Earlier this month many of us celebrated the signing of The Declaration of independence 240 years ago creating these United States of America. For the former colonies this became necessary because of abuses suffered at the hand of the King of England. Among the grievances cited were the following:
“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the civil power.”
“For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:”
“For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:”
“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:”
Fast forward to April 2015. These statements apply almost verbatim to the conditions brought upon many of the citizens of Baltimore by its police department. Last year’s disturbance was not just about poverty and unemployment. The cry in the streets was “No Justice, No Peace!” Not economic opportunity, but justice. The conditions of poverty and economic oppression were no worse last year than they had been for the 50 years since the 1960s riots.
This disturbance, like the 1960s, was about justice. Every 1960s disturbance was sparked by egregious police behavior. Like the colonists of 1776, poor and minority citizens are subject to bodies of armed troops (or police) that operated independent of and superior to (the citizen’s) civil power. These armed troops (the Blue wall) have been protected by mock trials (or no trials) from punishment for any murders or wrongs which they have committed on the inhabitants of these States.
Marilyn Mosby was elected Baltimore City States Attorney as a cry for justice, especially from an oppressive police force. This police department had accumulated a string of deaths, broken bodies, and other atrocities amounting to near $6 million dollars paid by the city in victim compensation. Prior administrations refused to hold police officers accountable for arbitrary and inhumane behavior. A prosecutor can only bring charges and present the available evidence to the court.
She cannot force a police-friendly judge to render justice. It is noteworthy that the acquitted police officers avoided a jury trial. They obviously do not consider the citizens that they abuse and disdain as their peers. Alone, Ms. Mosby cannot bring justice. Cries from police supporters to drop the cases are ill founded. They are the same persons, including the police union, who did not want the charges in the first place.
The Freddie Gray 6 will get away with a killing. Some may call this a lynching. They willfully disobeyed a department order and the spirit of state and national seat belt laws. A citizen who transports a 3-4 year old child not appropriately secured, who sustains injuries resulting in death, is likely to be charged and found guilty of negligence if not manslaughter. When Freddie Gray was bound and shackled, he in effect became that child totally dependent upon the judgment, compassion, and professionalism of his abductors. Sadly none of that was present among the six who contributed to his death. It is unlikely that a jury of persons with sons, fathers, and brothers would have found all of the defendants blameless for this death. Remember that the first trial (Officer Porter) resulted in a hung jury which means between one and eleven impartial jurors saw guilt and responsibility beyond a reasonable doubt.
Strategically, the remaining officers have elected to receive the blessings and generosity of a police friendly judge and avoid the judgments of their peers, the citizens of Baltimore. Like the Rodney King abusers, police officers have a strange and predictable way of separating themselves from the judgment or review of those whom they profess to “protect and to serve.” Like the thugs in the Rodney King incident, almost lynching, the Freddie Gray Six will be acquitted.
During the last week two Iraq veterans have sought justice, revenge and punishment. While no one can or should condone the killing of other human beings, police or non-police, in a strange way their logic parallels that of the settlers in the Revolutionary War. These men who became soldiers, who were trained to defend the Constitution and the rightness of individual freedom and justice, became upset at the willful killing (or lynching) of Black men like themselves by the police. Remember much of the lynchings in this country following the Civil War into the mid 1960s involved law enforcement and the consent or silence of the larger White population.
The actions of these two “soldiers” inflicted tremendous pain and suffering upon police officers who by all accounts were good officers, family men who were committed to protecting and serving. Unfortunately, the “Police Blue Wall” is casting a stench over all police officers. The failure of the justice system to bring justice and the ability of rogue cops to manipulate the system as well as intimidate their colleagues has created a perilous situation and an impasse.
In a gun laden society despicable acts happen. The cry “No justice, No Peace,” while largely rhetorical, carries a very real assessment of our current conditions. Good police officers must enforce the law and uphold the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution especially as it applies to their fellow officers. This great democracy derives “It’s just powers” from the consent of the governed. This applies as much to the residents of Gilmore homes and West Baltimore (or Baton Rouge, or St. Paul or Ferguson, Cleveland or Charleston) as it did to the founders in Boston or Philadelphia. The stark reality is that Justice brings Peace, Peace is built upon justice.
Dr. John Hudgins is an associate professor of sociology at Coppin State University in Baltimore, Md.