Court papers from a 2008 lawsuit filed on behalf of Freddie Gray Jr.--whose death while in police custody helped lead to protests and store lootings in Baltimore--as well as two of his sisters described a troubled childhood. In addition to growing up in poverty, frequent moves, and a mother with a drug problem—the walls and windowsills in one of Gray's childhood homes "contained enough lead to poison the children and leave them incapable of leading functional lives," according to the Washington Post.
Lead-paint lawsuits are common in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester. Gray was living off settlement payments from the lawsuit, which are known as "lead checks."
The lawsuit was filed against Stanley Rochkind, the owner of a home Gray's family rented for four years. Rochkind also owned hundreds of other rentals in Baltimore and has been involved in multiple lead-paint lawsuits.
ThinkProgress reports that tests conducted in the 1990s revealed levels of lead in Gray's blood were "nearly double that of what the state of Maryland defines as the minimum for lead poisoning."
"This is the toxic legacy of lead-based paint," Ruth Ann Norton, head of the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative and a founding member of the Maryland Lead Poisoning Prevention Commission, told the Baltimore Sun. "Our kids are ill equipped to stay in the classroom, finish school. They're very unlikely to go on to higher education. They're less likely to be able to hold a job," she said. "They're less equipped to be able to overcome the poverty and other circumstances that pull them down. Children with lead poisoning will have defects, regardless of whether their parents are 'nice' or not," Norton said.
Gray died on April 19 from a severe spine injury a week after a chase on foot and subsequent arrest by Baltimore Police. He was arrested for possession of a switchblade after he took off running while police were on a drug patrol.
"According to Gray's family his spine was severed 80% at his neck, three vertebrae were fractured and his larynx was injured," the Daily Mail's Sean O'Hare writes. "Exactly how he came to suffer the injury to his spine remains unclear. Police statements that claim his arrest was 'without force or incident' are contradicted by eyewitness accounts that state he was 'folded like a crab, like origami' and that while cuffed his feet were bent back to his neck."
Peaceful protests turned violent on Monday when rocks were hurled at police, stores were looted, and buildings and cars were set on fire.