When it comes to deciding whether Marilyn Mosby should get a second term, Baltimore voters will have two things on their minds — the cases she brought against six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray and the appalling rate of violence that has occurred across our city since Mosby took office as state’s attorney.
Some will readily give Mosby credit for the first thing and reward her with their votes. The Freddie Gray case was something rare: a high-profile prosecution of cops. They were each accused of contributing in some way to the gruesome death of a young man many Baltimoreans felt should not have been arrested in the first place. For those Baltimoreans, it won’t matter that, in four trials, Mosby’s prosecutors failed to prove that the officers' treatment of Gray rose to criminality.
Nor will it matter that, in dropping the remaining charges, Mosby tried to blame others. She accused police investigators of having "inherent bias" that subverted her cases. She complained that the Maryland trial system was rigged against the prosecution.
None of this will matter because, for many Baltimoreans, Mosby’s charging of the cops was sufficiently bold. They will look right past any responsibility Mosby might have for the city’s long surge of violence.
Others will give a vote of thanks that Mosby brought the Freddie Gray case — “No justice, no peace” — as a way of sparing the city more unrest in the spring of 2015.
But there are at least two other voter scenarios that make the important 2018 Democratic primary for Baltimore State’s Attorney the most interesting city election we have seen in nearly two decades.
Other Baltimoreans will fault Mosby for failing to get convictions of the Freddie Gray Six while holding her at least partly responsible for the debilitating level of violence over the last three years.
And still others, fed up with the violence that has made Baltimore one of the most dangerous cities in the country, will essentially be single-issue voters, focused on the crime problem. They will see the June 26 primary as an opportunity to get a new prosecutor in place.
Is Mosby in some way responsible for the high level of violence?
I said this once, and repeat it here: Making a prosecutor responsible for the rate of murders in a city seems akin to making the chief of surgery responsible for all the heart disease. There are so many factors that lead to violence — the dynamics of the local heroin market, the easy access to guns, the virulence of the local retaliation contagion, understaffing and leadership upheaval in the police department — that it’s hard to see how the state’s attorney can prevent such crimes.
But Mosby made this very argument in 2014 when she campaigned against the incumbent state’s attorney, Gregg Bernstein.
"We're in a state of crisis,” she said. “What's happening in the state's attorney's office is not acceptable."
Mosby hammered Bernstein for an increase in homicides: In 2011, Bernstein’s first year in office, there had been 197 of them; by 2013, the year Mosby announced her campaign, the homicide count had risen to 235.
So, the trend was up, but the death toll never reached the dismal levels we had seen back in the crack-infested 1990s — nor the levels we have seen since Mosby defeated Bernstein in the 2014 primary.
And that’s where Mosby’s suggestion — that the state’s attorney shares some of the blame for the city’s murder rate — comes back to bite her.
According to The Sun’s database, there were 860 homicides in Baltimore during Bernstein’s four years in office.
Mosby has been in office since January 2015. As of Friday, there had been 1,118 homicides during her tenure, with another six months to go in her first term.
The homicide rate has not been my standard for evaluating a prosecutor, though the argument that it should be has been made convincingly by both of Mosby’s opponents in the primary, attorneys Thiru Vignarajah and Ivan Bates. I have interviewed both men twice for the Roughly Speaking podcast. (Mosby has not accepted an invitation to the program.)
Both men are former prosecutors. They say experienced trial attorneys can make a difference in a key area of public safety — getting convictions and sending violent offenders to prison. If we bring this back to my cardiological metaphor, we would view the chief of surgery’s role more broadly: Successful bypass operations or valve repairs contribute to an overall reduction in deaths.
If you buy that, then Mosby was right all along — the rate of violent crime is in part a reflection of the effectiveness of Baltimore's chief prosecutor in getting violent offenders off the street or at least sending a message of certain and harsh punishment for those who would shoot or kill again. If that’s a fair measure of Mosby’s effectiveness, then Baltimoreans have two worthy alternatives to consider on Election Day.