Today, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby issued the following statement:
“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.”
Police arrested Gray the morning of April 12, 2015, after he fled from officers on bike patrol. Officers shackled Gray’s wrists and legs and loaded him into a police transport van without seat-belting him. At some point during the ride to jail, Gray fell and suffered a severe neck injury. We do not know precisely what happened to cause Mr. Gray’s injuries in that van, nor is it likely that we will ever know. He died in the hospital a week later. The State Medical Examiner deemed Mr. Gray’s death a homicide. But apparently, according to Judge Barry Williams, it was a homicide that did not warrant justice. Apparently, Judge Williams did not believe that Freddie Gray’s life mattered.
Although six officers involved in the arrest and transport of Mr. Gray were charged in connection with his homicide, not a single one was convicted. In fact, only four trials took place, one ending in a hung jury, three others ending in acquittals, and the remaining charges being dropped when it became obvious that prosecutors were wasting their time, that there would be no justice for Mr. Gray.
Ms. Mosby claims that there were abnormalities in the investigation of Gray’s death, saying there were individual officers who were witnesses and also were part of the investigation. She said lead detectives were “uncooperative” and that search warrants were not executed. Mosby also said officers created videos to “disprove the state’s case.” Whether those allegations are true or not, I cannot say, but I do know that it is rare for police actually to be convicted when accused of causing wrongful death or other forms of police brutality.
Police officers are rarely charged, and if they are charged, they are convicted at a lower rate than people in the general populace, according to a study by the Cato Institute. In fact, police officers are only half as likely to be convicted and punished as the general populace. Why is this?
- Juries and trial court judges are seemingly reluctant to convict in criminal court an officer whose crimes rose out of an on-duty incident that occurred as part of their job.
- Juries tend to side with officers who argue self-defense, as they see the police as protectors.
- There is no national reporting requirement for such accusations; in fact, many places have laws to purposefully keep the details of misconduct investigations out of the public eye.
- Most of the time, prosecutors don’t press charges against police, even when there is evidence of wrongdoing, as to do so is to put the prosecutor’s career on the line.
However, the biggest reason police officers are so rarely convicted is what is known as the “blue wall of silence.” This is the unwritten rule that exists among police officers not to report on a colleague’s errors, misconducts, or crimes. If questioned about an incident of misconduct involving another officer (e.g. during an official inquiry), while following the code, the officer being questioned would claim ignorance of another officer’s wrongdoing. Police officers protect each other. They rarely testify against another officer. Officers who do not follow the code are sometimes threatened and ostracized by fellow police officers. This, I believe, is the biggest single barrier to bringing justice to corrupt police officers, bar none. This “blue wall of silence” is the reason we will never know who killed Freddie Gray.
Please do not misunderstand me. I have the greatest respect for law enforcement as a whole, and I believe that the majority of police officers are out there putting their lives on the line every day, trying to do the right thing with but one goal in mind: to protect the citizens. I have often written about the dangers and immorality of judging an entire group of people based on the actions of a few, and it is not my intent to make such judgments here. But, as with any other group, there are members of every police community who are corrupt, who are bigoted, who are more concerned with their illusions of power than with protection of the community. And just as with any other group, it is those few most remembered for their actions … actions which colour our opinion of the entire group.
Given the statistics, and given the many recent cases like Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and others who have died at the hands of police without any accountability by police, is it any wonder that relations between law enforcement and the community are strained? What is the solution? I cannot say. There are laws prohibiting officers from withholding information, or giving false testimony, but just as with any other law, if not enforced, then they have little or no value.
We all decry such events as the recent killings of police in Baton Rouge and Dallas, killings that come as a result of frustration with the law enforcement community. Frustration and fear. Fear that we, or one of our children, may someday be the victims of the same treatment that Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, or Philando Castile received. We have come to fear the very people we should be able to trust the most. The solution, the only possible solution, is to hold law enforcement to a high standard of accountability. Until we do that, our society will continue along its current path. Think about it.