Justice For Freddie Gray: Unpacking The Spinal Cord Injury

Photograph by Devin Allen.

On April 12th, 27 year young Freddie Gray was arrested in Baltimore. A week later, on April 19th he died due to a spinal cord injury suffered while in police custody. This past Monday, April 27th, family, friends, and others gathered for his funeral. In the blink of an eye, he was gone. It is clear to me that the cause of Gray’s death, like so many of our brothers and sisters is rooted in systemic racism. It angers and saddens me everyday to see this pattern of violence (or any patterns of violence) play out on the lives of young people of color, as it too often does. I had to find a way to transform my feelings, and decided to take a closer look. As a practitioner and student of the healing arts, the medical details of this case are intriguing. I watched (and listened to) the videos to try to understand first-hand what may have caused Gray’s severe injury, which at this point is still very vague. There are a few facts that come to light:

  1. Freddie Gray was running (seemingly without pain) right before he was surrounded by the two police on bike who held him face down (for at least 2 minutes) while they waited for the holding van to arrive.
  2. Residents who captured video footage provide some clues as to how he may have been initially injured: His body was prone (belly to ground) on concrete, and his legs were bent at the knee so much so that his heels were made to touch his buttocks.
  3. At some point his neck and upper back may have also been held down with some type of force (usually a knee), which heightens the opportunity for injury to occur at both the lower and upper body.
  4. The same footage clearly shows that he could not hold himself up. You can hear him screaming. He was most likely in pain, and he could not walk.
  5. His head was leaning to the left in a fixed, or forced position. This can be seen when there is the presence of a pathology, which may be as serious as a fracture to the cervical spine. One of the lawyers for Gray’s family said his spine was 80% severed at the neck.
  6. There was an approximate hour difference between when the arrest took place, and when the van arrived at its final destination. In that time, three additional stops were made. Freddie Gray was not safely secured in a seat belt.
  7. Baltimore police failed to provide proper, and timely medical care to Freddie Gray, which he had requested repeatedly.

Even though I have watched, listened, and read the details of this ‘incident’ over and over, there is so much of the story that I… we just don’t know. We will never really know, unless the police officers that held him down, and those who transported him start to get real about how they played a part in the situation. Their actions may have initiated and/or exacerbated Gray’s spinal injury, which, when left untreated, is commonly fatal.

If you are a healing arts practitioner, and care to put in your two cents, please do so in the comments. I would love to hear (and learn) from you. In Solidarity, Christian


Credits: Photograph / Devin Allen. See more of Allen’s work on Instagram @bydvnlln // All opinions are my own.

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