On April 12, 2015, 25-year-old Freddie Gray was arrested by Baltimore police in a seemingly routine stop. However, along the way to the police department, currently unknown events transpired resulting in a fatal spinal cord injury for Gray; he died a week later.

Following the deaths last year of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, and more recently in the fatal shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina last month, Freddie Gray’s death adds to the list of young black men dying after seemingly routine encounters with police.

In turn, a massive riot erupted in Baltimore following Gray’s funeral this week on April 27; by the following morning 19 members of law enforcement had been injured, 144 vehicles had been destroyed, 15 buildings had been looted and set ablaze and over 200 arrests performed.

If violent events such as the Baltimore riots can happen in our country in 2015, it is painfully clear that there is something deeply wrong with how our criminal justice system has approached race relations and systems of incarceration.

Specifically, we as Americans must confront the fact that we live in a nation with the highest incarceration rate in the world, with minorities being proportionally over-represented and making up a majority of our inmates.

With laws designed to distribute lengthy prison sentences for comparatively minor crimes, this system of mass incarceration in turn harms minority populations more vulnerable to crime. With inner-city communities such as Baltimore having histories of racial segregation, mistrust of police and a profound lack of opportunity, reducing minimum sentencing for low-level offenders is imperative to healing the divide between minority communities and law enforcement.

Furthermore, increasing state and federal funding for equipment such as police body cameras will aid in restoring trust in the law enforcement officers who patrol such minority communities. In the cases of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray, all protests and unrest centered around a lack of information on the deaths and a reluctance by law enforcement to disclose such information; body cameras remove any unknowns from the equation and create transparency between officers and the public they serve.

In order to prevent riots like in Baltimore from repeating, minority communities and law enforcement must work together to end mass incarceration and to establish greater trust.

Following the riots earlier in the week, a curfew has been established in Baltimore, protests have been relatively peaceful and local police have maintained restraint in the use of force. Despite violence inflicted against fellow officers and to property by individuals seeking to capitalize on recent unrest, both Baltimore police and members of the community have stepped forward in full faith to create peace in the community.

It is now up to policy makers to do their part in healing race relations with law enforcement by working to end the mass incarceration and mistrust that currently characterizes our criminal justice system.

The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.

Contact Michael Peterson at torchnews@valpo.edu.


Cultural revolution or mere attempts at shock and awe? That is the question plaguing the city of Baltimore.

It is safe to say that the actions of those rioting on the streets and looting the city’s stores and businesses are deplorable. And it is also true that those men and women are the ones being shown in our newspapers and on our televisions around the country. However, the images and actions of those standing up for justice, true justice, are the ones being over-shadowed by the criminal masses.

Leading up to the violence, there were hundreds (if not thousands) of protesters who expressed legitimate concern over what happened to Freddie Gray. The call for justice is a reasonable response and an appropriate action. But rioting in one’s own community done simply to shock the conscience is never a rational response.

Rioting advances a constant cycle of violence. If the police feel threatened by the actions of the public, it is reasonable to see that they may take more drastic steps in order to ensure criminals and suspects are kept off the street. It may also lead to officers not trusting the public they are sworn to protect, which in turn leads to more violence.

When the public is given reason to not trust the police and the police are given reason to not trust the public, no one wins. But intentionally trying to harm officers, looting businesses and setting fires is not the way to bring about change.

Think back to the history of our great nation and recall the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While there is no doubt about the magnitude of that tragedy, consider the repercussions of the days following. Washington DC, Baltimore, Louisville, Kansas City, Chicago and Detroit all burned in violent protest. But cities like Indianapolis, New York and Los Angeles were silent, instead bringing communities together to remember what Dr. King stood for and hoped to change.

The actions of those peacefully protesting in Baltimore are going to be trumped by the actions of those who choose to break the law under troubling circumstances. But would anyone say the peaceful actions were without merit? Absolutely not. Those using Gray’s death to invite change are the ones who should be celebrated. It is unfortunate they are not given the microphone.

There is a threat of disillusion and divisiveness at Gray's death, and we must be reminded of Dr. King's efforts to “replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.”

As Robert Kennedy told the crowd in Indianapolis the night of Dr. King’s death, “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

Truer words could not be spoken today.

The views expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Torch.

Contact Alexandrea Griffin at torchnews@valpo.edu.

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