- - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The first of six police officers — three black men and three white men charged in the death of Freddie Gray — went on trial in Baltimore Monday. The verdict in the first case will likely set the tone for the remainder of the trials and determine whether “Charm City” can regain its composure following an arrest that set off three days of rioting and set off the Black Lives Matter movement. Justice, fully blind, is the answer to what ails Baltimore.

Officer William Porter, a black man and the first officer on trial is charged with involuntary manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office for his role in the arrest that led to young Gray’s severe spinal injury that caused his death a week later. The officer met the paddy wagon that transported the young man to a West Baltimore police station, and he is accused of not responding to the young man’s request for medical treatment. The other four men and one woman face similar charges, which can carry a 10-year prison terms. One officer faces the more serious charge of second degree depraved murder, which carries a maximum term of 30 years.

Freddie Gray was said to be a small-time drug dealer; whatever he was he was no principled civil rights icon in the mold of Rosa Parks. But he was a young man and his life mattered. His death became a rallying cry for justice denied in a black community long buffeted by racial strife and crime. Resentment had bubbled for years in his rough inner-city neighborhood, where black-on-black crime made everyone’s life miserable. “Everything is at stake,” says Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. “The future of the city is at stake.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s order to police to step back and allow protesters to pelt them with stones and burn hundreds of buildings, has made things infinitely worse, and she says she won’t run for re-election. State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby threw charges at the cops by the handful, hoping that something would stick and appease the protesters. That’s not leadership, either. Page Croyder, a former Baltimore prosecutor, writes in The Baltimore Sun that Marilyn Mosby’s administration of the criminal charges was “either incompetence or an unethical recklessness.” Her husband, Nick Mosby, a member of the city council, is running for mayor, and fair or not his candidacy will inevitably be a referendum on his wife’s administration of justice.

Baltimore faces a no-win proposition. If Officer Porter is freed, there’s likely to be resentment unbound once more, with blood on the streets. If he is convicted, police officers will be wary of policing the city, afraid of a making a misstep that could put them in prison. They might patrol the streets so cautiously that the law would be unenforced. The city recorded its 300th murder this year, a per-capita record, in mid-November.

Freddie Gray did not deserve what happened to him, and in a perfect world the trials would produce the facts about a tragedy, and the public could see what actually happened on a sad night in the city. Neither do the six police officers deserve to be targeted by political connivers for retribution. All deserve justice, blind and colorblind.

The city that gave America “The Star-Spangled Banner” knows a thing or two about persevering through “the perilous fight.” Calm before a storm is a measure of character, and Baltimore has an opportunity to demonstrate that adversity becomes it.

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