A year after Freddie Gray, 25, died from a neck injury he incurred while in the custody of Baltimore police officers after an unlawful arrest, prosecutors announced that the charges against the three of six remaining officers that had yet to go to trial would be dropped.
Again, the justice system failed to provide the kind of accountability the movement for black lives demanded, particularly in reaction to Gray’s death in police custody. Hopes for justice were high especially after the state medical examiner deemed Gray’s death a homicide.
But Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby released a sobering statement on how much Prosecutor Michael Schatzow’s decision to drop the charges rests on the reality that the cards are stacked against justice in the courts:
After much thought and prayer, it has become clear that without being able to work with an independent investigatory agency from the very start, without having a say in the election of whether cases proceed in front of a judge or jury, without communal oversight of police in this community, without substantive reforms to the current criminal justice system, we could try this case 100 times just like it and we would still end up with the same result.
As it stands, police are rarely indicted for killing civilians, even as more video evidence of those killings becomes available. Rather, as Vox’s Dara Lind has pointed out, the legal standard for lethal use of force “often boils down to what the officer believedwhen the force was used (something that is notoriously difficult to standardize), regardless of how much of a threat actually existed.”
The difficulty in prosecuting such cases is illustrated by reports like one in 2011 by the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, which says only 32.8 percent of the 3,238 criminal cases filed against police officers between January and December 2010 resulted in a conviction — less than half the public conviction rate for criminal charges (68 percent). Among those rare convictions, only a little more than a third of them (36 percent) actually result in prison sentences.
The latest string of acquittals in the death of Freddie Gray magnifies how much the criminal justice system is broken, and how imperative reform is to ensure everyone is held accountable under the law, especially those responsible for enforcing it.