The policeman on trial for his role in the arrest of Freddie Gray in Baltimore was acquitted Monday and the city did not explode. Much of the credit for keeping the peace goes to the Gray family. Billy Murphy, the family lawyer, said after the verdict that “I don’t think anybody should be upset with this verdict.” He praised the judge, who like Freddie Gray, is black, for deciding on the facts and not the public pressure coming from both sides.
“It’s a very, very difficult job to sit as a judge under these enormously stressful conditions,” he said, “and once again Judge Barry Williams has shown that he is a fair and impartial man.”
Freddie Gray was fatally injured in a police paddy wagon while he was being taken to a police station for questioning. Several other officers were charged with reckless endangerment and other misconduct, and the prosecutors were counting on a conviction to give them momentum in the prosecution of the others. Officer Edward Nero was acquitted of second degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in the case, and chose to be tried before a judge without a jury. The city was on edge and police were prepared for violence. The reaction of those who might have been tempted to run to the streets gave Baltimore a little relief in the hours after the verdict.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who was held responsible for the violence in the wake of Freddie Gray’s arrest last year praised the ruling and urged calm this time. She warned prospective rioters to stay home. “In the case of any disturbance in the city,” she said, “we are prepared to respond. We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses and the people of our city.”
More trials will follow, but the early reaction to the Gray verdict suggests lesson learned, that it’s better to rely on the judicial system and avoid heated and reckless reaction to the uninformed rumors and loose talk that led to violence that followed Mr. Gray’s death. Mr. Murphy put wise words succinctly: “Only the people who sat through this trial and heard all of the evidence have a right to have an opinion about whether [Judge William’s] opinion was fair and whether it was warranted under the circumstances.”
The city and people of Baltimore, like the people of Ferguson, Mo., paid a heavy price for the violence last year. In the early hours after the verdict, it looked like Baltimore had avoided the fire this time.