E. R. Shipp
The battle has not been won yet, though it sure felt like a Super Bowl victory to people young and old who high-fived, pumped fists, honked horns and literally danced in the streets when State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby uttered these words Friday: “we have probable cause to file criminal charges.”
The medical examiner had determined the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray to be a homicide. And Mosby, the youngest chief prosecutor in a major U. S. city, the woman many thought too inexperienced for the job, did what many others have not when given the chance. She conducted “a comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation” and then she named names: Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., Officer William Porter, Lt. Brian Rice, Sgt. Alicia White, Officer Edward Nero, Officer Garrett Miller. Citing varying degrees of culpability, she held them accountable for an illegal arrest and a harrowing ride in a patrol wagon where Gray “suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained inside of the BPD wagon.” His death, she said, was “the result of a fatal injury that occurred while Mr. Gray was unrestrained by a seat belt in the custody of the BPD wagon.”
In the annals of the law when black suspects run up against walls of blue, May Day in Baltimore did mark a victory. Savor it for a moment. In fact, I am sure that the officers’ defenders prefer dancing in the street to marching in the streets that inconveniences shoppers and Orioles fans. Meanwhile, as is their constitutional right, they are marshaling resources for the legal chess match ahead. They will try to have Mosby removed from the case, citing bias. They will challenge the charges. They will challenge the evidence. They will try to discredit witnesses. They will seek to have any trials held somewhere other than Baltimore. They will appeal if perchance anyone is convicted down the line. Convictions are not inevitable at the end of this pursuit of justice – but don’t tell that to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Just the day before, the mayor, who has taken hits from many directions, had pledged something I feared she could not deliver. At a summit called by the National Action Network, she declared: “We will get justice for Freddie Gray. Believe you me, we will get justice.”
But she has faith in an unprecedented justice alliance: the U.S. Justice Department, now headed by Loretta Lynch; Mosby, who represents the state; and herself. “If, with the nation watching, three black women at three different levels can’t get justice for this community, you tell me where we’re going to get it in our country.”
Rawlings-Blake characterizes herself as “relentless” in her quest to clean up the Baltimore Police Department and is annoyed that her administration does not get credit for “the reduction in police shootings, discourtesy, excessive force, lawsuits against the city, finding more officers accused of wrong doing guilty.” On Friday, she sounded like Superwoman sending a warning to the bad apples of the police department, the 5% that I’ve heard referred to time and again. “To those of you who wish to engage in brutality, misconduct, racism and corruption, let me be clear: There is no place in the Baltimore Police Department for you.”
Mosby is tenacious. The day after Gray, a healthy happy-go-lucky fellow with a string of arrests for selling and possessing illegal drugs, arrived at the Western District police station comatose and in cardiac arrest, she deployed a team of investigators. What they turned up, apparently with the cooperation of someone among those cops and with other witnesses, is “sickening,” as the mayor noted and as my own stomach can attest. One feels revulsion upon hearing what they allegedly did to Freddie Gray. The stomach churns even more as one reflects on the efforts underway to justify his arrest in the first place and to blame the dead man for beating himself up in the police van to the point of severing his spinal cord.
“Extreme indifference to the value of human life” – That’s what the driver, Officer Goodson, is charged with, more formally called “second-degree depraved heart murder.” He and the others face various charges of manslaughter, assault, false imprisonment and misconduct in office. But the whole lot of them, if Mosby’s narrative holds up, exhibited “extreme indifference to the value of human life.”
Unfortunately, those who had a part in Freddie Gray’s last moments are not alone. The thousands of people who have taken to the streets in Baltimore and around the nation since his death on April 19 bear witness to that. Government at all levels, corporate America and the “haves” are all guilty of “extreme indifference to the value of human life” in the Sandtowns of our land.
Charges against these officers are a step towards addressing what happened to Freddie Gray. The accused are entitled to due process and in the court of law, if not the court of public opinion, they are presumed innocent. But Mosby is on to something when she focuses on a bigger picture and appeals to the young people who have taken to the streets to express their impatience with the status quo. She wants them to join forces with her to “develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come.”
Now that will be a time to shout, “Hallelujah!”