“Every time an officer is not charged or convicted, it hurts us deeply as black people because it sends a message about the worth of our lives and our humanity.”
WASHINGTON — Black Lives Matter activists responded to news of a mistrial Wednesday in the case of Baltimore police officer William Porter — who was charged with involuntary manslaughter and three other charges associated with the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody — with anger and anxiety over what it means for the other five officers yet to stand trial.
Porter’s trial ended with a hung jury, and the judge in the case, Barry Williams,declared a mistrial. Jurors could not reach unanimous agreement on any of the four charges. Legal experts said the outcome of Porter’s trial was expected to set the tone for at least three other officers charged with involuntary manslaughter: Sgt. Alicia White, Lt. Brian Rice and Officer Caesar Goodson. Only Goodson faces a more serious charge of second-degree depraved-heart murder.
With no verdict, activists reacted Wednesday with equal parts frustration over the deadlock, angst over what lies ahead, and relative optimism that there was no acquittal. Protests had begun Wednesday night, and activists said they were beginning to organize around the next steps.
“It’s great to see charges being brought against these officers, but it would be even better to see it brought all the way home with convictions,” said Autumn Marie of Black Lives Matter network.
Marie said Porter’s testimony was illuminating because the way Gray was handled in the police wagon was, by and large, standard police procedure.
She said Porter’s admission that he never strapped in prisoners — and the apparent nonchalance with which the evidence was treated in the case — was cause for a paradigm shift; just because the law allows you to not strap somebody in a paddy wagon, she said, does not mean officers should set aside someone’s humanity.
“It’s a very clear reminder that it’s not just one officer or one police department, but the way police work is done across the board disregards the humanity of the people they police,” Marie said. “It says a lot about how they regard us.”
DeRay Mckesson of Campaign Zero, which recently released a set of policy recommendations to challenge what the group says are protections given to officers in their union contracts, told BuzzFeed News that in some ways a mistrial is a better result than if Porter was found not guilty.
“The police expected an acquittal,” Mckesson said. “A hung jury is better than an acquittal and provides an opportunity for the prosecution to reflect on which arguments resonated with the jury and which did not.”
“This case calls into question whether we can convict an officer given the current systems of accountability and is a reminder that we need to update the laws in ways that ensure accountability,” Mckesson, a Baltimore native, continued. He added the current system of accountability could be addressed with an overhaul of use of force standards, or by removing or “heavily amending” the law enforcement officers’ bill of rights.
Sharon Black, of Baltimore’s People’s Power Alliance, called the hung jury “a miscarriage of justice” and said she and others were already set Wednesday evening to begin protesting outside of the courthouse in downtown Baltimore.
“On the one hand, from the standpoint of activists in the street, this isn’t what we were hoping for,” Black said. “On the other, it’s been a long long fight for justice in this case and it’s one step toward the next step.”
Black said there was an emerging “police state” in Baltimore, an atmosphere bringing added tension between the protesters and police. Photos and video of a well-known protester, Kwame Rose, being taken away by Baltimore police were were already getting major traction on social media Wednesday night.
In a statement, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake pleaded with the public to protest peacefully.
“In the coming days, if some choose to demonstrate peacefully to express their opinion, that is their constitutional right,” she said. “I urge everyone to remember that collectively, our reaction needs to be one of respect for our neighborhoods, and for the residents and businesses of our city.”
Black said anger over the outcome was tempered by low expectations about whether Porter could be convicted. Also, there was added uncertainty over whether the prosecutor in the case, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, would decide to convene another jury.
“Many activists believe that it’s not over,” she said. “It’s not a good thing, but it’s not a done deal, either.”