On May 1st, Maryland State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced six Baltimore police officers have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray — an illegally arrested 25-year-old man who died under police custody after suffering a broken spine and cardiac arrest. The officers turned themselves in that afternoon, and have been released on bail (set between $250,000 and $350,000).
In the wake of way too many black people killed by the police in the past five years, it’s cause for hope that Gray’s death has officially been called a murder caused by police action – and that the state’s justice department is taking the matter seriously.
Other police officers have gone to trials – but the highest profile ones before Gray have all gone to grand jury trials. If you forget your civics classes, grand juries decide whether or not an event is a crime at all. Basically a grand jury doesn’t decide if someone goes to prison, it decides whether or not someone can go to another trial to decide if they go to prison.
And, as we know (assuming both residence in the United States and sentience), officers like Darren Wilson (the officer who shot the unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last summer) would never be indicted despite evidence and a defense hinging on widely-doubted testimony from an untrustworthy witness. In this case, though, the officers have been charged, so they’ll go directly to a criminal trial.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the forces of right have won, but it’s a good step forward. Mosby’s statement unequivocally blaming police for Gray’s death is particularly refreshing when compared with Robert P. McCulloch, the prosecution in Darren Wilson’s trial who’s been accused of throwing the trial for Wilson. We will have to see how it all shakes out, but at least it looks like we’re starting out on a good foot… but we can’t relax yet.
Not when in the same city Allen Bullock sits in jail on $500,000 bail – twice the bail of some of the officers – for the crime of smashing a police car with a traffic cone during the protests. His family thinks that police are making an example of him to discourage other protestors from damaging municipal property. Worse – he turned himself in after convinced by his parents to do the right thing.
Not when it’s revealed that Louisiana police lied in the report for the death of Ervin Edwards, tasered to death in his jail cell… after being arrested for having sagging pants.
Not when Eric Garner is choked to death by an illegal hold and his last words are “I can’t breathe.” And not when the prosecutor for the grand jury that failed to indict anyone for Garner’s death is expected to win a seat in the state congress.
Not when Eric Harris can be shot by a police donor and told “Fuck your breath” as he lay dying.
Not when Terrence Kellom is shot 10 times in his own house.
Not when Walter L. Scott can be shot in the back.
Not when John Crawford III is killed for holding a pellet gun.
Not when 12-year-old Tamir Rice is blamed for his own death in the police’s report.
Not until police finally start answering for the unjustified abuses levied for decades against innocent African-American citizens.