When Maryland State’s attorney Marilyn Mosby decided to indict six police officers for the death of Freddie Gray, she may have been responding only to the evidence of criminal conduct by law enforcement. Her office found that police lacked probable cause to arrest Gray, and that they abused him when he was in custody.
When she announced the decisions, however, she explicitly responded to the riots, rebellions, and demonstrations of the past week:
To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace.’ Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man.”
To those that are angry, hurt or have their own experiences of injustice at the hands of police officers I urge you to channel that energy peacefully as we prosecute this case I have heard your calls for ‘No justice, no peace,’ however your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of Freddie Gray.
But the events of the last week are not all that mattered. Marilyn Mosby has been in office only a few months, and most of her electoral campaign occurred in the wake of the Ferguson protests. She ran for office while tens of thousands of people marched for justice in Ferguson Missouri, and more generally, against police violence in cities across the United States. She promised to heal the rift between the citizens of Baltimore and their police force by prosecuting police misconduct, faulting the (white) incumbent for failing to do so.
Although there was certainly no shortage of local grievances about policing, the national campaign and the demonstrations intensified attention and animated the debate. In office, Mosby is trying to deliver.
Do protests work? Not by themselves, and not always in ways we expect. But the citizens of Baltimore saw Freddie Gray’s death in the context of not only Baltimore’s policing, but also in the deaths of young black men at the hands of police far away.
Now, will the indictments lead to convictions? Will the prosecution do anything to reverse decades of decay in most of Baltimore? Improve the schools? Create jobs? Reopen public pools and community recreation centers?
Justice means even more than prosecution of criminal conduct.