Today is the first day of the first trial of a Baltimore City police officer charged with crimes related to the death of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who died after riding in a police van. We who live and work here remember well the riots that broke out across the city last April.
The trials – there will be six in all – are putting us on edge once again. CNN, Fox, the networks, Al Jazeera, they’re all here. Some are overtly saying that they want to be here “in case something happens.” They don’t necessarily care about the trial itself, they just want to be ready to report rioting and looting and burned cars if it should come to that.
The judge in the case, Barry Williams, has a lot of experience prosecuting law enforcement officers for misconduct when he was with the Justice Department. He was also a successful Assistant State’s Attorney here in Baltimore. He knows both sides of the law, and what is legal and illegal in law enforcement. Some say he has a passion for this, others say he’s overzealous.
The defense lawyers have filed numerous motions to get the best possible advantage for their police officer clients. Undoubtedly they are concerned about the judge’s background. They have asked for a change of venue (denied), removal of the prosecutor (denied), and sequestration of the jury (denied), among other requests. Judge Barry Williams has not been convinced that the officers cannot get a fair trail in Baltimore without these changes.
He has, though, prohibited cameras and recording devices in the courtroom, as well as the press. The media will be seated in a separate room, and watch by closed circuit television. If members of the media wish to tweet or text or talk about the trial, they must leave the room and go to a separate media room to communicate.
All this pre-trial posturing makes me wonder (and worry) about what’s to come. Are we going to have to hold our breath for the next several months while these trials proceed? Will the press get things wrong and stir things up like they did in the aftermath of the riots? Will Baltimoreans face continued disruptions to our daily routines?
And most importantly, what outcome do we want? I’m sure many people who live here would prefer an outcome that does NOT result in riots, but what outcome is that? There are six trials, lasting for months. What if some are found guilty and some are not? What if several accept a plea agreement in which they plead guilty to lesser charges? Or get immunity for testifying against others? What if all are found not guilty?
Will there be any outcome that does not summon the feelings of victimization, injustice, helplessness, and rage that provoked the April riots? I honestly don’t believe there is. All I know that is that we will continue to work and live here, no matter what.