By Sean Yoes
AFRO Baltimore Editor
Next month, April 12, will mark five years since we watched the infamous camera phone images of 25-year old Freddie Carlos Gray, severely hobbled, his face contorted in pain being hauled into the back of a police van.
Gray, who was arrested near the Gilmor Homes where he lived in West Baltimore that morning on April 12, for still dubious reasons, was dead a week later on April 19.
On April 27, the day Gray was buried the Baltimore Uprising erupted. A few days later on May 1, as the city still smoldered, newly elected Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced she had filed charges against the six officers connected to Gray’s death after it was ruled a homicide.
The moment Mosby announced the charges against the officers during a press conference at War Memorial Plaza where a small crowd had gathered, a cathartic scream of, “Yes!” resonated throughout Gay and Holliday streets.
Mosby, who at the time in 2015, was the youngest big city prosecutor in the nation, has been in the national spotlight — revered by many, reviled by some — ever since.
The West Baltimore resident, who was resoundingly re-elected in June 2018, recently continued her role as a leader in the nation’s criminal justice reform movement in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 23, Mosby joined a group of public health leaders and criminal justice reform groups in sending a set of proposals in a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan, focused on mitigating the spread of the coronavirus behind prison walls. “Recent outbreaks in prisons in New York City, where 38 people have contracted the virus, underscore an urgent need for action in Maryland. New Jersey’s county jails are planning on releasing as many as 1,000 people in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus,” said Mosby’s office in a statement.
The letter, which praises Hogan’s leadership during the global health crisis, also encourages him to take bold action to protect the state’s vulnerable incarcerated population.
“The Governor has exhibited steadfast, courageous and decisive leadership in preventing the spread of this COVID-19 during this global crisis; however, the same prevention-focused logic the Governor employed when ordering people to socially distance, work from home, and not gather in groups of more than ten, must apply to corrections personnel and inmates in prisons and jails,” Mosby said in a statement. “The broader community is under threat and a more comprehensive strategy is needed to protect the lives of our community at large.”
Before she added her voice to the effort to free non-violent prisoners to contain the spread of the virus, which has killed almost 20,000 globally (as of March 24), Mosby was one of the first big city prosecutors to announce she would no longer prosecute several non-violent offenses including: drug possession, paraphernalia possession, prostitution, trespassing, minor traffic offenses, attempted drug distribution, possession of an open container, rogue and vagabond and urinating/defecating in public.
Mosby and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy were the two first lead prosecutors in the state to implement the policy. Mosby has also instructed her prosecutors at Central Booking to dismiss charges and release individuals charged with the above non-violent offenses.
“As prosecutors, we are committed to protecting the safety and well-being of everyone in our community, and that includes people who are currently in prison or jail,” Mosby said in a statement. “I firmly believe that we can promote public health and public safety at the same time, and that’s what these new policies will achieve.”
Mosby has ascended to her position as a national leader in the conversation about criminal and law enforcement reform at significant personal cost to her and her family, mainly in the form of myriad verbal attacks and threats by some members of law enforcement and those who claim to support them.
“It was definitely something I did not anticipate…four months into my term it was kind of a precursor to what we see on a regular basis right now on Twitter,” Mosby told me in Oct. 2017. “But, this happened immediately after I charged the officers. I was getting death threats…and hate mail to my office. I can remember one incident where they described vividly how my husband would be killed coming outside of our house, in an obituary…and how when we would call for the police no one would show up,” Mosby said.
“It was definitely something I did not anticipate.”
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.