Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, was chased and arrested by Baltimore police officers on April 12, 2015. He allegedly made eye contact with an officer and began running, leading to the arrest.
Cellphone video footage shows Gray’s arrest, including him being put into a police van by several officers.
An autopsy, obtained by the Baltimore Sun in late June, shows Gray suffered a “high-energy impact” to his neck and spine.
Gray was put in the police van without a seatbelt while his wrists and ankles were shackled. The autopsy suggested Gray suffered the injury in a fall when the van suddenly sped up or slowed down.
Gray’s death led to major unrest in Baltimore.
In the days after Gray died in late April, many in Baltimore took to the streets in protest, which turned into riots in some areas.
The government estimated the rioting caused $9 million in damages.
Gray was one of many high profile black men and women who died at the hands of police and in police custody within about a one year span, including Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Sandra Bland.
Baltimore itself already had a host of issues ready to send it over the edge. There is a high level of inequality and low chance of upward mobility, leaving people stuck in poverty. The city is also highly segregated.
Gray's death is being heavily investigated.
In Lynch’s first news conference as Attorney General, she announced the Department of Justice was launching a civil rights probe of the Baltimore Police Department. She said:
This investigation will begin immediately, and will focus on allegations that Baltimore Police Department officers use excessive force, including deadly force; conduct unlawful searches, seizures and arrests; and engage in discriminatory policing.
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby gave an impassioned speech on May 1 announcing charges for the officers.
Six officers were charged with offenses including involuntary manslaughter, second-degree negligent assault, misconduct in office and false imprisonment.
Mosby ended her speech by addressing young people in Baltimore, saying:
I will seek justice on your behalf. This is a moment. This is your moment. Let’s insure we have peaceful and productive rallies that will develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come. You’re at the forefront of this cause and as young people, our time is now.
Each of the six charged officers are now having their own separate trials -- a decision that was made by a Baltimore judge in early September.
The first officer to face trial is William G. Porter. He pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.
His trial went on through November and December but ended in a mistrial on December 16 when the jury was unable to make a decision. Porter will again face trial on June 13.
Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr. is set to go on trial starting on January 6, facing charges of depraved-heart second-degree murder. He drove the van in which Gray died.
The officers’ cases have already highlighted regular unfairness and major issues within the Baltimore legal system.
The officers received relatively low bails, cooperative arrests, quick trials and courteous pretrial motions.
Todd Oppenheim, a public defender and candidate for judge in Baltimore City Circuit Court, told Elite Daily:
Those sound like basic things, but we don’t get those for 99 percent of cases here.
Oppenheim pointed this out in a New York Times op-ed.
He told Elite Daily he had a client who was arrested with a group during the unrest. The client was given a $250,000 bail. The officers’ bails, meanwhile, were set between $250,000 and $350,000.
The [officers’ bail] amount itself was something that we wouldn’t see for an indigent or a black person charged for a homicide … Our clients would almost certainly be held in jail without bail.
Being stuck in jail has many effects, including damaging work and family relationships in addition to making it more difficult for lawyers to organize cases.
While many defendants are left waiting in jail with too-high bails, the officers made bail and were scheduled with trials shortly after their arrests.
Officer Porter’s mistrial means people in jail will again have to wait for their own cases to be heard as these cases are being given priority, Oppenheim explained.
Essentially, the officers’ cases are being handled properly, in the way every case should be handled -- but that’s not the treatment many minority and low-income people in Baltimore receive.
Regardless of the outcome of the officers’ cases, at least the trials can shed light on the issues already present in Baltimore’s legal system and around the city in general.
Oppenheim told Elite Daily the city is “finally having a conversation about reform that’s long overdue.” He added:
It’s forcing the courts and the state -- even defense attorneys -- to check themselves and know it’s not a totally insulated system, that people can pay attention.
Paying attention has been at the core of the Freddie Gray story.
Gray’s death became a national discussion because people were forced to pay attention.
Bystanders filmed his arrest, making people look. When he died in the hospital days later, the public around him refused to stop asking questions.
The city of Baltimore rose up to show their outrage over years of inequality and injustice -- economically, socially and legally.
It’s important as these trials continue, we continue to pay attention. But it’s even more important we make sure legitimate changes are made to help improve major problems in Baltimore and cities much like it across the nation.