-based paint,” Ruth Ann Norton, head of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative and a founding member of the Maryland Lead Poisoning Prevention Commission, told the Baltimore Sun.

‘Our kids are ill equipped to stay in the classroom, finish school. They’re very unlikely to go on to higher education. They’re less likely to be able to hold a job’, she said.

‘They’re less equipped to be able to overcome the poverty and other circumstances that pull them down. Children with lead poisoning will have defects, regardless of whether their parents are ‘nice’ or not.’

Gray lived off the resulting ‘lead check’ settlement although it is unclear exactly how much he received.

Whatever money he did have he was said to spend buying designer accessories.

The Sandtown neighborhood is a 72-block neighborhood made up of almost entirely of African Americans.

More than one-third of residents live below the poverty line, and nearly a quarter are unemployed.

The majority of Maryland’s state prison population are said to said to hail from Sandtown, according to the Justice Policy Institute.

The fall-out from Gray’s death has been reminiscent of Michael Brown’s – the 18-year-old African American who was shot police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson last August and sparked a wave of violent protests against ‘police brutality’.

After Gray’s funeral on Monday, April 27th, protesters took to the streets, looters ransacked shops, police cars were set on fire and locals of all ages fought running battles with officers – a number of whom were taken to hospital with serious injuries.

It remains to be seen how Baltimore deals with this, the latest black African American to die in questionable circumstances at the hands of police, but what is for sure is that the protesters won’t take it lying down.

More at The DailyMail

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