Lights of Baltimore illuminates the milieu in which Freddie Gray died, documenting the prolonged impact of his death on his city and his country, and examining the social, political, and historical contexts that gave rise to the events which ended his life.
In 2015, an unarmed Black man named Freddie Gray died in police custody in Baltimore. The video of his arrest immediately circulated on social media and news networks, and the brutality displayed sparked a protest movement on the streets of Baltimore — variously referred to by different interests as "the uprising", "the unrest", or "the riots". Governor Larry Hogan called in the National Guard and declared a state of emergency, and Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore State's Attorney, charged six police officers in connection with Freddie Gray's death. But in the end, despite sufficient evidence to justify an indictment, juries returned no guilty verdicts.
Since those events, questions about the tactics and militarization of policing, possibilities of justice for marginalized communities, and Black civil rights continue to haunt the American psyche and stratify the notional social fabric. In 2015, President Barack Obama argued that these problems are an enduring part of American history, but just two years later his successor Donald Trump told police not to be "too nice" during exactly the kind of rough rides that led to Freddie Gray's death. In 2020, people across the United States rose up to protest police violence against Black Americans after the brutal murder of George Floyd, just as the residents of Baltimore had done after the death of Freddie Gray.
Over the past decades, new technologies have democratized citizens'
ability to record events on smartphones and upload to social media. But
new tech has also facilitated mass surveillance through CCTV cameras in
cities like Baltimore, and FBI drones deployed across the nation. A rich
literature on race, policing, and social justice continues to pour
forth. And yet deaths like Freddie Gray's and George Floyd's keep
happening with alarming regularity, as the nation seeks to reckon with —
or hide from — the legacy of racism and police brutality that continues
to haunt our communities.
With immersive detail and frank talk from community members, activists, academics, and police, Lights of Baltimore
explores discriminatory social policies, implicit bias, and mass surveillance, while celebrating the resilience of the people who knew Gray and the determined activism of the communities in which he shared. Far from being an isolated incident, Freddy Gray’s murder was rooted in a long history of racialized policing in Baltimore and the U.S. This film documents that history and lends an ear to Baltimore citizens’ search for a new way forward.
- Laurie Robinson, Professor of Criminology, Law and Society, George Mason University / Co-Chair, White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing
- Elizabeth Nix, Professor of History, University of Baltimore
- Kimberly Moffitt, Professor of History, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
- Catherine Rents, former investigative journalist, The Baltimore Sun
- Commissioner Kevin Davis, former head of Baltimore Police Department
- Chief Rodney Hill, former chief of Internal Affiars, Baltimore Police Department
- Marilyn Mosby, State's Attorney of Baltimore City
- Billy Murphy, Freddie Gray's family attorney
FILMMAKER'S STATEMENT: "Lights of Baltimore is the result of five years' questioning of a city I came to call home.
The film was made with little funding but great support. Making a documentary was an incredible journey, and I am grateful to my team, friends, mentors, supporters, but mostly the Baltimore communities who keep fighting and stay resilient despite all the challenges they face.
This documentary is my personal vision of a city that I hope the Baltimorean will recognize as their own. Perhaps those who have never been there will feel drawn to visit.
My hope is that stories of some of the people who are helping to build Baltimore's future will help audiences understand all that is at stake, deepening their empathy for those they think they already know and, more challenging still, developing empathy for those they did not previously understand."