There is something very troubling about the announcement by Baltimore’s prosecuting attorney of criminal charges against six Baltimore police officers in the death of Freddie Gray.
Although the prosecuting attorney, officially the state attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn J, Mosby, went on at great length in an effort to explain the alleged facts in the context of the criminal law, she also made it clear her primary goal was not to inform the public about the court proceedings to follow but rather to assuage the fury of the mobs in Baltimore’s streets, and that she was speaking directly to their anger:
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.
It is hard to believe that absent the rioters in the streets Ms. Mosby would have so animatedly alleged many of the things she did about the mindset of the officers a bare two weeks after the death of Mr. Grey and without the benefit of a grand jury investigation.
The case is a difficult one to prove in any event, since the charges are essentially that the police were indifferent to the plight of Mr. Grey, not that they took action to harm him.
But did they know the extent of his vulnerability? Were they aware of what he was experiencing in the back of that police van without police supervision? And what about the fact that the only witnesses with firsthand knowledge may well be the police officers themselves?
Beyond the particulars of this tragic death, however, we should all be concerned about the possibility that a criminal prosecution in a major American city is being driven by fear of mobs in the street. Ms. Mosby did us all a disservice, especially given the facts of the case.
Consider that Ms. Mosby is African American. The mayor of Baltimore is African American. The police commissioner is African American. And three of the six police officers who were charged are African-American. And most the rioters had to have known that.
Thus, while there has been much debate and dismay over police abuse of African American young men, this was not the typical scenario and it was not necessary for Ms. Mosby to have addressed that issue. We all would have been better served had she cut out the rhetoric and hyperbole and limited her remarks to matter-of-factly assuring all Baltimoreans of her determination to seek justice.