seanheadshot

Sean Yoes

The trial of Caesar Goodson, the police officer who faces the most serious charges connected to the death of Freddie Gray, began this week; pretrial motions were on Jan 6, while jury selection is scheduled for January 11.

Goodson, the driver of the police transport van during the ride the prosecution argues led to Gray’s ultimate demise in April is charged with second degree depraved heart murder and other crimes connected to his death.

William Porter, the first of the six officers tried in the death of Gray, trial ended in a mistrial last month. And now attorneys for Porter are arguing he should not be compelled to testify against Goodson or Sgt. Alicia White, whose trial is set for January 25.

Porter’s attorneys allege the State’s Attorney’s office is offering him immunity, so that he can testify against his colleagues with impunity when he his retried in June.

I don’t believe any specific incident leading up to or during the trial of William Porter portended its ending. And I don’t know what fate has in store for Caesar Goodson either. But, I know there will be an outcome for Goodson, there will be subsequent trials, and verdicts or not.

The point is Judge Barry Williams has the judicial process moving forward at a brisk pace; he seems determined to keep it moving no matter what and perhaps he should be commended for his leadership during this incredibly precarious moment in our city’s history.

However, what many don’t see is an obvious proactive plan of action by City Hall to assuage the anxieties and concerns of residents as the judicial process rolls on.

In the days leading up to the Porter trial, the perilous insights of two women who have worked in criminal justice and law enforcement continue to resonate with me.

“What I think is the leadership in Baltimore City right now has a very narrow window, when they can do some big outreach to the community, outside of the courtroom, outside of these verdicts, outside of all of this stuff and use this as a moment to heal,” said Leigh Maddox, a former captain with the Maryland State Police and currently an executive board member for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), during an interview in November on First Edition.

Instead, while the Porter jury deliberated it felt like Baltimore simply held it’s collective breath, while the national media seemed to hope for the worst and the armored vehicles lined up in Druid Hill Park.

“We are basing so much on this trial…And I really think we need to change that narrative because I don’t think we should base the future of our city on these trials,” said Sheryl Wood, a legal analyst and principal attorney at the Wood Law Firm, during that same First Edition interview.

I’m not suggesting there has been no outreach by city leadership, but is it enough and is it directed at our most vulnerable communities? I don’t know.

“There has to be a plan outside of the courtroom and somebody’s got to lead that charge,” Wood said. “We cannot have everything at stake based upon this imperfect trial…in this imperfect criminal justice system,” she added.

But, ultimately I don’t believe acquittals for any or all of the officers means violence is inevitable, just like guilty verdicts are not the ultimate salve for our city.

The death of Freddie Gray didn’t cause the unrest in Baltimore, generations of neglect and abuse did. And his death was the tipping point.

City leaders need to acknowledge the message sent in April was received loud and clear, and then act accordingly.

Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. on WEAA 88.9.