On April 19, 2015 Freddie Gray died from spinal injuries sustained on April 12, 2015 after being found unconscious 45 minutes after being placed in a Baltimore police van. In the one year since Freddie Gray’s death, there has been no accountability for his death. Six police officers were charged in the death of Gray on May 1, 2015. Whether Baltimore prosecutors will be able to convict any of the six officers still remains a mystery. The death of Freddie Gray is only one part of what the Freddie Gray case exposed about Baltimore.
On May 1, 2015, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged 6 police officers in the death of Freddie Gray with charges ranging from second degree murder, manslaughter, second degree assault, and various counts of misconduct. The first trial of William Porter ended in a mistrial in December.
While some legal scholars and analysts derided Mosby for overcharging the officers and swiftly charging them weeks later following the incident, as a former Baltimore City prosecutor, I disagree with their criticism. What the criticism fails to recognize is that the officers were charged, unlike in the other high profile police death cases of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. And in the Chicago case of LaQuan McDonald, it took evidence of an apparent cover up of a video tape before officers were charged in his death. While there may be a dispute as to whether the charges against the six Baltimore officers will result in any convictions, it should be up to a jury to decide the fate of the officers—not the State’s Attorney. It is the job of the State’s Attorney to proceed whenever there is probable cause to proceed with charges against an individual and if the case merits prosecution. The message that Mosby sent is no one is above the law, including police officers.
The first trial against Officer Porter exposed the mismanagement of the Baltimore Police Department. Officers routinely disregarded police internal orders such as the ones on safety and seatbelt restraint which would have saved Gray’s life. New Baltimore Police Chief Kevin Davis must change the police culture and earn the respect and trust of the citizens which he and his fellow officers serve. Acknowledging and addressing rough rides is one aspect. The act of “manically” driving a prisoner unrestrained in a police van has long been the subject of suspected police abuse and mistreatment—suspected in Gray’s case.
While a conviction in any of the six officers’ cases may send a morale boost to some Baltimore residents, it will do little for the Baltimore’s economy. The primary election to elect a new mayor is April 26, 2016. The winner of the Baltimore Democratic mayoral primary will likely become the next mayor of Baltimore. An opportunity and challenge exists for the new Mayor of Baltimore.
The real challenge will be whether a new mayor will be able to help the Freddie Grays in Baltimore and the deplorable depressed areas in many parts of the city caused by economic plight. Census statistics show that almost 25% of Baltimore residents live below the poverty level. It will take more than a conviction in the police officers’ cases to address the ills in Baltimore caused by years of neglect in many parts of the City.
And no matter who is elected mayor, the City of Baltimore will need and continue to need funding from the State of Maryland to turn around decades of economic plight. Job training, economic stimulus, drug treatment, affordable and decent housing and jobs must come to Baltimore. Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s administration intends to invest $135 million to fix the City’s broken transit system for better connection to jobs plus adding jobs in the process. More state help is needed to address jobs, education, drug treatment and housing.
As much as I want to see criminal justice done in the case of Freddie Gray, economic justice must also come to the residents of my beloved hometown of Baltimore City. That should be the real legacy of the aftermath of the Freddie Gray case.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore City prosecutor. She is frequently seen on air on Al Jazeera, BET, CBS, CCTV, Fox 5 DC, MSNBC, Sky News, TV One, among others. Her Op Ed’s appear in the Washington Post, Huffington Post and Baltimore Sun.