In pondering the alarming phenomenon of police officers being randomly targeted by gunmen in several areas of the country, it would do us well to consider developments in Baltimore involving the prosecution of six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray.
The six were charged with contributing to the death of Mr. Gray, an African-American, by failing to ensure his safety while being transported in a police van. To the cheers of demonstrators last May, Baltimore’s top prosecutor, Marilyn J. Mosby, announced charges against the six officers. Legal observers at the time suggested that there was no apparent evidence of any criminal complicity in Mr. Gray’s death, but Baltimore’s top prosecutor insisted she would go forward nonetheless:
To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No Justice, no peace.’ Last but certainly not least, to the youth of the city: I will seek justice on your behalf. This is a moment. This is your moment. Let’s ensure we have peaceful and productive rallies that will develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come. You’re at the forefront of this cause and as young people, our time is now.
This kind of rhetoric hardly suggests that possible crimes committed by six individuals are to be the focus. Rather it appears that what’s in play is the prosecuting of symbols of an allegedly oppressive political system. So any cop, anywhere, becomes part of the problem being addressed and thus becomes a potential target of those pursuing violent retribution.
Consider, though, that Ms. Mosby is African-American. The mayor of Baltimore is African-American. The police commissioner is African-American. Three of the six police officers charged are African-Americans. But that didn’t seem to matter to Ms. Mosby.
In any case, the judge presiding over the prosecutions, also an African-American, has found three of the four officers already tried not guilty because of a lack of evidence linking anything they did to the Gray death. A fourth officer’s trial ended in a mistrial. Two other officers still await trial.
It was the worst possible signal for a protesting crowd to be told they were going to be appeased by the mounting of criminal prosecutions. But in the minds of all too many, it also made anyone wearing a police uniform a partner in the death of Freddie Gray.Editorial Board