In a Case Marked with a Black Prosecutor and Black Judge, the Trial of Six Officers in the Killing of Freddie Gray Will Proceed
The Freddie Grey Police Homicide Case Will Proceed, as the National Conversation Shifts to Dead Cops
Wednesday proved to be a decisive day in the trial of six police officers indicted in the killing of Freddie Gray, as a pretrial hearing in the case took place, and a judge ruled that the charges against the officers would stand.
On April 19, Gray died of spinal injuries obtained while riding in a police van. Ruled a homicide, his death sparked protests and unrest in the city, and revealed not only the long history of police brutality to which Baltimore’s Black community has been subjected, but also the economic warfare waged against the city’s most vulnerable, impoverished residents.
In light of a nationwide protest movement against police violence and the killing of Black people, Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City State’s Attorney, acted swiftly in seeking the prosecution of the six police officers, whose charges range from false imprisonment and assault to involuntary manslaughter and second degree depraved heart murder.
Circuit Court Judge Barry Glenn Williams heard arguments on two issues, including whether to dismiss the charges against the officers because of prosecutorial misconduct by Mosby, and whether Mosby and other prosecutors should be recused from the case.
Judge Williams, 53, who is African-American and has been on the bench since 2005, formerly served as special litigation counsel for the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice, and was an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore City.
Lawyers for the defense wanted an independent prosecutor to handle the case, and argued that Mosby violated her obligation to ensuring a fair trial by announcing the charges during a public news conference in the middle of protests against Gray’s death. The judge denied all defense motions. Judge Williams was expected to decide later in the day whether the defendants should be tried separately or together. In September, a pre-trial hearing will determine if the trial should be moved from Baltimore. The trial is scheduled to begin in October.
A police brutality case involving a Black judge and a Black prosecutor is an uncommon occurrence, as 95 percent of prosecutors are white —79 percent are white men. This reality results in a biased justice system against Blacks, as was seen with the refusal of white prosecutors to indict in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York and elsewhere.
At least one person was arrested during protests outside the courthouse. The Huffington Post reported that dozens of sheriff’s deputies patrolled the streets around the courthouse, as protesters held signs with slogans including, “Stop racism now.” Protesters also chanted, “Indict, convict, send those killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell” and “Tell the truth and stop the lies, Freddie Gray didn’t have to die.”
“We wanted to treat a protest like a protest,” Interim Commissioner Kevin Davis, told the Baltimore Sun. “We believe it’s our responsibility to afford folks to right to peacefully assemble and exercise their First Amendment privilege, and by and large, that’s exactly what’s happened this morning. We’ve made one arrest for a person who chose not protest peacefully. He assaulted a police officer. The police officer (sustained) minor injuries.”
“The message is, for the folks who want to come and voice their concerns about any aspect of the criminal justice system, we’re here to partner with them to afford them that opportunity,” Davis added.
“Activists will be gathering in front of the downtown Court House to continue their demands from justice for Freddie Gray,” said Sharon Black, spokeswoman for the People’s Power Assembly in a statement. “We want to get our message out that the people of Baltimore want justice and that we are opposed to dropping any of the charges on the six police, moving the trial venue, or removing the Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby from this case.”
Baltimore police canceled all leave scheduled for Wednesday, in anticipation of the protests. The Freddie Gray case comes as national attention is focused on the killing of police officers. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch commented on the recent wave of violence in the U.S., strongly condemning the recent shootings of law enforcement in Texas and Illinois.
“This violence against all of us — regardless of what uniform any of us wear — has to end,” Lynch said. She continued:
The many shootings that we have seen all around the country in recent months are all particularly troubling. We have seen violence strike at all segments of our community. It is a sad fact now that no one is safe. We’ve seen these brutal police killings. We’ve seen the particularly violent shootings of two Virginia reporters killed on air last week. Last month, movie members of our mil targeted in Tennessee, moviegoers in Louisiana, and of course in June, church parishioners in Charleston.
Meanwhile, Black activists across the nation are concerned that the recent attention towards the killing of police officers will lead to efforts to downplay the killing of Black people by police, ignore the greater issue of white supremacy and the violence against Black people in society, and slow down the #BlackLivesMatter movement.