The killing of George Floyd has inspired protests across the U.S. and around the world, with crowds evoking the names of other black men and women who have died in police custody — including Freddie Gray.
In 2015, Gray was arrested in Baltimore, and put in a police van — shackled but with no seatbelt. At the end of what was later termed a "rough ride," Gray was unconscious and his neck was broken. He died a week later.
Author Wes Moore chronicles the uprising that occurred in Baltimore following Gray's death in his new book, Five Days: The Fiery Reckoning of an American City. He says that in addition to addressing inequitable policing that occurs in poor and black neighborhoods, "we also have to deal with the underlying conditions that our citizens, and oftentimes our citizens of color, are repeatedly being ... forced to endure."
The author says that Gray's life and death illustrate the ways in which people of color are constrained by poverty, racism and systemic injustice.
"Freddie Gray was born months premature, born underweight, born addicted to heroin," Moore says. He notes that Gray was exposed to unsafe levels of lead as a child while living in public housing.
Moore says the deaths of Freddie Gray and George Floyd highlight injustices that go beyond police brutality.
"The justice that's also being sought must be an economic justice. It must be health justice. It must be housing justice," Moore says. "If we permit these tragedies to recede from our memory, we will risk the opportunity to change the systems that are ultimately responsible for all of these injustices."
On what lessons today's protestors can take from what happened to Freddie Gray in Baltimore
I think it's important for the country to understand the lessons of Baltimore, understand the lessons of what happened to Freddie Gray, understand the aftermath of what happened to Freddie Gray. ... Because we're basically reliving history right now. What we're seeing and these are lessons that could have and should have been learned prior, because I think it's very indicative as to both where we are now, but frankly, very indicative so as to where we're going.
I also think that when you're coming on the heels of what we're seeing in COVID-19, when you're coming on the heels of what we're seeing in terms of this massive and, frankly, this exacerbated level of disparity that the first part of this year has really shown us, you see and you understand how this frustration on so many levels continues to boil over. So while I share the calls for peace, I do think it's important for people to wonder and to ask: ... Where's our collective pain supposed to go when there still is no justice? That's the tension that we're seeing right now on the streets.
On the physical and psychological damage of the 2015 protests in Baltimore
You saw places and buildings and historic landmarks up in flames. Churches that were up in flames. You also saw a level of psychological damage ... that I think in many ways the city of Baltimore has still yet to heal from. ... In just these past five years, there's just been a level of violence where the [annual] homicide rate has been over 300 in the city of Baltimore. When you look at the size of Baltimore, it's making it literally the most violent city in America right now. ... We have had a level of mistrust that is then taking place amongst elected officials. And so you've seen how this has shown itself, not just in the initial damage, but in terms of the quantifiable, measurable financial damage, but really how this has damaged the psyche of Baltimore for really a generation that has now felt the impact of this.
On the poverty and neglect that has plagued Baltimore for generations
When ... we can't tell the difference between a building that was burned after the unrest of Freddie Gray or a building that was burned after the unrest after the riots that took place after Dr. King's murder, versus a building that's just been vacant because it's dilapidated and it's been completely ignored — what does that say about our larger society? And what does that say about our ability to be able to address human pain versus pacify it? And so I think it really does go back and highlights this bigger point, and this bigger conversation, about how we have to think bigger and holistically about what is being demanded and what is being asked, and then what exactly we have to do individually and collectively to be able to address that.
On the "good apples and bad apples" conversation about police officers
The thing I think we saw in Baltimore — and I think it's a complete correlation between what we're seeing in Minnesota — is it's impossible to have a conversation about "good apples and bad apples" if we're not talking about systems. It's systems that continue to be put in place that allow measures of inequitable policing. It's systems that are in place that don't allow for measures of accountability, and where we can put things like civilian review boards in place. ... And so this is not just about "good apples" versus "bad apples." All of us completely acknowledge that there are some absolutely remarkable officers that we have on the force, people who are committing their lives and dedicating their lives and risking their lives for the idea of public safety. We also know that we want good people to be able to perform in good systems — and that's where the adjustment needs to happen.
On the decision of whether or not to charge the police officers who were with Officer Chauvin when he killed George Floyd
The way felony murder works ... [is] when a murder happens, that the people who were accomplices in it, regardless of what your role was, even if [you] were not the person that actually took the life of somebody else, you can be held not just accountable, but actually end up receiving a similar type of sentence. We have to really think hard about this idea of toleration that then takes place. For nine minutes that officer [in George Floyd's case] had his knee on a grown man's neck while he was screaming for his life, while he was saying that he couldn't breathe, to the point that some of the last moments that he had on this earth was a 46-year-old man calling for his mother who died two years ago. And at no point did any of the officers go and say to that one officer, "That's enough," or "Ease up," or, "Hey, I got from here. Go take a walk. I got it."
And so there needs to be a level of accountability that people have for each other. There needs to be a level of accountability that individuals have for the people who they are working with, particularly when these types of actions are taking place. Because if there is a level of accountability that people have and they know that I will be held responsible for the actions of the people around me, then my actions are going to be different. And so we're thinking about the type of reforms that are going to and need to and should take place, we know that when it comes to research specifically on the policing side, these are some of the actions and some of the things that we have to really think hard and really think critically about.
Amy Salit and Thea Chaloner produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the Web.
In this broadcast, we say Derek Chauvin had his hand in his pocket while he knelt on George Floyd's neck. It is not clear on the video whether that was the case.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
When protesters against the death of George Floyd in the hands of police chant, say their names, one of the names is Freddie Gray. Five years ago, his neck was broken after being taken into custody by Baltimore police, dragged into a transport van and taken to the police station. He died a week later. There were six officers involved, no convictions. My guest, Wes Moore, is the author of the new book "Five Days" about the uprising that followed Freddie Gray's death protesting his death and demanding that the police be held accountable. The book will be published later this month.
Wes Moore grew up in Baltimore and the Bronx. He was in handcuffs by the time he was 11, but he became a Rhodes Scholar, joined the military, led a team of paratroopers and special ops in Afghanistan, became an investment banker, a bestselling author and TV host and commentator. He's now CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, a poverty-fighting organization funding schools, food pantries and shelter in New York City and other places around the country. His first book, "The Other Wes Moore," compared his life with another man named Wes Moore who grew up just a few blocks away in similar circumstances. The book reflects on family, social, educational and economic circumstances that enabled the author to succeed while the other Wes Moore is serving a life sentence for murder. We recorded our interview yesterday.
Wes Moore, welcome to FRESH AIR. You served in the military, and you're very cognizant of all the reasons behind the protests that we're seeing now. Before we talk about Freddie Gray, I want to ask you about President Trump's statement Monday night when he said, if a city or state refuses to take actions to defend the life and prosperity of their residents, then I will deploy the U.S. military and quickly solve the problem for them.
WES MOORE: I would be very cautious on the idea that there is any leaders of individualized jurisdictions that are refusing to take action. I think you have mayors, you have governors who are taking action that they deem to be appropriate within their own individualized jurisdictions. But none of them are standing there and saying, we're just refusing to take action. I think all of them are taking this incredibly seriously for the fact that you have a level of pain that is being expressed on the streets. And at the same time, you have to know that you have to protect the health and welfare of everyone within your jurisdiction.
And one thing that data also continues to show us is that hypermilitarization actually promotes a similar type of response. And so by simply saying, we're going to add more force, you need to be very careful that, also, and as history has shown us that oftentimes, just an acceleration of force also means adding fuel to an already burning fire. You know, we saw - we've seen peaceful protests that have taken place where it didn't - where this actually happened. And, actually, part of the reason that the protests were peaceful was because we didn't lead to hypermilitarization.
You know, earlier this week, one of the most peaceful protests that we saw was in Flint, Mich. The sheriff there didn't come out with batons and riot shields. They told protesters that they were there to support them and that they wanted to have a parade and not a protest. And that's what happened. Flint, Mich., is a place where you have not seen levels of violent protests. We see in San Antonio, Texas, where police forces are actually being retrained to where you have not only individualized officers, but they're actually going on patrols with health professionals because they understand that the majority of the time that they're dealing with individual infractions, these - actually, there's a mental health component to this as well.
So refusing to take action and saying that the only action that becomes required or useful is hypermilitarization is not accurate. And I think we need to be incredibly careful at this moment about which forces we utilize because the forces we utilize is also sending a message and sending a statement that is being read loud and clear by the protesters as well.
GROSS: If you were younger - you're in your 40s now. If you were in your teens or 20s, do you think you would be in the streets protesting?
MOORE: Absolutely. And I think that because the people that are protesting right now are protesting something that is completely justified and rational, right? I mean, they're protesting the fact that - you know, we can talk about and we can have conversations about what happened to George Floyd, but the reality is it's not just George Floyd. The reality is we still find ourselves in situations that, whether it is George Floyd or whether it was Breonna Taylor or whether it was Freddie Gray or whether it was Tamir Rice or whether it was Walter Scott or whether it was Eric Garner, this continues to happen without any form of accountability, without any form of transparency about a process about how people are going to be held to account for what happened in these deaths. I also think that when you're coming on the heels of what we're seeing in COVID-19, when you're coming on the heels of what we're seeing in terms of this massive and, frankly, this exacerbated level of disparity that the first part of this year has really shown us, you see and you understand how this frustration, on so many levels, continues to boil over.
And so while I share the calls for peace, I do think it's important for people to wonder and to ask the question, but where is our - where's our collective pain supposed to go when there still is no justice? That's the tension that we're seeing right now on the streets.
GROSS: When protesters chant, no justice, no peace, or, say their name, one of the people they're thinking of is Freddie Gray, who you just wrote a book about. Let's talk a little bit about the case of Freddie Gray and the lessons that it has for the protests now and for the situation we're in now. Let's start with, like, a brief recap of how Freddie Gray died, what we know about how Freddie Gray died.
MOORE: Yeah. So what we know about how Freddie Gray died is on April 12 of 2015, Freddie made eye contact - he and another man made eye contact with police. And then a few minutes later, he was caught and arrested at the 1700 block of Presbury Street over in West Baltimore. And a few minutes later, he - a van was requested. He was put into leg irons and placed into the back of the van. An hour after he was placed in the back of that van, after, you know, hearing calls for patient care, he was then sent to Shock Trauma at the University of Maryland Medical Center and was actually - they found that he was in a coma. A day later, he went - he underwent double surgery at Shock Trauma, and it was determined that he had three broken vertebrae and an injured voice box all from that arrest. Days later, he remained in a coma. And on April 19 of 2015 at 7 o'clock in the morning, he was declared dead.
GROSS: Why was he taken into custody?
MOORE: He was taken into custody because after making eye contact with police, he ran. And when the police chased him - and, you know, usually, some people might say, well, what's - I mean, making eye contact is a crime? Well, actually, at that time, making eye contact with the police was enough of a justification for the police to chase you. The police chased him. Now, on - and on him, they found what they found to be a, quote-unquote, "illegal pocketknife" because it was larger than the certified allowable size when they actually caught him, patted him down and searched him. But that's why he was arrested - because he made eye contact with the police and ran.
GROSS: After his death, what were the protests like in Baltimore?
MOORE: You know, the protests were actually - were peaceful in Baltimore initially. I think once word began to spread that Freddie Gray first was in a coma. But then, specifically, once word spread that he had died, there were protests where you saw thousands of people marching the streets in Baltimore but, again, really, all peaceful protests and never really took a different type of turn. The only - the first time that you saw a different type of turn in the protest was actually on a Saturday evening, and that was a few days before his actual funeral.
And on that one, you saw where some of the protests turned into - there were, you know, violent interactions between some of the protesters and then also some of the people who were outside of Oriole stadium or (inaudible) park where a baseball game was being played. At that time, the Baltimore Orioles were playing the Boston Red Sox. And actually, during that game - the game was finishing up when some of the protests were taking place outside the stadium. And the people inside the stadium were asked to stay in the stadium just because they wanted to be able to clear the streets before everyone flooded out of the stadium to go back to their cars or go back to their homes.
The only other - the second time that we really saw violence erupt and the very serious violence that was really documented all over the world was the Monday, and that was the evening of Freddie Gray's funeral, where even on that day, you know, the family asked for peace and asked for no protesting that day because that was a day that they were going to lay Freddie - you know, lay Freddie to rest. But that was really the night that everything sparked off.
GROSS: And what happened then?
MOORE: What happened then was, a few hours after the funeral had ended, there - it started off to be a confrontation between - it really started off between police and students, where one of the larger high schools in West Baltimore - it's a school called Frederick Douglass High School; it's right across the street from Mondawmin Mall. Once the students were let out of school, there was - there were some confrontations between the students and the police. That was brewing for a while.
And then what ended up happening was, as that protest and as that interaction went and that's when it started becoming larger, at some point somebody made the decision to shut down the transportation assets leaving. So Mondawmin Mall, also, is one of the largest transportation hubs in Baltimore - some were buses, trains, et cetera. And then at that point, the kids couldn't leave. They couldn't get home because all the buses and everything else were canceled, and nothing was moving.
And so, really, what you had now was this much larger powder keg, where this very much became a bit of a ground zero where everything jumped off. And then for the remainder of that evening, you saw, you know, protests and violence that were taking place in different parts of the city until the point, at around 5 p.m., the state was declared a state of emergency, and the Guard actually started coming in later on that evening.
GROSS: The National Guard. How long did that kind of protest last?
MOORE: The main part of that protest was, really, that day. That was the most violence and, I think, the most destructive level of the day was that Monday night, and it really lasted all night long. And it was a really hard night because you saw how the pain was just being displayed, you know, and pushed all over during that time. And it was just heartache that came from a level and a history of not just overpolicing but inequitable policing. It was a history of levels of a lack of economic opportunity, a history of a complicity that there was a larger level that society felt and society was allowing. And so on that night was really the main night where we saw everything - just everything explode in the city of Baltimore.
GROSS: And what was the damage?
MOORE: The damage was - it was tens of millions of dollars of damage, initially, even on that night, where you saw places and buildings and historic landmarks up in flames, churches that were up in flames. You also saw a level of psychological damage, a level where - frankly, psychological damage that I think, in many ways, the city of Baltimore has still yet to heal from, where if you look at even the past five years that have taken place in the city of Baltimore, in just these past five years, there's just been a level of violence, where the homicide rate has been, you know, over 300 in the city of Baltimore.
You know, when you look at the size of Baltimore, it's making it the - literally, the most violent city in America right now, where we have had a level of mistrust that has been taking place amongst elected officials. And so you've seen how this has shown itself, not just in the initial damage of the - in terms of the quantifiable, measurable financial damage, but really how this has damaged the psyche of Baltimore for, really, a generation that has now felt the impact of this.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Wes Moore. His new book "Five Days" is about the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore five years ago. His neck was broken in police custody. He died a week later. The new book is about the five days of protests following his funeral. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MARVIN GAYE SONG, "INNER CITY BLUES (MAKE ME WANNA HOLLER)")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Wes Moore. He's written extensively about police abuse of black men and women and the lack of accountability. His new book "Five Days" is about the death of Freddie Gray. His neck was broken while in police custody in Baltimore five years ago. He died a week later. The book is about the five days of unrest that followed.
There's a sentence in your book "Five Days" that I want to read. This is after the protests and after the unrest and after the looting in Baltimore following Freddie Gray's death. And you write, (reading) It was hard to tell which of the wrecked stores and rowhouses had been looted or burned that week and which had been falling apart for decades.
What does that tell you about the sense of hopelessness in that community?
MOORE: What it's showing me is that the frustration that people are facing, it's multilayered. The frustration that that people are feeling is about much more than just a singular incident. It's about the conditions that people are being asked to endure. And I think our best way, our most deliberate way, our most focused way of being able to deal with that is being as intentional - as intentional - about the restructuring of our society, as we have seen this level of - this system-wide injustice that we're happened to encounter has been, in terms of creating these levels of disparity.
You know, when we're talking about, we can't tell the difference between a building that was burned after the unrest of Freddie Gray or a building that was burned after the unrest of the riots that took place after Dr. King's murder, versus a building that was just been - you know, just been vacant because it's been - it's dilapidated and it's been completely ignored, what does that say about our largest society?
And what does that say about our ability to be able to address human pain versus pacify it? And so I think it really does go back and highlight this bigger point in this bigger conversation about how we have to think bigger and holistically about what is being demanded and what is being asked, and then what exactly we have to do, individually and collectively, to be able to address that.
GROSS: So the psychological damage still exists. The anger still exists. You say the homicide rate is higher. In terms of the uprising or rioting - whatever word people choose to use - that followed Freddie Gray's death, that really exploded on that night that you were describing, how did it stop? What quieted things down?
MOORE: So it was interesting because I think there were a few things that I think had a significant impact. One, though, was - the morning on - the Friday morning after the unrest that took place on Monday - was when our state's attorney - at that time, she was a brand-new state's attorney. She was there for, I think, three months. Marilyn Mosby came down and announced that there were charges that were going to be filed against all six of the officers. And I remember being in Baltimore and feeling just this - there was a euphoria in the streets, because I think part of the frustration that people were feeling all that time, it wasn't just what happened to Freddie.
It just wasn't the fact that you had a 25-year-old young man who makes eye contact with police and gets arrested and an hour later he's in a coma, but it was this feeling amongst many Baltimoreans that there was going to be no accountability, that there was going to be - that no one was going to be held, you know, down to be responsible for this, because that was, oftentimes, the history of what ended up happening.
Where even if you look at - if you look at just the 24 months before Freddie Gray, there was Tyrone West and there was Chris Brown and there was Anthony Anderson. So you had names of people, where you saw this long line of people who had similar situations as Freddie - unarmed or people who, you know, where what happened to them was nowhere near equal to the threat that was posed, that found themselves dying in police custody. And nobody was convicted for those crimes. No one was indicted for those crimes. There were some financial payouts, but that was it.
And so I think for many people in Baltimore, they just assumed that that was going to be the case with Freddie Gray. And so when the state's attorney actually announced charges against the officers, it didn't just, you know, I think, take a lot of air out of the protest - in fact, many of the protests that were planned for the next day were actually canceled after those charges were filed. I think, for many Baltimoreans, there was this sense of hope that there could be this level of accountability for improper police action.
Now we know, fast-forward, as you mentioned, you know, earlier, Terry, there were no convictions for any of the officers on that. But I do think that that moment, that time when she announced those charges, something changed in Baltimore. And hope for a measure of accountability for improper police action, I think, really filled the air.
GROSS: And a sense that people hear us, we're being heard?
MOORE: That's exactly right. That what we are screaming about is not just simply going to be dismissed as hyperbole or exaggeration, where oftentimes the idea is when people hear about levels of misconduct or improper interactions with law enforcement, the first immediate reaction is, to the person, is to say, well, what did you do? Or how did you provoke it? Or where there's a blaming of the individual that oftentimes take place. Or in other cases that we've seen as well, there is the, well, let's - now we want to learn about their backstory. Or, you know, did they have something in their system? - or whatever the case is.
And we see this repeatedly, especially when it comes to cases, you know, of policing and policing challenges within our society. And so when those charges were announced, it was very much a case where, I think, for many of the protesters and many of the people in Baltimore, it was very much a feeling of, we're seen and we're heard. And we're not being dismissed. And these aren't just being played off as exaggerations.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Wes Moore. His new book, "Five Days," is about Freddie Gray, whose neck was broken in police custody and died a week later. The book is about the five days of protests following his funeral. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF J.A.C REDFORD, CARL ALLEN, KENNY KIRKLAND, REGINALD VEAL, JOE HENDERSON AND TERENCE BLANCHARD'S "CLOCKERS (1995)")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with West Moore. He's written extensively about police abuse of black men and women and the lack of accountability. His new book "Five Days" is about the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore five years ago, whose neck was broken while in police custody. He died a week later. The book is about the five days of protests and unrest following his funeral.
Moore is now CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, a poverty-fighting organization funding schools, food pantries and shelter in New York City and other places around the country. He's also the author of the bestseller "The Other West Moore," about a man who grew up a few blocks away from Moore with the same name in similar circumstances, but the other Wes Moore is serving a life sentence for murder. My guest Wes Moore says that fate could have been his.
So as you've said, the unrest quieted down, protests were canceled, after the state prosecutor said that she would take action and that these officers would be held accountable. There were six officers involved with the arrest and - of Freddie Gray. Three were tried. There were no convictions. The charges were dropped against the other three. How did we get from they will be held accountable to there were no convictions?
MOORE: You know, I think this has always been one of the - you know, one of the big debates that's taking place and, frankly, I think something that Attorney General Ellison is probably thinking through when it comes to how to determine the fate of not just this one officer but potentially these other officers as well, is how do you come up with charges that are not going to be deemed as, quote-unquote, overcharging?
Because that has always been part of a conversation and part of a debate around what happened with Freddie Gray, where - when state's attorney Mosby put together the charging list of the items, you know, to include depraved-heart murder, the question for some people was, could you actually get a conviction with the evidence that you had on that charge, or should you have gone for a lower charge?
And it's a very delicate balance, right? Because I think one thing we're even seeing in Minnesota right now, where part of the argument and part of the protest is that the initial charges that were made against the officer of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, part of the argument and part of the anger it's fueling is they're saying that's undercharging.
But how do you - so but what then becomes the right charge that you can put in a case like this that can both show the community that the seriousness of the issue is being taken but, at the same time, is really moving towards this level of being able to secure a conviction that the community demands as well,
GROSS: So in the case of George Floyd, do you think the reason why the charges are manslaughter and third-degree murder are to have lesser charges so that there's more likely to be a conviction? Or do you think that the lesser charges are the - because the prosecutor doesn't think there's a greater crime than that?
MOORE: Well, the honest answer is - I think for all of us is we don't know yet. I think it was important for - I think one thing that they wanted to make a point of doing is quickly - by being able to issue charges because you can always add charges to a case as you're then going and fulfilling a case. So I think that they felt it was probably important to be able to get charges out there because that's also the thing that both secures the - you know, the arrest and holding.
But the honest answer is and I think the honest answer for any of us right now is we just don't know. And especially how they were thinking about whether or not there was a plan to add additional charges or whether they thought that the highest charge that they could actually get a conviction on were his third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
GROSS: Did any reforms come out of the Freddie Gray story and the protests surrounding his death?
MOORE: Certain reforms did come out, and I think - and certain reforms have been helpful. For example, things like body cameras, that officers have to wear body cameras now. That came out of everything that has happened, you know, everything that happened with Freddie Gray.
In addition to that, what Freddie Gray did, it prompted an investigation and an investigation by the Department of Justice, where Baltimore was actually put under a consent decree. And, really, what the investigation and the consent decree unfolded was that Baltimore has a history and a pattern of systemically racist police practices.
And so it was something that was well-documented. It was something that we now had - you know, the federal government was now saying that there is - you know, very similar with what happened, what they pulled together with in Ferguson - that there is something that has to be addressed. And there were both recommendations and pieces that were put in place in response to the consent decree that we then had to - you know, had to then follow. The complication, though, became twofold. One, the complication was, as the new administration came on board, the consent decree was pulled back. And so you've seen an uneven application to how people and the seriousness people are taking the consent decree.
I think the second piece of complication was the fact that - you know, the fact that we have now seen a spike-up within violence and, you know, violent charges within Baltimore. And part of the reason and part of the idea that many people believe is the case is because you now have officers who are just not engaging with the same level of intensity, where you have officers who are, you know, basically saying that, you know, I'm not going to go and, you know, go after things that I know could be more complicated. Or if I see something taking place in the street, I'm not going to be as aggressive going in because if I now feel that I'm going to get charged or I could potentially get charged, then I will just sit tight.
And so, you know, one thing that's come out - and you've even seen officers and police commissioners talk about this - is this balance of being able to do your job with accountability but not necessarily thinking that just sitting on your hands is the way you're going to be able to address the level of policing needs that our society feels it needs as well.
GROSS: What's being done to address that and to talk to police officers about that?
MOORE: I think, you know, we actually have a commissioner now also who I think has been very aggressive in terms of how to retrain police officers, how to go about individual accountability for officers. But one thing that I think becomes incredibly important in not just the case in Baltimore but even what we're seeing, you know, in Minnesota and other areas is the conversation oftentimes delves into bad apples versus good apples. The thing I think we saw in Baltimore - and I think it's a complete correlation between what we're seeing in Minnesota - is it's impossible to have a conversation about good apples and bad apples if we're not talking about systems. It's systems that continue to be put in place that allow measures of inequitable policing. It's systems that are in place that don't allow for measures of accountability and where we can put things like civilian review boards in place.
Where we can have - where we can think about. Why do officers have a longer time to be able to both turn themselves in and also prepare statements when these incidents happen than a traditional citizen might have? And so this is not just about good apples versus bad apples. You know, all of us completely acknowledge that there are some absolutely remarkable officers that we have on the force, people who are committing their lives and dedicating their lives and risking their lives for the idea of public safety. We also know that we want good people to be able to perform in good systems. And that's where the adjustment needs to happen.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you. If you're just joining us, my guest is Wes Moore. His new book, "Five Days," is about the death of Freddie Gray. While in police custody, his neck was broken. He died a week later. The book is about the five days of unrest following his funeral. We'll be right back after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: Let's get back to my interview with Wes Moore. He's written extensively about police abuse of black men and women and the lack of accountability. His new book, "Five Days," is about the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore five years ago. His neck was broken while in police custody. He died a week later. The book is about the five days of unrest that followed.
What are some of the systemic changes you think we need to see that also apply to the protests that we're seeing now around George Floyd's death?
MOORE: So I think we have to look at a lot of basic elements of things that people are responsible for in society but that we don't have the same level of responsibility or accountability for when it comes to law enforcement. So, for example, you know, what is the timing requirement that people have when it comes to being able to pull together statements and to be able to actually turn, you know, turn those statements in? The reason is is that you - the longer period of time that you have, the more time you have for corroboration and being able to pull stories together versus being able to put down what you know to be the truth at that exact moment.
You know, a second thing is, you know, there is a law, for example, called felony murder. And the way felony murder works - and, in fact, Wes from - the other Wes Moore - he actually was convicted of felony murder. And the way felony murder works is that when a murder happens, that the people who were accomplices in it, regardless of what your role was, even if you were not the person that actually took the life of somebody else, you can be held not just accountable but actually end up receiving a similar type of sentence.
We have to really think hard about this idea of toleration that then takes place. You know, for nine minutes, that officer had his knee on a grown man's neck while he was screaming for his life, while he was saying that he couldn't breathe, to the point that some of the last moments that he had on this earth was a 46-year-old man calling for his mother who died two years ago. And at no point did any of the officers go and say to that one officer, that's enough or ease up or, hey, I got it from here. Go take a walk. I got it.
And so there needs to be a level of accountability that people have for each other. There needs to be a level of accountability that individuals have for the people they're working with, particularly when these type of actions are taking place because if there is a level of accountability that people have, and they know that I will be held responsible for the actions of the people around me, then my actions are going to be different. And so when we're thinking about the type of reforms that are going to and need to and should take place, you know, we know that when it comes to specifically on the policing side, these are some of the actions and some of the things that we have to really think hard and really think critically about.
GROSS: I just want to ask you about this. One of things that really strikes me when I see the video of Derek Chauvin, the officer who had his knee on George Floyd's neck, one of Chauvin's hands was in his pocket. It's hard to say, oh, I really need to restrain him by having my knee on his neck if your hand is in your pocket. So I don't know if that's going to figure into the charges against him or not. But I just think that's - that has to be a telling detail.
MOORE: It's almost - it almost feels and looks just nonchalant.
MOORE: Like - there - just no - there - what - there's no struggle. There's not a, you know, there's not like a - it was brutal. Your hand is in your pocket. I've never had a struggle in my life where my hand - where I had one hand in my pocket. So I think you're absolutely right that I think that that is something - that detail, that one detail alone is something that I think struck everybody who watched that video and everybody who saw pictures of it was there was a man - and at some some points with multiple grown men on him - and with the one who had - with his knee on his neck had his hand in his pocket.
GROSS: Getting back to systemic issues within police accountability, what are a couple of the reasons why it's so difficult to get convictions against police officers when somebody's death is involved?
MOORE: Well, I think part of it is because the rules have been written and constructed to be able to support law enforcement. And I completely understand it because when you're talking about law enforcement or first responders of other types, you're talking about people who, every day, are risking their life for the public safety. You're talking about people who constitutionally are there and sworn to protect and to serve. And I think there is a level of courtesy when it comes to the legal structure that historically has been in place and historically has been there to be able to allow that level of flexibility.
We saw the same thing in the military, where, you know, we fall under what is called, you know, the UCMJ - the Uniform Code of Military Justice. And what that was is there was a set of laws and a set of rules that we had to respond to, that we understood. But we knew that the UCMJ was going to be in place for accountability, yes. But it's a different type of accountability because there was an understanding of the job that we were performing. And it was a different level of accountability because the jobs we were - the jobs we were asked to do. And so I think that's why you have that historical piece that goes into it.
I think one of the other complicating things that we see within this case - and we've seen in many of the past cases - is that we're also asking the officers to, you know - and why you have, I think, that different level of transparency is you're asking the officers to perform difficult tasks when it comes to your asking officers to, oftentimes, police situations and police systems and police communities that, even if they're not responsible for, they then know that part of their job is to maintain a level of order, when other policies that we have in place that are dealing with issues of everything from economic inequality to health disparities, et cetera, are naturally improper orders as well. And so I think that's the history of it. And that's why many of those laws and those fixtures still exist to this day.
GROSS: How do you think the outcome of the Freddie Gray story, with none of the six officers convicted and with three officers that weren't even - you know, the charges were dropped. How do you think the outcome affected subsequent protests, including the protest against George Floyd's death?
MOORE: I think it impacted it in one way, where, I think, for the protesters who, you know, were paying attention, they realized that the indictment wasn't enough. The arrest wasn't enough. You know, it's interesting because you saw how, in Freddie Gray's case, when State's Attorney Mosby made that announcement, it really did take the temperature down, you know, significantly in Baltimore, where I think there was a sense of hope that justice will be served. The indictments and the charges against, you know, the initial - you know, Officer Chauvin in Minnesota, those came relatively quickly, particularly when you're looking at cases of improper police conduct.
Usually, that takes a much, much, much longer time. Those were actually some historically fast charges that were placed against him. But I think that just the indictment isn't enough. Just the charges aren't enough. And I think one of the lessons learned from Freddie Gray was, actually, that, was the protests were happening and would continue to happen because that - just the charters on that one officer, that wasn't going to be enough because that didn't equate to justice in that way.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Wes Moore. His new book, "Five Days," is about the death of Freddie Gray. Gray's neck was broken in police custody. He died a week later. The book is about the five days of unrest following his funeral. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Wes Moore. He's written extensively about police abuse of black men and women and the lack of accountability. His new book, "Five Days," is about the death of Freddie Gray, whose neck was broken while in police custody in Baltimore five years ago. He died a week later.
I think when we see large protests against the death of black men and women at the hands of police, that the protests have several goals - one is to protest the death, one is to demand accountability, one is to express anger, but I think one is also to try to raise consciousness and say, look at this. This matters. This happened. Pay attention. These things should not happen.
In the case of Freddie Gray, do you think any minds were changed by the protests? And you profile several people and what their role was and how they responded during the course of those five days. Did you find people whose minds were really changed by the protests?
MOORE: Yeah. I think one of the fascinating things for me about the experience of writing "Five Days" was, you know, I was having so many conversations with people all over Baltimore. And I was doing that while I was trying to process in my own mind what had just happened. And I also understood, when looking at this issue, that it wasn't just about Freddie's death. It was also about Freddie's life and the issue of poverty, the issue of systemic racism, the issue of inequitable economic opportunities within communities was so stark and also created an environment that was so ripe for this type of explosion that took place.
If you look at the case of Freddie Gray alone, you know, Freddie Gray was born months premature, born underweight, born addicted to heroin. His mother never made it to high school and had battled addiction much of her life. When Freddie Gray finally gained enough weight to be able to leave the hospital, he and his twin sister, they moved into a housing project in North Carey Street over in West Baltimore. In 2009, that house along with 400 others were involved in a civil suit because of the endemic levels of lead that was inside that house. The CDC indicates that if a person has 6 milliliters of every deciliter of lead in their blood, then that person will have cognitive damage, lasting cognitive damage. Freddie Gray had 36.
And so this is a person who was born underweight, premature, addicted to heroin, lead poisoned. And at this time in Freddie's life, he's 2 years old. And so we have to be able to address this level of inequitable policing that takes place in our societies and the lack of accountability that takes place when improper actions happen. We also have to deal with the underlying conditions that our citizens and, oftentimes, our citizens of color are repeatedly being allowed and being forced to endure. And if we don't address both those two things together, we will continue just having to deal with the pain of the consequence of the one.
GROSS: Are you saying that you think Freddie Gray's life was kind of preordained by the time he was 2?
MOORE: I think Freddie Gray - before Freddie Gray actually died, before Freddie Gray went into police custody and ended up in a coma, Freddie Gray could have died a hundred times before. We are - you know, we have to - if we permit these tragedies to recede from our memory, we will risk the opportunity to change the systems that are ultimately responsible for all of these injustices.
And so when you're looking at a life like Freddie Gray - and it's one of these things, when people tell me - they're like, well, people in poverty should just work harder, how hard would Freddie had to have worked? This idea that poverty is somehow a mechanism of hard work - not only is there no data that reinforces that, it's incredibly offensive to fact. It's incredibly offensive when you consider the fact that when we think about, you know, that for 22% of people that have lost their jobs during this COVID-19 crisis, they were already living in poverty. So think of what that means. That's the working poor, people who have jobs and are still living in poverty.
And so when we're talking about this idea of how do we move forward from this, we have to understand that this collective pursuit of justice, it has to be as aggressive and intentional as the systemwide injustice that we now encounter. And so justice cannot just mean how are we thinking about accountability for four officers, or how are we thinking about a reformation of a police system? That's part of it. That's part of the justice that is being sought.
But the justice that's also being sought must be an economic justice. It must be health justice. It must be housing justice. It's looking at justice at every single frame because what we're seeing in these cases, it's - we're watching all these various systems and the brokenness of the systems then have a confluence that then has destructive consequences on everything that takes place.
GROSS: Wes Moore, thank you so much for talking with us. And stay safe. Stay well. Be well.
MOORE: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
GROSS: Wes Moore is the author of the new book "Five Days," about Freddie Gray and the five days of protest following his funeral. We recorded our interview yesterday.
Many critics of President Trump see his threat to send in the military as a dramatic move toward authoritarianism. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, we'll talk with Anne Applebaum, who's been writing about the move toward authoritarianism in Europe and the U.S. and is the author of the forthcoming book "Twilight Of Democracy." Her new article in The Atlantic is titled "History Will Judge The Complicit: Why Have Republican Leaders Abandoned Their Principles In Support Of An Immoral And Dangerous President?" I hope you'll join us.
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GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering from Mike Villers. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelly and Joel Wolfram. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.
[POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: In this broadcast, we say Derek Chauvin had his hand in his pocket while he knelt on George Floyd's neck. It is not clear on the video whether that was the case.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.