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When True Crime Meets Police Brutality

Updated: Dec 17, 2023

In August 2022, Skyhorse/Arcade published my book,

"They Killed Freddie Gray: The Anatomy of a Police Brutality Cover-Up," and I promoted it on September 12, 2023 at Books & Books in Coral Gables. I was joined by a panel of journalists to discuss how the media covers police brutality and what it often gets wrong.

This book represents years of work and a long journey towards overcoming entrenched mythology. In 2016, I was asked to help look into the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody for a possible podcast by some producers with the "Undisclosed" podcast, a true crime wrongful conviction series. I was partnered with an investigative journalist, Amelia McDonell-Parry. I was a film/TV writer and storyteller and had been blogging about true crime, my obsession at the time. I also did research and writing for criminal justice nonprofits, so I had some knowledge of systemic injustices. But I had never tried to tell investigate story of a murder, and Amelia was intent on solving it. I also hadn't lived in Baltimore since college.

We got pretty far in our investigation, figuring out a likely cause of death for Gray that was never shared with the public, even after four trials of the officers involved in his arrest. We put together what happened based around a witness statement and two witnesses backing her up. It was the only story that made sense of all of the evidence but, again, it seemed like a fringe theory to outsiders. Our podcast didn't impact the public as much as we had wished, for a lot of reasons, including a media climate in Balitmore that was resistant to new voices or theories that didn't support the police narrative.

Over the years that followed, more evidence was made public, while the media had moved on. Then, in 2020, I came into a goldmine of missing evidence that was never meant to see the light of day. It not only confirmed our podcast theories but revealed how much officials knew from very early on about Freddie Gray being abused by police and kept from the public, while spinning an elaborate story of him being fatally injured while the van was in motion from not being seatbelted.

I started working on the book in 2021 and finally it was published this last month. It's a dramatic retelling of a story that became media canon, and it disrupts every part of the popular narrative. My book is a classic true crime story in many ways, with the unique twist that it's a case of a police killing. I had a couple of legal threats while working on it, as I was going to be exposing a lot of powerful people. That didn't scare me. Mostly, I was worried that I wouldn't have any impact and the public would continue believing a lie. Thankfully, I have gotten some press. The work that Amelia and I started in 2016 wasn't in vain.

Justine Barron

Author, "They Killed Freddie Gray: The Anatomy of a Police Brutality Cover-Up," Skyhorse/Arcade Publishing, summer 2023.

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