Contact Evan Serpick
In a press conference this morning at Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray lived and was taken into custody in April 2015, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that her office would drop the pending charges against three officers in the death of Mr. Gray. The move comes after three other officers charged in the killing were acquitted. In doing so, Ms. Mosby acknowledged that “without real substantive reforms to the current criminal justice system, we could try this case 100 times—and cases like it—and we could still end up with the same result.”
Sadly, she is right.
We applaud Ms. Mosby for doing what few prosecutors in recent memory have been willing to do in using the office of the prosecutor to pursue justice in the death of Freddie Gray, which the medical examiner ruled a homicide. But pursuing justice through the criminal courts is just one component in a long-term effort to uproot the structural racism in our criminal justice system and beyond.
Part of this effort must be reforming the way police misconduct is investigated and prosecuted. Police investigating fellow police officers is inherently problematic. And for prosecutors, who work closely with and rely on police as part of their daily jobs, prosecuting police officers can also be problematic. For this reason, such cases must be referred to independent investigators and, if necessary, independent prosecutors. Baltimore can move towards this independence by implementing a state law passed in 2016 that limits the protections for officers accused of misconduct. The law also allows for the appointment of lay citizens to police trial boards, giving everyday citizens a say in whether and how an officer is held accountable.
We must also do more to reform law enforcement to emphasize community policing, de-escalation, and sensible approaches to people who pose no real threat to public safety. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has taken positive steps in this direction by working with OSI and others on a new training series that teaches officers about addiction and Baltimore culture, among other things, and collaborating with the health department, OSI, and others to develop the LEAD program, which diverts drug users to treatment instead of the criminal justice system.
Another vehicle for change is the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) pattern and practice investigation into the Baltimore Police Department. The DOJ investigation provides a key opportunity for Baltimore residents to report their own encounters with law enforcement and recommend ways to improve policing in Baltimore—recommendations that, if incorporated into a consent decree, courts will be able to enforce over the coming years.
OSI-Baltimore grantees Baltimore United for Change, Baltimore Action Legal Team, No Boundaries Coalition, and the Campaign for Justice, Safety and Jobs are helping to lead these reform efforts, and it is certainly not too late for concerned citizens to connect to one of these organizations or take other actions to become agents of change.