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5 things you need to know about the Freddie Gray trials

News & Commentary  |  By Farajii Muhammad, Mar 4, 2016

After the killing of Freddie Gray by Baltimore police, community members demanded justice and took to the streets in protest.

Photo: AFSC / Bryan Vana

On April 12, 2015, 25-year-old Freddie Carlos Gray was arrested by six officers of the Baltimore Police Department. While in their custody, his back was broken and he sustained a series of other injuries. The bodily harm caused him to fall into a coma, and he died a few days later. The city of Baltimore erupted in protest, and eventually the Baltimore City State’s Attorney charged six police officers in connection with his death. The first officer’s trial ended in a mistrial, delaying the start of the subsequent trials.

Last week, the Maryland Court of Appeals heard arguments over whether the state can compel Officer William Porter to testify against the other officers. The city of Baltimore, and people across the country, are now awaiting the Appellate Court’s’ ruling.

April 27, 2015 will forever live in Baltimore’s history as the day we woke up. The civil unrest has become the new demarcation of time, where you have Baltimore before “Freddie Gray” and now, the new Baltimore. On that day, the light of justice shined on the perpetual suffering of the voiceless, the abusive practices of the police, the chasm of economic disparity, and the sinful consequences of inadequate leadership.

Since then, there have been numerous ideas for improvements, many discussions about reforms, and unending promises for change. Yet, the challenges of the trials of the six officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death serve as a reminder that change requires more than just the political rhetoric of a few, but a moral call to the conscience of all.

The trials of Officers William Porter, Caesar Goodson, Alicia White, Edward Nero, Garrett Miller and Brian Rice were pursued with great vigilance by Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. She gave the city hope that justice would be swift and well served. Unfortunately, the prosecution’s case has been plagued by setbacks, from insufficient evidence to immunity issues to allegedly making prejudicial judgments. The swift call for justice, is seemingly becoming a slow crawl. This moment provides the perfect opportunity to show why we should continue our pursuit for justice and what’s at stake if we don’t.

Here are five things everyone should know about the Freddie Gray trials and what they mean for Baltimore:

1. Justice takes time. 

The pursuit of justice is a quest, an enduring striving that is not for the weak hearted. The long wait for the Freddie Gray trials exemplifies the principle that nothing of value is earned without a struggle. Struggle is ordained in any endeavor where great benefits serves as its rewards. So the great benefit of justice requires us to commit ourselves to a cause bigger than us.

In this case, the goal of holding accountable officers who are responsible for the death of a man while in their custody. The pursuit of justice requires us to see the humanity of a person who has been violated, especially by those who are sworn to protect and serve. Because if those in authority can do that with impunity to Freddie Gray, then there is a real possibility that same violation can be done to all. As Dr. King said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Being just relieves us of the sickness of the heart where we believe that one life is more valuable than another. We will never live in a civilized society and enjoy the reward of peace with this attitude prevalent in our minds and hearts.

2. The judge is not responsible for the delays.

Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams, who serves as the presiding judge in all these cases, has been vigilant about getting these cases tried and decided upon in a timely fashion in Baltimore. During the first trial of Officer William Porter, the judge ordered the jury to go back into deliberation twice before a mistrial was rendered. To me, that was an indication that he wanted a decision and that this case would end in a definitive resolution.

3. The timeline has been extended because of legal challenges by the defense.

The timeline, determined by Judge Williams, was originally set for each officer’s trial to be two weeks over a four month period. However, the timeline has changed dramatically because the defense has challenged the State’s Attorneys attempts to compel Officer Porter to testify against the other five officers. Porter’s trial ended in a mistrial in December of 2015. Now the start date of the next trial is dependent on when the Appellate Court issues a ruling on whether the state can compel Officer Porter’s testimony.

4. The officers facing the most serious charges are the ones we didn’t see on the video.

Officer William Porter, who helped Freddie Gray into the van and did not respond to his call for medical attention, faces charges including second-degree assault and involuntary manslaughter. Officer Caesar Goodson, the van driver, faces the most serious charge of second degree “depraved heart” murder, along with gross and criminal negligence and manslaughter by a vehicle. Officer Alicia White, the sergeant in charge, faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, and allegedly did not get medical attention for Freddie Gray when he was unresponsive on the floor of the wagon.

5. The people of Baltimore will respond to the verdict with collective political action.

Because Officer Porter’s trial ended in a mistrial, city residents are expecting that five out of the six officers will not receive any significant jail time. City officials are bracing for the impact of the verdicts, but many residents don’t believe that what we experienced in April will be repeated. In fact, community leaders have been discussing how to defy expectations by encouraging youth and others to respond through political action, economic boycotts and other nonviolent direct actions in other neighborhoods, and not with violence and property damage in our own neighborhoods.

I believe that justice can be swift, but only if there is power to demand it. We know that this case represents more than just convicting six officers for the death of a man in their custody. What this case really highlights is the culture of abuse and inhumane treatment by those in authority, whether they are Black or white. What’s at stake is that the system of law enforcement that claims to serve, protect and preserve life has been superseded by this culture, which is rooted in racism and classism.

This breech of security and morality must no longer be seen as a “Black” or “urban” issue, but as a human rights issue. Injustice tips the balance of the mind into insanity and violates the fundamental principles of a civilized society, which are freedom, justice and equality. As I have been taught, there is no joy in being free because the only reason that people are joyous in liberty is that there is justice coming to them in the society. Equality can’t be achieved if the principle of fair dealing isn’t present to render all things equal.

The civil unrest in Baltimore exposed us to each other and to the rest of the world. For us, that moment was a wake-up call that the pain from tyranny and oppression could no longer be held in for another generation to bear. For us, that moment was a wake-up call that in the age of burgeoning skylines and advanced technology, the treatment of human beings is the true measure of a nation’s progress. For us, that moment was a wake-up call that in 2016, the divine right of “justice for all” is still an American ideal that has yet to be realized.

About the Author

Farajii Muhammad serves as AFSC’s Youth Empowerment Coordinator and director of the Piece by Peace program in Baltimore, MD. In this capacity, he works with young people to empower their communities, end racism and police brutality, and develop positive models of youth leadership.

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