Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
It’s not possible to say that Gray found justice. But Baltimore would be worse off had the state not even sought any.
Visibly quaking with rage, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced this morning her decision to drop the remaining cases against three Baltimore Police Department officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray.
She spoke hotly. Mosby condemned members of the Baltimore police force for impeding her investigation. She spoke not just as a prosecutor but as a black woman and a mother. Mosby defended her cases, her office, herself. “I was elected the prosecutor,” she told reporters gathered at a press conference. “I signed up for this, and I can take it.”
"We could try this case 100 times and cases like it, and we would end up with the same result,” Mosby said, speaking to a crowd near the spot where Gray was arrested.
Police did not wait long to respond. Ivan Bates, one of the attorneys representing the police officers charged in Gray’s death, called Mosby’s comments “outrageous.” He said that the state’s attorney’s office declined help from the state of Maryland and the FBI in mounting these investigations. He highlighted the fairness and experience of Barry G. Williams, the Eighth Circuit Court justice who presided over the Gray trials. “Justice has been done,” Bates said.
Gray died in police custody, and his death was called a homicide. But nobody is legally guilty in his death: nobody committed that homicide, and nobody can explain how he died.
But that is no longer the most pressing question in Baltimore, where Mosby’s critics and defenders are now debating the wisdom of the prosecutor’s actions. Mosby, who faces multiple lawsuits from the accused officers, has become a bête noire for the Blue Lives Matter movement. She knows it. Indeed, commentators flocked to local news cameras to condemn the passionate language she used to plead her side as she abandoned her cases. Even Donald Trump, the self-declared “law-and-order candidate,” took a swipe at Mosby during a press conference on Wednesday.
Maybe police officers did interfere with Mosby’s investigation, as the prosecutor alleges. Perhaps there simply was not enough evidence available to the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that none of the six Baltimore police officers connected to Gray’s arrest were responsible for his death.
This is what justice resembles: not an outcome, always, but a process, certainly. Gray’s death was subject to a thorough investigation before the state. The police accused of his death were cleared of all wrongdoing, from murder to minor charges—surely a better outcome for these officers than to let stand a conviction in the court of public opinion. And while many in the Baltimore community may continue to believe that the police got away with murder, the officers were declared not guilty. These officers are free to return to their lives (pending the investigations being conducted by Montgomery County and Howard County police and other internal investigations going forward).
This is what progress resembles, too. For 15 months, residents of Baltimore and around the nation have been discussing the details of Gray’s death. His name never left the news cycle. The world was introduced to terms like “rough ride,” “nickel ride,” and “joyride”—terms for a form of police brutality that is widespread in the U.S. but virtually never attached to a conviction of an officer. Maybe the exposure will help to ensure the practice is abandoned for good.
After the June acquittal of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., who was charged with murder in Gray’s death, I followed a protest to the place where the unrest broke out in April 2015. This time, there were no officers standing by in riot gear. Instead, officers met the community at a nearby rec center. Police officers played played basketball with little kids. One officer had a serious conversation with some young men—about race, policing, and her own experiences with discrimination as a black woman. That protest did not divide into two sides, between law enforcement and black residents. Instead, they met as a community in mutual frustration.
That conversation would not have happened had Mosby not pursued charges against the officers connected to Gray’s death. It is not possible to say that Gray found justice. But Baltimore would be worse off had the state not even sought any.