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  • Writer's pictureJustine Barron

Publication of "They Killed Freddie Gray" book

And a goodbye to The Suiter Files (?)

On August 15, 2023, my new book on the Freddie Gray case will appear in bookstores and online. (Pre-orders available at Amazon or your favorite independent bookseller.) The book builds on the investigation that journalist Amelia McDonell-Parry and I started six years ago for the "Undisclosed," podcast but with mounds more evidence than we had at a the time.

Cover photo by Arielle DeFoor

Read an interview with the Baltimore Fishbowl about this book!

Click here for some positive advanced reviews (and event dates)! I will keep this page (and that page) updated with any media or additional dates. The book has photos from the case files and from Gray's friend. Legendary local photographer J.M.Giordano also donated some photos from the uprising.

As the promotional materials explain, this book offers enough evidence to "solve the mystery" of what happened to Freddie Gray in police custody in April 2015, a case that brought international media to Baltimore and set off an uprising.

At the time, officials told us that Gray was killed while the van transporting him was in motion, throwing him forward because he wasn't seat-belted. That was the case then-State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby presented in court when she prosecuted six officers in his death. But she failed to win any convictions. The judge said she offered no proof as to how Gray was killed.

There was also a viral video of Gray in apparent distress during his arrest, screaming and dragging his legs. There was the complicated story of the transport van making six stops during Gray's arrest, with another passenger being picked up. And rumors suggesting Gray caused his own death by hitting his head.

It was all a big messy mystery, not unlike the mystery of Detective Sean Suiter's death two years later. I've commented on specific similarities.

Police and prosecutors shared a lot of details with the public in the Freddie Gray case, but not the most important details. My book uncovers hundreds of pieces of evidence that were unreleased and/or under-examined, with the hope that I can change the historical record on this story. The new files provide evidence for Gray's cause of death happening at one of the other stops.

My book on the Freddie Gray case allowed me to dive deeper into some of the subjects I have covered on this website, including: Baltimore police corruption and the manipulation and burying of evidence; the money behind police reform; the reign of Marilyn Mosby; the demonization of Baltimore youth; and Baltimore media's role in perpetuating police lies and myths. Here's a sneak peak at the chapters of the book:

Roughly the first two-thirds of the book covers Freddie Gray's arrest and what really happened at the various stops. Officials lied about all six of them, to varying degrees. The last third of the book covers the various systems that should have properly investigated the case and held police accountable but instead contributed to the cover-up. Almost every chapter tells at least two stories at once: the chronological story and a broader story or two about what it all means in terms of criminal justice and society.

(If you do order the book, don't miss scanning the notes! Some of the mysteries in this case spill over into endnotes.)

Come see me and others discuss the book at a live event!

The Suiter files goes to sleep (but hopefully you don't)

I started The Suiter Files on the first anniversary of Detective Suiter's killing, feeling frustrated that local news outlets weren't, generally, holding the Baltimore Police Department and local officials accountable. The media was leaving key facts out of its stories about Suiter and other cases, often blindly following the police's various and shifting narratives. I was able to use The Suiter Files to give myself the gift of space to analyze to my heart's content complicated subjects and events in Baltimore criminal justice news.

I also used this space to break some stories. To be honest, for about six years, I struggled in Baltimore to find space for my stories in existing publications, with a few exceptions, like this story on policing sex work for the Baltimore Beat.

I want to share my challenges, because I want to highlight some issues in how the media works in Baltimore.

On this website, I broke two big local news stories involving former prosecutor and would-be politician Thiru Vignarajah. The first, in 2020, was about his behavior on body camera footage during a traffic stop. That became a national story. The second, in 2022, was about his harassment and abuse of staffers. That became a headline story in the Baltimore Sun. I shouldn't have had to publish those stories on my own website. I didn't mind the traffic to this site (though I never figured out how to profit off of clicks), but I should have had the benefit of a local media institution to protect me as a journalist, to get a bigger audience, and so on. Both stories were comprehensively and deeply reported, with hard evidence in the form of videos, text messages, phone logs, and more.

What happened with the 2022 story about Vignarajah's harassment and abuse of employees made it clear to me that I could never "win" at Baltimore journalism. Made aware that the story was coming out, Vignarajah threatened the news outlet, and they backed down, despite already having fact checked and approved the story. I struggled to find a home for it after that. Some outlets said they weren't interested, which is hard to believe given the clicks it generated. Vignarajah was running for office. Another outlet struggled to figure out if they had the capacity. The Baltimore Sun liked the story, of course, but wouldn't publish me, since I had criticized the outlet in the past. There was a lot more, and darker, that went on behind the scenes. It wasn't a safe situation.

The Baltimore Sun eventually did its own version of the Thiru Viganarjah harassment story, which was surprising, given its years of protecting him. One reporter, new in town, took it seriously. But then that story didn't get the attention or notice it deserved from other media outlets. And a year later, the Sun gave op-ed space to Vignarajah so that he could position himself as someone taking on predators.

There are big issues in Baltimore. It's not just about me.

The Vignarajah story wasn't a new experience for me. It had happened for years. It was easier for me to get a book published on the Freddie Gray case than to get a single Baltimore news outlet to look at new evidence in his death. (It was not easy to get a book published. It never is.)

I've heard this before. I've heard from some Baltimore journalists and writers—particularly non-white and non-cis male, independent, and politically aware—that they had tried repeatedly to get published in Baltimore. They found more success when they approached national outlets. I've heard from even more non-journalists that they had experienced police abuse, knew first-hand about corruption, and/or had hard evidence and couldn't get local reporters to care.

There is an acute pain associated with knowing the truth about a subject and seeing it misrepresented in the media. I want to encourage other writers and investigators in Baltimore to publish their own work and not take the local gatekeeping personally. Do yourself and others a favor and express what you know, somewhere and somehow. It's not expensive, and, if you can figure it out, you can post ads. There are also free platforms. My work on this outlet demonstrates that people will be interested and read your work, sometimes thousands or tens of thousands.

I have been investigating and writing about Baltimore issues less and less in the last two years. I've mostly written about stories I already reported on, when there were developments. The pandemic has shifted my priorities, and I no longer have the stamina for how difficult it is to break through the media gatekeepers. The two big outlets in town, the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Banner, also have so many new reporters, It's hard to keep up, though I still see a lot of the same issues. The climate has changed in terms of local activism in some ways. The environment before the pandemic created more dialogue around local issues with policing. I also had to leave Baltimore for personal reasons and haven't been able to move back. I likely won't. That's the biggest reason.

This site will stay up. I still have new readers to my stories constantly, especially on Vignarajah and Sean Suiter. (And, for some strange reason, people are constantly reading this minor story about the Baltimore Police organizational chart years later, which I assumed nobody would read. I'm confused about that. Please explain.) A Baltimore story might call me back to publish here.

If you've been subscribing here, consider joining me at my new site. I will be sharing more of my thoughts on a new Substack column called "Criminalizing Disability." It will be about both exactly what it states—how disability is criminalized—and a broader or more subtle interpretation of that title. It will be about the criminal justice system but nationally, not just in Baltimore. Either way, it's where I will be focusing my independent energy. Thank you so much for indulging me for the last five years!


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