Last April, Baltimore caught fire over Freddie Gray but there was a lot more to the ensuing conflagration than the death of one man. From the anger over police brutality here and elsewhere to the desperate conditions in Baltimore's most economically-depressed neighborhoods and some poor decision-making by city leaders that at times exacerbated the problem, there was a lot of dry kindling waiting for that particular spark.
If all goes as planned, the jury in the trial of Officer William G. Porter, the first of six Baltimore police officers indicted in Freddie Gray's death, will begin deliberations Monday, which means a verdict is not far away. How will Baltimore react? It's impossible to know for certain. Last week, Baltimore's mayor and police commissioner called for people to act "respectfully" to the decision — which is, of course, a sign that they worry many may not.
We would echo the concerns — and aspirations — expressed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis. The mayor's observation that Baltimore has a "chance to show the country how we can be heard peacefully, respectfully and effectively" is exactly on point. And frankly, that should apply not only to potential rioters in the populace but to police officers who might be tempted to stop doing their jobs (the so-called "blue flu" form of protest) if the verdict isn't to their liking either.
Baltimore is clearly better prepared for potential unrest should the need arise but perhaps more important, there are ample signs that the anger and frustration vented last spring — including through the peaceful protests that took a back seat to the days of riots, theft and vandalism that followed — has been heard. The judicial system is working. The verdict will be rendered by a diverse and representative panel of city residents. State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby has had an opportunity to present her version of events as the defendant's lawyers have offered their's. The judge has, by all accounts, been fair and evenhanded.
And there are other important factors at work here. First, Officer Porter is just one defendant; there are five others to go. And perhaps most telling has been what's happened outside the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse during the trial — only occasional demonstrations that have been modest in scope and entirely peaceful. That doesn't suggest this is a city still sitting on the same powder keg of eight months ago but rather that respectful dissent is not only possible but probable.
One more point. The verdict in this case may carry great symbolic weight but ultimately, the trial of Officer Porter comes down to whether he demonstrated proper concern under the law for the health and welfare of a suspect in the back of a police van. The charges he faces, including manslaughter and second-degree assault, are serious, and justice must be served, but there's also the bigger picture: We must prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future while restoring public trust in the police department and reversing what has been a disastrous and historic uptick in murders this year.