Resignation over Goodson verdict, and the larger problems raised by death of Freddie Gray

Some in Baltimore frustrated, others seek calm after officer acquitted of charges over Freddie Gray's death.

Dominic Nell left work at a Baltimore summer camp Thursday afternoon, rode the subway home to West Baltimore to find a veritable skyline of satellite trucks, boom microphones and cameras.

News crews had gathered at the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues, the heart of the protests and riots after the death of Freddie Gray last year.

"Why are you here?" Nell, 39, shouted, going on to answer his own question.

"'Well, we hear there's going to be a protest,'" he said, mimicking the reason for the media attention, as well as a heavier than normal police presence. "Well, did you hear there's 27 homeless people on this block?"

On the day that Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. was acquitted of the most serious charges leveled against six officers in Gray's death, few in his neighborhood were surprised. Many expressed a certain resignation: that for all the attention focused on this and the other trials, there are larger, systemic problems that need to be addressed.

"If everyone would care, not just in this moment for Freddie Gray, but care for human life itself, it would be a better world," said Ebony Elliott, 39, of Sandtown-Winchester.

Elliott glanced warily at officers walking past the stoop where she was selling perfume from a handbag. She acknowledged police have a difficult job in neighborhoods such as her own: Too much force and they risk brutality accusations; too little and they risk being harmed themselves.

Still, she said, "No disrespect, but they took a life. This ain't the first one."

Some residents took hope in the changes they've seen and experienced in their police interactions. And in fact, as the crowd at Penn-North largely dispersed by early evening, a police commander about a block away called some of the officers over to play basketball with kids in the neighborhood.

"Only good thing to come out of it is now police doing more community policing," said Rodney Hudson, pastor of the Ames Memorial Methodist Church near the Sandtown intersection where Gray was arrested.

Hudson, who knew Gray, was disappointed by the verdict, but not surprised.

"I knew the judge wouldn't find him guilty of the main charges," he said. "I think they should have found him guilty of something, though. No way life taken away and no one held accountable."

Robert Smith bought cigarettes and a Pepsi at a convenience store at North and Mount, the same intersection where Gray had spotted police officers and run.

Smith, a 26-year-old driver for a junk removal company, said he, too, was expecting an acquittal. He said he knew as soon as Gray's family agreed to the $6.4 million civil settlement against the city that the officers wouldn't be criminally convicted.

"People want to hear guilty pleas," he said. "Y'all took the money, yo. That's a million a cop. A lot of people don't want to hear that. It's nothing against his people; that's what they're supposed to do."

But Gray's death and the ensuing trials have had at least one effect on the Police Department, Smith said.

When Smith was arrested on Saturday — for allegedly playing an illegal dice game and marijuana possession, according to online court records — he said the officer seat-belted him into the van, paused, stepped back and took a picture with his phone.

Activists said the changes have to go beyond the procedural.

"The verdict today is a reminder that the current laws, policies and practices protect police behavior at all costs," said Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, a former candidate for Baltimore mayor. "The work to create systems and structures that hold police accountable continues. Freddie Gray should be alive today."

The Campaign for Justice, Safety & Jobs, a coalition that emerged in the wake of last year's unrest, called the verdict "yet another failure of our judicial system."

The campaign, among the groups that successfully lobbied the General Assembly to pass a sweeping criminal justice reform bill, said such efforts must continue. Members pledged to work with the new mayor and city council to put civilians on police trial boards.

City officials said they were encouraged by the peaceful response to the verdict.

State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, the Democratic nominee to be Baltimore's next mayor, said protests "are a vital part of democracy," but urged any demonstrations to be peaceful.

"Although people may disagree with the verdict, it is important to respect each other and to respect our neighborhoods and our communities," she said.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said he had "no doubt we will continue to exhibit behaviors that represent the very best of Baltimore."

Still, lingering damage remains.

"What they don't understand is that we in the black community will not trust cops anymore," Janea Rogers, 38, said as she stood outside the courthouse Thursday morning with her two children, Sherrod, 13, and Mystique, 17.

"We're afraid now. I have to tell my children to be on their guard around cops because they might kill them and get away with it."

Rogers was one of a few dozen protesters who gathered outside the courthouse as the verdict was read.

Another demonstrator protested silently with half of her face painted white and a sign that read, "They killin' us alive legally."

Tawanda Jones, whose brother, Tyrone West, died in police custody in 2013, said she feared for her community.

"This is going to get worse now," she said. "They just proved black lives don't matter. We scream like they matter, but they don't."

The protesters marched from the courthouse to other parts of town, including the Inner Harbor. But while police and City Hall had made preparations in case of unrest, the day unfolded in a largely quiet way.

Sue Osterholt, 62, was wasn't surprised either.

"It was pretty much foreseen," said Osterholt, 62, of the verdict. "It seemed inconceivable that they could be prosecuted at the charges that were brought."

Osterholt was visiting Baltimore for the first time from California with her family. She said she didn't know the verdict was going to be announced Thursday, and wouldn't have changed her plans anyway. Some, though, were concerned on her behalf.

"We were told not to stay out after dark by the guy at Walgreens," Osterholt said with a laugh. "Now that I'm here, it seems very low-key, actually."

Barry Tahirou, 36, pushed his son in a stroller on his usual evening walk around the harbor. He said the verdict left him dissatisfied.

"I think there is something missing," he said. "Someone has been arrested, put in the truck, and then they died."

Others believed Williams arrived at the right verdict.

"In a court of law, it's not what you know, it's what you can prove," said Javier Presco, 23, of Edmondson Village. "There was no real evidence to convict that man."

The Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police and at least one state lawmaker, Republican Sen. Michael J. Hough of Frederick County, called for the charges against the remaining officers to be dropped.

But Del. Curt Anderson, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the city's legislative delegation, said justice will not be served unless all the officers are tried.

Anderson, a criminal defense attorney, said justice was served in the Goodson case because "there was suspected wrongdoing by a police officer that some people thought was criminal, and it went to a court.

"It doesn't matter whether the person was found innocent or guilty, they didn't get away with nothing. They had to stand in the light of scrutiny."

Abandoning the cases against the remaining officers would mean abandoning the pursuit of justice, he said.

"If they're not tried, then there is no justice," he said. "There is no explaining the facts or standing up to prosecution.

"The fact of the matter is ... Freddie Gray is dead, and he wasn't before he encountered the police. In order for it to be resolved in my mind, everybody involved should have their day in court."

William C. Calhoun, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in West Baltimore, said the judge's ruling might have been different had Mosby's office taken more time to investigate the actions of the police officers who arrested and transported Gray.

He said the best chance for justice for Gray could come through the continuing investigation into the Baltimore police department's practices by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"We have to clean up a whole lot of the justice system in the city of Baltimore," Calhoun said. "You can't just kill people and get away with it. This is not to throw at all police, but when there is brutality we have to be very thorough."

Many took to Twitter to lament the verdict.

"Gray's death is a tragedy not found to be a crime in court, but a wakeup call for Baltimore," the NAACP said. "Not a day of rejoice for anybody."

Protester Kwame Rose said he now expects no convictions in Gray's death.

"#FreddieGray death was ruled a homicide which means that another human being caused his death," he said. "Only no human being will be held accountable."

Former NAACP President Ben Jealous asked a question.

"Maybe we should put the police van on trial for the death of #FreddieGray?"

Baltimore Sun reporters Wyatt Massey, Tim Prudente, Colin Campbell, Erin Cox, Catherine Rentz, Jonathan Capriel, Jessica Anderson, Maya Earls, Jesse Coburn, Alison Knezevich, Doug Donovan, John Fritze, Andrew Dunn and Justin George contributed to this article.

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