After a couple of days of relative calm in Baltimore, you can already feel the tension building as officials begin dropping subtle hints about the Freddie Gray investigation. It’s Ferguson all over again, with leaks to the media casting doubt over the assumed story. The biggest of these leaks came from the Washington Post, where it was reported that another prisoner claimed that Gray was banging his head against the wall in an attempt to injure himself.
The Baltimore Police Department is remaining mum, having turned over their investigation to the state’s attorney’s office. There it will be decided whether or not charges will be brought against the officers who handled Gray’s arrest and transport. But there is a sense of impending doom in the air. Attorneys for Gray have begun stepping up their calls for justice, and they have been joined by pundits in the media and protestors on the streets.
And that’s really the biggest problem about all of this. Regardless of what the facts show or where the evidence leads, people have already made up their minds. As with Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the protestors have already decided the case based on a very limited and biased view of the available evidence. They’ve decided this can go only one of two ways. One, the officers are charged and justice is served. Two, the officers are exonerated and once again the system has killed an unarmed black man with impunity. There’s this sense of Do the right thing…or else.
But that’s not the way our justice system works. Is it a perfect system? Absolutely not. But it is far preferable to a system where we charge and convict individuals based on community sentiment. Innocent people go to prison and guilty people are set free. But this ratio would only worsen if we were to begin making prosecutorial decisions based on a fear of rioting. Perhaps there is something tragically wrong with our country that we keep winding up at this point, but it’s not something that will be fixed by burning down the city of Baltimore.
Once again, we are giving far too much airtime to so-called legal analysts who have an obvious ax to grind. Any lawyer worth their salt should know better than to analyze a case where very few of the facts are known. Yet many of them are more than happy to do so if it means getting their faces on CNN. We need calm, cool voices of rationality that excuse themselves from taking one side or the other. We need people to speak out for the system, the law, and the virtue of waiting until all the evidence is in before making a rush to judgment. But that doesn’t sell.
Freddie Gray’s family deserves justice, but that doesn’t mean Baltimore police officers should be sent to prison. It means a thorough investigation should determine whether or not wrongdoing occurred. If this movement is about giving black men a fair legal system, then we must give the system its due respect.