How Did Baltimore React After The Freddie Gray Fallout?!
The overwhelming sentiment around Baltimore City as State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that the final three cases against police officers in the Freddie Gray trial would be dropped was resignation to say the least. No one expressed surprise. Many expressed anger outright, but more than anything they were resigned to the notion that in cases of police misconduct there will always be acquittals.
One activist has been steadfastly standing in front of the courtroom for every trial, adorned with a banner featuring Freddie Gray's picture around his neck. It is a marked contrast from the overwhelming crowds that swelled around the courtroom back in December for the first trial for Officer William Porter, which ended in a mistrial. Then it was protestors shouting out, "No Justice, No Peace, No More Racist Police!" that surged up to the windows of the overflowed courtroom—only necessary because so many reporters had been inside attempting to chronicle the moments.
The mood changed within the city, quite quickly, as righteous anger and resistance turned into resignation after the mistrial of Officer Porter and the subsequent acquittals of Officer Edward Nero and the van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson. In fact, it was Goodson who faced the most serious charges of depraved heart murder and manslaughter. During the last two trials, Lt. Brian Rice and Officer Garrett Miller, who were the two arresting policemen, showed up to court in sunglasses. There are pictures of Miller and Rice in The Baltimore Sun, smiling as they left the courtroom. Inside, they chatted with other officers that were there presumably to provide support. As they sat in the front pews of the courtroom, they exchanged handshakes and sometimes laughter. Judge Barry Williams alternated between lambasting the prosecution for things like discovery violations and joking / laughing with them and the defense attorneys. Throughout the cases, Judge Williams often chastised both sides, even going so far as to yell at one prosecution witness, saying that he was being "sarcastic" and to just "stop." He was not the even-keeled vessel of information that he self-identified as to the prosecutor Janice Bledsoe, who questioned one of his facial expressions as she spoke to him
In the first trial of Officer Porter, there was at least one moment where it was clear that a life was at stake. For this, it meant seeking the truth for what happened to a man that went into a police wagon alive and came out with a crushed voice box and a severed spine. Brandon Ross, 31, was one of Freddie Gray's closest friends, who said that Gray "was like a brother to me." He testified about walking with him the morning police took him into custody, that he saw Gray being tossed into the police van face-down in leg shackles and handcuffs. Prosecutors played the audio of the cellphone footage that Ross recorded in haste. Gray's mother, Gloria Darden, sat in the courtroom, alongside other family members in anguish. It has been put on official record that Darden has attempted suicide since the death of her son.
As she wiped her eyes quietly throughout Ross's testimony, she began sobbing loudly by the end of the cellphone video. Ross is asking on the video, "Can we get a supervisor here, please?" and repeatedly yells, "That's not cool!" Darden had to be helped out of the courtroom as she wailed loudly when she heard her son's moans on the audio. Judge Williams called a recess and Ross walked out of the courtroom crying, glaring at the defendant, Officer William Porter, as he walked out.
In Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood where Freddie Gray both lived and died in, Marilyn Mosby spoke to residents and to the press in the same fiery tones she used when she announced the indictments of six police officers on the steps of War Memorial in a press conference in April of last year after Gray's death. This time, a colorful mural in remembrance of Freddie Gray was behind her as she was flanked by her team members from the prosecution. Mosby walked up to the microphone, community members encouraged her with clapping and shouts ("We're with you!" "We got your back!" "You did the right thing!") of supports.
"For those that say [that] I'm anti-police, that's simply not the case. I'm anti-police brutality," Mosby told the crowd of citizens and media that gathered around her. "I was elected as a prosecutor. I signed up for this and I can take it, because no matter how problematic it has been for my office, it pales in comparison to what mothers and fathers all across this country, specifically Freddie Gray's mother and stepfather, have to go through on a daily basis knowing their son's decision to run proved to be a lethal one." She continued, saying, "As the world has witnessed, the prosecution of on-duty police officers in this country is unsurprisingly rare and blatantly fraught with systemic and inherent complications. Unlike other cases, where prosecutors work closely with the police to investigate what happened, we realized very early on that police investigating police whether they were friends or colleagues was problemeatic."
Marilyn Mosby detailed the struggles that the prosecution endured: having to rely on police to prosecute police, hostile police witnesses who were compelled to testify and police investigators who were "uncooperative and started a counter-investigation to disprove the state's case." "After much thought and prayer," Mosby continued. "It has become clear to me, that without being able to work with an independent investigative agency from the very start, without having to say in the election about whether our case proceeds before a judge or a jury, without communal oversight of policing in this community and without real substantive reforms to current criminal justice — we could try this case a hundred times and cases like it and still end up with the same results."
The national media has been focused on Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump's reaction to Marilyn Mosby dropping the cases, rather than her own press conference. The real estate magnate called her a "disgrace," while local media attempted to get the full story out by airing her press conference in full. At the Fraternal Order of Police headquarters in Hampden on Buena Vista Avenue, Gene Ryan, who serves the FOP as its head, brought out all six police officers who were charged and their lawyers. "We are pleased that the criminal charges have been dismissed. Justice has been done," Ryan said inside headquarters. "We will continue to support our officers during their administrative hearings and believe these good officers will be returned to fulfilling their duties with the Baltimore City Police Department."
The attorney for Sergeant Alicia White, Ivan Bates, also spoke during the event, saying, "Anytime there is an incident like this, it is always a sad time when a family member loses anyone. We also have to recognize that in May 2015 that is when the nightmare began for all of these officers." White, whose case was dismissed, did not speak, but her attorney Bates closed with "God bless the Gray family and God bless the police department that risk their lives daily." It felt like that scene in Juice where Bishop, played by Tupac Shakur, showed up at the funeral for Raheem and hugged his mother. Bates told reporters that Gray's death was a tragic accident even though a medical examiner ruled that it was a homicide. Ryan told reporters that four of the officers were back to work on desk duty, and that "the rest should be going back soon."
No, not what happened in terms of why there were acquittals. That was a perfect storm of obstruction from police—who proved to be hostile witnesses when they were compelled to testify—and sloppiness on the part of the prosecution who made discovery violations. The Police Bill of Rights rules that officers can take up to 10 days to give a statement in a death in police custody. By the last set of trials, Brandon Ross, Gray's friend that recorded the arrest, was testifying in court in handcuffs. Kevin Moore, who also recorded part of the scene on his cellphone, was also arrested soon after the incident occurred. He was released shortly after with no charges filed against him.
Really the question is what happened in terms of how did Gray die? Who was ultimately responsible for his passing? There were so many theories, including the most plausible one where Gray was injured before he went into the van by the arresting officer, Garrett Miller, who had his trial thrown out as well. Medical, lawyers and laymen alike have theorized that judging from the way Freddie Gray's legs were presented in the cellphone video footage, when officers placed him in the van, Gray had already suffered partial paralysis. An injury could have occurred when they took him down and put their knee on his back or neck. Citizens in Sandtown corroborated this theory, as one person said he witnessed the takedown. "They picked him up and slammed him," Nate Preston said, referring to the three arresting officers. "The seat belt and all that wasn't helping him. He was already done. They are getting away with murder. They said, 'Why you make me chase you?' And then: BAM! They were like, 'Stay down, stay down.'"
I asked him, "Why didn't you testify?" "I didn't know I could," Preston responded with. Then, for some reason, he apologizes to me.
As national news outlets + reporters descended once again, insulting questions began to flood the airwaves: "Will people riot?" "Are you urging citizens to remain calm?" One reporter even told me that her boss asked eagerly, "Is there any violence?" When there wasn't any to be found, said boss expressed disinterest in the story. Toya Graham, the mother who was shown beating her son during the civil unrest, was standing amongst the crowd around Marily Mosby at the press conference. Mainstream media exalted her as the gold standard for good parenting, as an example for other black mothers as the only way they can control their black boys + girls. After all the remaining cases have been dismissed, there's no major media outlets clamoring to interview her now as she stands near Freddie Gray's parents. I don't even think anyone recognizes her. She's tiny, maybe 5-feet-tall, if that. She was no less surprised than anyone else by the dismissals. "I seen it coming, it's not a surprise," Graham said to me. "But at the end of the day, she had us [Mosby]. She promised the people of Baltimore City. We may not have got a conviction, but things were done to try to get a conviction and she did her job and she will always have my vote."
"People are upset about how the police were shot down [in Dallas]. It wasn't right, but look at how our children are dying every day at the hands of the police department," Gwen Taylor, a Sandtown resident who has lived there her whole life said to me. "The 1974 Law Enforcement Bill of Rights gives police officers a leg up," said resident Leo Burroughs Jr., a chairperson of the Committee of Concerned Citizens, Incorporated. "It gives them due process rights that ordinary citizens [just] don't have. A majority of Baltimore police officers don't live in the city. A majority of Baltimore City police officers are still white men and they see themselves as superior [over others]. As an occupying army coming into the city and keeping the lid of these impoverished out of control black men who they wish to oppress."
Freddie Gray's parents got in the last word. Richard Shipley told me that his stepson did not die in vain. "We were disappointed with the outcome of our trials. We are going to see that new legislation is carried out and new laws will be made that will help the community and help other black communities. These laws will be made because of Freddie." Gloria Darden, Freddie's mother, didn't have the time or patience to mince words, saying, "They lied and I know they lied. I know they killed him," before she disappeared deep into the crowd.
Ericka Blount is a journalist, professor and author from Baltimore, Maryland. Her book ‘Love, Peace and Soul: Behind the Scenes of Soul Train’ is available on Amazon. Please follow her (and us!) on Twitter @ErickaBlount.