Three years ago today, my office brought criminal charges against six police officers in the untimely and unfortunate death of Freddie Carlos Gray Jr. The evidence suggested that Freddie Gray was unconstitutionally arrested — hands cuffed and feet shackled — then placed head-first unsecured and defenseless in the back of a metal police wagon, where his spine was partially severed and his pleas for medical attention were ignored.
That decision to bring charges was not one I made lightly, but upon taking office I pledged to pursue justice regardless of one’s race, class, ZIP code or — in this case — occupation. I applied the law to the facts, and charged accordingly.
I'm often asked to recount the moments that led up to my decision — the days and hours I spent pacing my office, reading through tons of documents, reviewing breathtaking footage and ultimately walking down the steps of the War Memorial to announce the charges. Without a doubt, those were the most difficult moments in my life. I knew that nothing would be the same after that announcement. And while I was not sure of what the future held, I was sure that I was doing the right thing.
The Gray incident did not take place in a vacuum. There is a long and sordid history of the police department’s discriminatory practices toward communities of color, especially young black men. I felt an enormous responsibility to live up to the promises I made as a candidate for this office, but I felt an even greater pressure to get it right. I had to get it right not only for Freddie Gray, but for communities that feel like justice for their loved ones is typically an after-thought. Just as importantly, I had to get it right for the overwhelming majority of officers who protect and serve with pride.
In those decision-making moments, I thought back to my childhood, growing up in the “police house” and watching my grandfather risk his life every day to protect and serve his community. He was the ideal community police officer — he arrested the “bad guys” but also went above and beyond to support every member of our community, including the “bad guys.”
Guided by my faith, believing that I was put in that position at that moment for a reason, I felt that if we were ever going to make real on our promises to reform the criminal justice system — no matter how daunting the task — that moment had arrived.
I was determined not to be yet another politician who failed to use their power to effect change. I was determined to see Freddie Gray and the scores of young boys like him who struggle daily to navigate their existence in a society that doesn’t see their humanity. I was determined to do the right thing for the right reason. Freddie Gray had no pedigree, was poisoned by lead paint early on in life, had limited education and bleak career prospects. Still, he was a man and deserved to be seen by those of us who have the ability and the responsibility to ensure equal protection and justice under the law.
My actions on that day have been scrutinized repeatedly, and perhaps we will never reach a consensus on what should have occurred in this case. However, I can speak with complete assuredness that I would make the same decision if confronted with the same set of circumstances again. Baltimore took an important step forward in that moment. The long list of progressive reforms that were born from that moment speak to the enormous impact Freddie Gray had not just on our city but this country. I never met Freddie Gray, but I am proud to be associated with his legacy.
A week after my decision, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into the Baltimore Police Department — the eighth largest police department in the country. That examination exposed a pattern of discriminatory policing practices that led to the implementation of a federal consent decree, resulting in major police reforms that are still underway.
I want our city to know that while the Baltimore Police Department undergoes much-needed culture and operational changes, residents and law-abiding officers will always have a partner in the state’s attorney’s office. As long as I’m in this position, I will always fight for the citizens of Baltimore. That includes young men like Freddie Gray, innocent children like Phylicia Barnes, those unfortunately forgotten like Carter Scott, and yes, the dedicated men and women of our police department, who, like my Papa, risk their lives with honor, courage and pride each and every day.
Marilyn Mosby is Baltimore's state's attorney. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.