The charges came down like a thunderous clap. No one was expecting it.
More stunning than the murder charges were the confidence and detail with which Marilyn J. Mosby, state’s attorney for the city of Baltimore, laid out her homicide case Friday against the six police officers who will be charged, arrested and tried in the death of Freddie Gray. Gray, 25, died April 19 from a fatal spine injury while in police custody. Among the charges: second-degree depraved heart murder, manslaughter and assault in the second degree.
Mosby came out swinging for justice: “People of Baltimore and demonstrators across America, I heard your calls for justice.” And then she sent a loud message to the nation: “My administration is committed to creating a fair and equitable justice system for all … no matter what your occupation, your age, your race, your color or your creed.” She was telling citizens: Your life matters; the justice system that we’ve lost faith in can indeed work.
She outlined her case in shocking detail, asserting that she has probable cause to arrest these officers, but the officers had zero probable cause to pursue and arrest Gray. The knife Gray carried wasn’t a switchblade; it was legal. His multiple requests for medical help during multiple stops went completely ignored. He was never secured in the van and was even seen lying unresponsive. By the time he got to the police station he wasn’t breathing and was in cardiac arrest.
Prosecutors don’t typically hand over the details of their case until they’re forced to under the discovery rules, and some wondered whether she said too much. No way. She said exactly what was needed to be said. She made it clear that she conducted an exhaustive investigation and she followed the evidence and filed charges. And impressively she had the courage to detail her case, point by point, before the world.
This was a tremendously effective move on her part. In laying out the facts, she communicated the gravity of the officers’ actions and the grounds she has to make out the elements of the crimes. When Mosby detailed how Sgt. Alicia White allegedly even checked on Gray at one point and found him unresponsive and still did not call for medics, the retired New York police detective sitting next to me on a TV set at CNN shook his head in disgust at the officer’s behavior.
She stood up for the men and women in uniform by making it clear that “these accusations of these six officers are not an indictment of the entire police force. … The actions of those officers will not and should not in any way damage the important working relationships between the police and prosecutors as we continue to fight together to reduce crime in Baltimore.”
A few days ago, her husband said of his wife, the newly elected state’s attorney in Baltimore, who counts five generations of police officers in her family, that she was “made for this moment.” I can’t agree more.
The wheels of justice have just started turning in this case, and we do not know what the final outcome will be. The facts describe a heartbreaking, emerging situation and a complicated case. The six officers deserve due process, and in a court of law, they will get it.
But whatever the final result, the most important message here is about humanity. What we all want is to be treated with dignity, to know that our lives mattered. At the end of the day, what Mosby said is the most important message of all: Freddie Gray’s life matters, and so does yours.