In the course of less than a week the streets of Baltimore have seen both angry rioters wreaking havoc in the name of injustice followed by jubilant marchers cheering what they see as the application of a justice long denied. Unless you have been under a rock for the last couple of weeks you know that the incident that sparked the anger was the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of Baltimore police. The rejoicing was spurred by the laying of charges against the six police officers involved.
I’ll not go over the details of the arrest and subsequent death of Gray as there are countless news pieces available that provide a far better timeline of the events than I could create.
Last Friday morning Marilyn Mosby, the Baltimore City state’s attorney, announced that she deemed Gray’s death to be a homicide and was therefore bringing charges to bear against the six Baltimore police officers involved in the death of Gray. The most serious of the charges was levied against the driver of the van in which Gray was being transported. Officer Caesar R. Goodson faces charges that include one of “second-degree depraved heart murder”. (As an aside, I found it interesting that CNN anchor Don Lemon and correspondent Ryan Young made a point of explaining that the proper term is police van, not “paddy wagon” which is derogatory – chalk one up for the Irish.)
Almost instantly the tone of the protests in the streets of the city turned from anger to joy. Could it be that at long last justice was not only being done, but was being seen to be done? Some naysayers commented that it was a matter of a rush to judgement in an effort to quell the violence that was rumored to be in the works for Friday or Saturday. Be that as it may, the charges have been brought.
As I watched people reacting to the announcement of the charges with glee, and listened to many community leaders warning that although this is a step in the right direction, the whole process must play out, I became increasingly nervous. With charges comes a trial; no doubt one that will become a media circus. I do not know when such a trial will take place, could be a year from now, maybe two. Who knows what will occur in the interim. What will the evidently long strained relationship between the police and the people be like with this situation hanging over their heads?
I am not a lawyer, but it appears to me that the main plank in the state’s case is the manner in which Gray was left shackled but without seat belt in the back of the police van then given a “rough ride” by Goodson, causing injuries leading to his ultimate death. Numerous reports have shown that there is not a whole lot of give in the metal seating configuration found in the back of a police van. Tie someone’s hands behind their back, tether their feet together, opt not to apply a seatbelt then drive erratically and it is not difficult to see how serious injury can occur.
In Florida George Zimmerman shot and killed an unarmed youth, Trayvon Martin; yet the jury found him not guilty. In light of that, and a long history of police acquittals, including the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles in the early nineties, I am finding it difficult to believe that any jury will find Officer Goodson guilty of “second-degree depraved heart murder” based on the way he drove. I am not saying he should not be found guilty, I am merely pointing out that if one man can shoot and kill an unarmed boy and get off, I fear it is going to be a stretch to find Goodson guilty.
I am not in the habit of raining on people’s parades, but should my fears be realized down the road and the result be a hung jury, or a not-guilty verdict, I can only cringe at the thought of what form the reaction will take.