BALTIMORE (USA Today) – Lifelong Baltimore resident Shawny Reese didn’t know Freddie “Pepper” Gray and doesn’t know for sure why he ran when he saw police, but she wasn’t surprised.
“I grew up in the hood,” Reese said, referring to the poverty-stricken West Baltimore neighborhood that has become an epicenter this week for protests against police violence. “When police come up, everybody runs. It’s the culture. We know how they do business.”
Gray, 25, died April 19, a week after his arrest, of a severe spinal injury. City officials who are investigating his death have promised a report on Friday. Police had previously arrested Gray, who grew up in Sandtown-Winchester, an economically depressed area beset by gang violence, for drug possession and drug dealing. This time when police arrested him after a short chase, they found no drugs – just a switchblade in his pocket.
The predominantly black neighborhoods that lie west of Baltimore’s historic, gentrified downtown are crumbling jumbles of public housing and formstone brick row houses with concrete stoops. Whole blocks of the row houses are vacant, boarded up and decaying. Kids romp in ramshackle playgrounds overgrown with weeds and teens play basketball on cracked concrete courts surrounded by rusted chain-link fences. Storefront churches, liquor stores and take-out Chinese and fried chicken outlets where cashiers labor behind bullet-proof plexiglass dominate commercial life.