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West Baltimore residents react to Officer Goodson acquittal

The news that the sole Baltimore police officer facing a murder charge in Freddie Gray's death had been acquitted on all charges was met with disappointment and resignation in West Baltimore, where Gray grew up and died.

The news that the sole Baltimore police officer facing a murder charge in Freddie Gray's death had been acquitted on all charges was met with disappointment and resignation in West Baltimore, where Gray grew up and died.

It was in the neighborhood last April that Gray, 25, following injuries sustained in police custody. In the hours after Gray's funeral, West Baltimore saw the worst of the violence, arson and looting as the city devolved into rioting.

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Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., one of six officer charged, and the one who drove Gray in a police van from Gilmor Homes to the nearby Western District Police Station on April 12, 2015, was acquitted Thursday of all charges — including the harshest charge of the entire case: second-degree murder.

In the minutes after the ruling, West Baltimore residents differed in opinion over the outcome of the officer's case, but the community was united in a sense of quiet disappointment that not enough has changed since last year's riots.

At the bus stop at Pennsylvania and North avenues, home to businesses that were damaged or destroyed amid last year's riot, Xavier Presco, 23, who was born in Woodlawn and lives in Edmondson Village, said he wasn't surprised at Goodson's acquittal.

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

"But it was an unfortunate event that a life was taken and we know the hands that this life was in: the people who are supposed to protect and serve," he added. "What better hands are we supposed to be in?"

Tobias Sellers, of Sandtown-Winchester, said he did not believe the driver had much to do with Gray's death — but still wanted action taken against other officers. He lives a couple blocks from the Gilmor Homes, where Gray grew up.

"The driver did not kill the boy," Sellers said. "The ones who killed they boy, they were acquitted."

Aaron Burch, 44, said he was surprised with the judge's decision and disagreed with it, saying the driver did give Gray a "rough ride" — the basis for much of the state's case.

"Justice hasn't been served. Nothing has happened," Burch said. "If nothing is going to happen it's bound to happen again."

William Gibson, 55, of Sandtown-Winchester, said State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby "did the right thing" by bringing the charges, despite the acquittal Thursday morning by Judge Barry Williams.

"It reminds me a little bit of Rodney King," he said, comparing Gray's death to a high-profile Los Angeles police brutality case in the 1990s. "I think this was just flat-out murder."

Nicole Hair, 37, of Edmondson Village, said she doubts West Baltimore will erupt in violence like it did last year in a riot on the day of Gray's funeral.

"I don't think there will be another riot," she said. "But I don't think people are satisfied."

Anthony Fontaine Coles, of Sandtown-Winchester, said he doesn't expect anything to change and hasn't seen any differences since the riots. Many in the community shared Coles' sense of feeling letdown from the lack of change over the past year.

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"The same things are still going," Coles said. "The police are still doing what they're doing."

Robert Smith, 26, bought cigarettes and a Pepsi Thursday afternoon at King Grocery, a convenience store at the corner of North Mount Street and West North Avenue — the same intersection where police saw Gray and chased him before his arrest.

Smith, a driver for a junk removal company, said he knew as soon as Gray's family agreed to the $6.4 million settlement against the city that the officers wouldn't be 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 he was arrested on Saturday for playing in an illegal dice game, he said, the arresting officer seat-belted him into the transport van, then paused, stepped back and took a picture with his phone.

Ebony Elliott, 39, of Sandtown-Winchester, said she doesn't think any of the six police officers will go to jail — and she can't understand how.

Elliott said she knows police in the city's violent neighborhoods have a difficult job: too much force and they'll face police brutality accusations; too little and they risk being hurt or killed.

She glanced warily at a group of officers walking down the sidewalk on West North Avenue, past the stoop where she stood selling perfume from a handbag Thursday afternoon.

"No disrespect, but they took a life," she said, of the officers involved in Gray's arrest. "This ain't the first one."

Elliott said she didn't know how people would react to the verdict. In the more than a year since protests and later riots broke out in the streets, she said, a sense of hopelessness has grown in West Baltimore.

"If everyone would care, not just in this moment for Freddie Gray, but care for human life itself, it would be a better world," she said.

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