Philadelphians Know All About Police Murder by Van Ride
Philadelphians don’t have any problem figuring out what happened to Freddie Gray, the 25-year old black man who died as a result of a severed spine at the neck while being transported in a police van by Baltimore Police, after being picked up on a trumped up charge when he ran away from two bicycle cops.
Here in Philadelphia, Police have long enjoyed giving arrested men who mouth off to them during arrests what is known fondly in the department as a “nickel ride.” That’s where they put their captive in the back of the van, hands bound behind his back so he cannot hold on to anything or protect himself, and otherwise unrestrained. Then the driver of the vehicle accelerates repeatedly, whips around corners and periodically slams on the brakes, causing the helpless captive in the back to slam against various parts of the vehicle, often with his head.
Back in 2001, an investigative journalism series run by the Philadelphia Inquirer exposed the practice, which had led to numerous injuries of arrested people, and to secret payouts by the department to some of those most grievously injured, including one man who was paralyzed from the neck down by a spinal injury similar to that suffered by Gray. The victim, permanently disabled, received a payment of $1.2 million, the newspaper reported.
The Inquirer exposé led to calls for a halt to the criminal practice, but a 2013 article in the same publication reported that police were back at it again. It cited at least three serious incidents that had led to a lawsuit against the department. One of those victims, 31-year-old Ryan Roberts, a burglary suspect, was delivered to the hospital with injuries all over his body, including to the back of his head. He died later. Though the cause of death was listed by the hospital as “cocaine intoxication,” the lawsuit alleges that he actually died of his injuries, sustained in the van ride, when he was left unrestrained in the back of the vehicle.
In the current Baltimore case, a lawyer hired by Gray’s family says that though he was dragged, unresisting, into the van at the time police picked him up, and was yelling at the cops holding him, when he arrived at the hospital, he was immobile and his spine was “80-percent severed” at the neck. That’s the kind of injury that is hard to cause without a brutal amount of force -- the kind of thing that could only be delivered by a deliberate twisting of the neck, or by the body being rammed against an immovable object -- exactly the kind of thing that happened all too often in those Philadelphia Police van “nickel rides.”