In some of her most expansive public comments about the Freddie Gray case since dropping charges against the accused officers last year, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby told a Chicago audience that reforms in this city's Police Department would not have occurred if she hadn't filed charges.
"Had I not been in that position as state's attorney, had I not had a seat at the table to make the unprecedented decisions that I was forced to make, had there been no accountability, there'd be no exposure, there'd be no reform, and the systemic discriminatory police practices in one of the largest police departments would've persisted," Mosby said in a speech Saturday.
Her comments, recorded on video, came at a forum held by the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition. She cited as outgrowths of the criminal case the use of police officer body cameras, new policies regarding the loading of prisoners into police transport vans, the installation of cameras in and outside of transport vans, software that tracks when officers have received and read new agency directives, and use-of-force training.
"In spite of the fact that the six police officers were not convicted and held personally accountable for the death of Freddie Gray, justice has prevailed because now every Baltimore police officer is being held accountable for the actions of a few," Mosby said.
Asked about Mosby's remarks, the chief spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department suggested a different impetus for change. Spokesman T.J. Smith said the agency moved forward with reforms "as a progressive police department, not because of any single event, but more because they needed to occur."
Mosby's speech was part of a busy weekend for the first-term top prosecutor for Baltimore. She appeared at a "meet and greet" Friday night in Chicago with Jackson and Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx and at the Rainbow-PUSH conference Saturday morning. She then flew back to Baltimore to attend a campaign fundraiser Saturday night hosted by Baltimore-born actor Charles "Roc" Dutton.
Though Mosby has not formally announced that she is seeking re-election in 2018, she recently unveiled a revamped campaign website touting her record and has held a number of fundraising events.
Mosby gained national attention in 2015 after quickly filing charges against six Baltimore police officers involved in Gray's arrest and transport to jail, at a time when prosecutors across the country were being maligned for not taking action in deaths involving police.
But she also attracted criticism for the move — and lost the case. Three of the officers were acquitted at trial, and her office dropped the remaining cases.
Mosby has since taken credit in various speeches for reforms taking place in the Baltimore Police Department, though some were in the works well before Gray's death on April 19, 2015.
Body cameras were first discussed in Baltimore in 2013, when they were recommended by a consultant hired by then-Police Commissioner Anthony Batts.
Batts and then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in 2014 proposed a task force to study the implementation of body cameras after an investigation into brutality lawsuits filed against city police. The Baltimore City Council in November 2014 voted to require the entire force to wear body cameras.
And state Del. Charles Sydnor III said he promoted state body camera legislation based on his reaction to the 2014 police-involved death of Eric Garner in New York.
"When I promoted that legislation, I was thinking about Eric Garner and his pleading that he could not breathe," Sydnor said. He said a state law was needed to allow body cameras to record audio. The bill was introduced in the General Assembly session that began in January 2015 and signed into law May 12 that year.
The officers' trials did cast a spotlight on how officers receive updates to department rules called general orders, with the officers asserting they had not been apprised of new rules on securing detainees with seat belts that were issued just days before Gray's arrest. Officers now have to complete quizzes based on information in new orders, and sign their names at the bottom.
In her Chicago address, Mosby — who campaigned for office in 2014 by pledging to address Baltimore's violent crime — acknowledged the city's skyrocketing murder rate during her term. But she criticized the news media for focusing on such numbers. "That's how they want to define our cities … [show] how violent we are," she said.
She said not enough attention is put on the unemployment rate, the number of vacant houses and the poverty rate, adding that young black males are "routinely dehumanized by the very people that are sworn to protect and serve."
She also decried a "self-inflicted genocide," and said people of color are being dehumanized "by everyone, including ourselves."
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Mosby used her prepared comments to criticize President Donald Trump, saying he has "overtly perpetuated" an "ever-increasing racial divide." She said organizing at the local level is an urgent priority.
"History will be defined by those who resisted," she said.
She told the Chicago audience that it is important for African-Americans to win political seats and effect change, noting that she is one of only a handful of black female elected top prosecutors in the country. She said criminal justice reform remains a top issue, and that marching is not enough.
"Systemic reform comes from within and starts with each and every one of us," she said. "If we really want to end the violence that plagues our communities and our cities, if we really want economic education and social and political equality, we need to have a seat at the table so that we can address the systemic ills that are killing our children."
"Criminal justice reform must still be the number one priority for African-Americans in this country, at a time when regression is being touted as making America great again," she said.