In the one year since Freddie Gray sustained fatal injuries while in police custody, there has been no accountability for his death. Six police officers were charged in the death of Gray on May 1, 2015. The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s office gears up for the next police officer trial of Edward Nero set for May 10. Whether Baltimore prosecutors will be able to convict any of the six officers still remains a mystery. The case of Freddie Gray and police misconduct is only one part of what the Freddie Gray case exposed about Baltimore.
On April 12, 2015, Freddie Gray, age 25, was arrested on the streets of West Baltimore after running away from police officers. During his arrest transport in a police van, Gray, while unrestrained with a seat belt, sustained injuries to his spinal cord and died one week later. At the time, he arrived at Western District for processing; he had no pulse and was not breathing. 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. Following the mistrial, in a set of legal maneuvers, prosecutors subpoenaed William Porter to testify in the other officers’ trials. And in a surprise legal first precedent ruling, the Maryland Court of Appeals sided with the State. Porter will be required by law to testify against his co-defendants.
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 while there was no conviction against Officer Porter, his trial showed, in many ways, the mismanagement of the Baltimore Police Department.
In charging the defendant police officers, Mosby showed a willingness to show that the law equally applies to the police and the people on the streets of Baltimore. The failure and reluctance of past State’s Attorneys and prosecutors around the country to charge police officers sends a wrong message to police and people. Police should not be above the law. I acknowledge that cases against police are difficult to get a conviction in any court of law. That should never mean that the police officers get a free pass when it comes to bringing justice.
While a conviction in any of the six officers’ cases will send a message to police and the public, it will do little for the Baltimore’s economy. A primary election for a new mayor is coming in the upcoming weeks. The Maryland primary is April 21, 2016. The winner of the Baltimore mayoral primary will likely become the next mayor of Baltimore. And the real verdict 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 six officers’ cases to address the ills affecting 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.
As much as I want to see criminal justice done in the case of Freddie Gray, I also want to see economic justice 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.