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Community Day shows how justice system works in Baltimore

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby encouraged residents Saturday to openly discuss crime issues and play an active role in the justice system.

During the first Community Day in Court, Mosby outlined what her office accomplished during her first 100 days in office and implored residents to be proactive, believing lasting results will occur.

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The event at the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse focused on sexual violence in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Mosby said she wants the community to see where and how the judicial system works and to educate residents on how cooperation from victims and witnesses is among the first steps to "eliminating the fear of coming forward."

"I'm really excited about the first 100 days; we really hit the ground running," said Mosby. "We were able to go after violent repeat offenders. We've been able to start to break down those barriers of distrust, because that's the thing that keeps us from getting those violent repeat offenders off the streets."

Mosby said she will hold another such event this year. She said her office has also adopted programs that introduce fourth- and eighth-grade students to the criminal justice field and said she launched a division focusing on victim witness services and community engagement.

"A lot of people don't know how the criminal justice process works," said Mosby. "All too often they get their information from TV. We want to open it up so there's a dialogue. We begin to discuss the criminal justice intricacies so that people understand the process and how important the community is to the criminal justice system."

Angela Wharton spoke of her experience as a two-time survivor of sexual assault and Phynyx Ministries, her nonprofit organization that supports and advocates for those who suffer a sexual assault.

Cynthia Banks, division chief of the felony trial unit, outlined the successful prosecution of Ernest Rivers, who was convicted in the 1998 rape and stabbing death of 18-year-old Jerrisha Burton.

Police arrested Rivers in 2006 after his DNA matched evidence from the stabbing of Burton, whose body was found in the back of a vehicle in the 700 block of Fillmore St. Banks told how forensic evidence is used to pinpoint suspects, build cases and ultimately gain convictions.

"For all the people who don't understand what we do, this is what we do, every day, and how we do it, step by step," said Banks. "Sometimes it's quick. Sometimes, it's 12 years in the making. But do not ever think for one moment that because a case isn't solved quickly that we're not trying."

While the event was lauded by some, others remained skeptical.

"I came here to see what they were talking about, and it feels like a feel-good session," said Monica Yorkman of Baltimore.

Yorkman, who is transgender, said transgender women do not receive cooperation from the state's attorney's office. Officials denied the allegation, saying they pursue and prosecute all cases without bias.

"Her first 100 days have been OK," Yorkman said of Mosby. "Administrations come and administrations go, but the truth of the matter is, our community is still dying."

Others who attended praised Mosby's efforts.

"It's a great thing they're doing right now. With the presentation, voices are being heard," said Larry Bastfield of Owings Mills. "Some things that have been in the dark for a long time, the state's attorney is bringing them to light. It's time for a change, and they're ready to make that change."

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