One year after Freddie Gray died of a spinal injury in police custody, the neighborhood where he grew up and was arrested has become accustomed to journalists poking around. But photographer Benjamin Hoste had a different goal when he took to the city’s streets. “The death of Freddie Gray brought me to Baltimore, but I am not here to ask about him,” Hoste tells TIME. “I’m more interested in the context of the community and the broader story around him.”
His photographs, spanning more than 60 blocks near Gray’s final ride, show how he remains omnipresent long after the protests and the camera crews that flocked to cover them. Now, residents are left to pick up the pieces. Locals shuffle between sidewalk shops and young students hustle to school. A mural memorial adorns a brick wall, a movie marquee sign pays its respects.
“The last hour of his life was spent driving in the back of a van through his neighborhood,” says Hoste. “Here he was at the end of his life—maybe he knew it, maybe he didn’t—and he’s passing the school he went to, his house, his friend’s house, places in his community that are important to him and to other people.”
Hoste’s previous work explores how identity is influenced by geography. “There are places out in the world that are important to us for historical reasons, but there are also places that are important to us for personal reasons,” he says. “They give us a sense of who we are.”
In Sandtown, Hoste was looking for that sense of place. He asked residents how things have changed in the predominantly African American, neighborhood. “People are upset,” he says. “Some are upset with how the police engage with the community, others are upset about Freddie Gray’s death, and others are upset that a riot of outsiders partially destroyed their community. All feel that they live in a community that has been neglected and ignored.”
Despite the pain of Gray’s death, Hoste says many people were earnestly optimistic. “These are people who have lived there their entire lives working tirelessly to change things, and in the face of these horrific events, they remain hopeful,” he says. “That resiliency and commitment and dedication is inspiring.”
As an outsider, Hoste recognizes that he has a limited understanding of the community and hopes that local photographers will provide greater depth and insight. “I hope there is justice for Freddie Gray and that as a community, there can be positive steps forward and the city can heal.”
Benjamin Hoste is a New York-based documentary photographer.
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