News From an Alternate Universe

The following is a rewrite of this CNN piece, from a world in which I control the tone of mainstream media reporting.

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Protesters block an armored police vehicle near the fire gutted CVS Pharmacy on Pennsylvania Ave. (Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)

Streets in Baltimore looked like a war zone early Tuesday after a night of riots, fires and heartbreak, but to some, those same streets are as dangerous as a war zone every day of their lives.

“Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs who — in a very senseless way — are trying to tear down what so many have fought for,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, referring of course to those officers who have committed atrocious abuses of power in her city.

These comments came after yet another black man was killed in police custody. Details are hazy about Freddie Gray’s death, but the city states that Gray “made eye contact” with an officer and then ran away, prompting the officer to pursue. After finding a switchblade on his person, despite his apparent severe leg injury, the officers dragged Gray to a police van, as shown in video shot by bystanders. When the van reached the police station, after having already made several stops, Gray had sustained injuries that severed 80% of his spine. He died on Sunday, April 19th.

“We know that having a knife is not necessarily a crime,” said Rawlings-Blake, disturbed to find that her city is not immune from the systemic issues of police brutality, racism, and militarization plaguing the rest of the country.

According to a recent Bureau of Justice report, police in the United States have killed an average of 928 people each year for the past 8 years. Of these, about 545 each year went unreported. As these previously unreported deaths have become more widely publicized, the American public has grown justifiably outraged, leading to mass protests following each new death at the hands of those who have sworn to protect and serve their communities. These riots have grown more and more violent, fueled by the lack of progress apparent in the 176 deaths by police in the first few months of 2015 alone.

Such was the scene in Baltimore on Tuesday night. Buildings and cars across the city were engulfed in flames. About a dozen businesses looted or damaged. At least 15 officers were wounded, six of them seriously, the police commissioner said.

This damage, while unfortunate, could not be compared to the loss of life of thousands of US citizens, agreed Deputy Police Commissioner Dean Palmere. “We will protect the constitutional right for people to demonstrate,” he said.

In which protesters are given a voice and not referred to as “thugs”:

“I was protesting because this is—there’s a history in Baltimore of not so much police shootings, but people being beaten to death by the police. There is a long history. I feel that I needed to be there with the community. We have for some time been doing work in Gilmor Homes housing project, and I wanted to, you know, be there to stand in solidarity with the community.” said Dominique Stevenson, who was arrested at a protest earlier this week.

“I think that we really need to take a look at how policing is done in Baltimore. It cannot be disconnected from our high incarceration rate. Black folks make up almost 80 percent of the total population in the Maryland prison system, yet we comprise about 28 percent of the population in the state.” said Stevenson, identifying a common theme among those hundreds of police killings each year. The targeting of black people, and black men specifically, add fuel to the fire of protesters. The national incarceration rate of black Americans is five to six times that of whites, according to reports from the NAACP and the Prison Policy Initiative.

‘They don’t deserve this’

Monday’s violence came the same day as Gray’s funeral. The 25-year-old was arrested on April 12 and died one week later from a fatal spinal cord injury.

“They don’t deserve this any more than Freddie Gray deserved it,” said Billy Murphy, an attorney for the Gray family, referring to the thousands of others sentenced to death by police without a fair trial.

After the blatant displays of fury and dissatisfaction with the current system, the city is taking immediate steps to begin to reform the way the police interact with the community. The mayor of Baltimore said every possible resource was being deployed to “gain control of this situation” and correct the history of systemic violence plaguing the city.

New attorney general speaks out

Just hours after she was sworn in, Attorney General Loretta Lynch decried the “senseless acts of violence” in Baltimore and by police officers across America.

Video from Monday showed police in riot gear pelting protesters, many appearing to be just high school students, with rocks.

Lynch said the Justice Department “stands ready to provide any assistance that might be helpful.”

Like Baltimore’s city officials, upon taking office Lynch also immediately began taking steps to rectify the problems uncovered by her department’s recent reports on similar actions in cities like Ferguson and Cleveland. She was clear that a radical overhaul of how police are trained to interact with their communities is essential to any progress that could be made.

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