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Have we finally reached the last page of the Freddie Gray story in Baltimore? If so, the ending looks not at all like the opening chapter.

In April 2015, when we first heard about Gray’s life-threatening injuries, when we saw the first cellphone video of his arrest, it appeared to many that Gray had been injured by officers even before being dragged to a police transport van for a “rough ride” to the Western District. It looked as though the arresting officers had been at least callous, and possibly brutal, in their treatment of a 25-year-old black man in handcuffs.

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When Gray died from his injuries a week later, some cried murder. His death set off days of protest against police brutality. On the day of his funeral, the west side erupted in rioting, arson and lootings, bringing the Maryland National Guard to town and an international media spotlight to West Baltimore’s social and economic conditions. The events exposed toxic relations between police and African-American citizens.

With the smell of burned cars and drugstores still in the air, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced charges against the six police officers involved in Gray’s arrest, defusing the possibility of more rioting but leaving many wondering about a rush to judgment. Mosby, who enjoyed a surge of national publicity, even charged one of the cops, the driver of the van, with murder.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis drops administrative charges against Sgt. Alicia White in Freddie Gray case

But in the end — after the protests and riot, after the criminal trials of the arresting officers, after a change in leadership in the Police Department and the mayor’s office, after a scathing Justice Department report and a consent decree calling for reforms in Baltimore policing — Gray’s death appeared to be what the longtime forensic pathologist Vincent DiMaio called it: a spinal cord injury from an accident in the back of the van.

Of course, many rejected the accident conclusion because the state medical examiner had ruled Gray’s death a homicide.

Accident or homicide, the pathologists agreed that his death was avoidable had Gray, at the least, been restrained by a seat belt during the van ride.

While the city paid the Gray family $6.4 million to settle any civil claims over his death, many wanted to see “killer cops” go to jail.

That did not happen.

In the end, the state, though well represented by experienced attorneys Mosby was fortunate to have on staff, proved no criminality by the cops, no malicious intent. It was not even close, to hear the judge tell it.

In rendering his verdicts after the trial of the van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams found no evidence to support a murder or manslaughter conviction. There was no evidence of reckless endangerment. No evidence of a “rough ride.” What happened, Williams said, did not even rise to misconduct.

In acquitting Goodson and, separately, two other officers, Williams broadly rebuked the state’s cases.

In July 2016, Mosby dropped all charges against the remaining three officers, but not without blaming a system rigged in favor of defendants (because they can opt for a bench trial over trial by jury) and suggesting that police who investigated Gray's death had an "inherent bias" against her efforts to exact justice.

Whatever. In the end, Mosby was unable to get convictions.

And, in the end, only two of the officers received any kind of discipline, and then only minor action, at the departmental level. Two others were acquitted of charges at police trial boards. On Wednesday, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis announced his decision to drop departmental charges against the last Freddie Gray cop to face possible discipline.

What are the takeaways from all this?

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Here are a few: That insinuation is not evidence, and that the burden of proof is a heavy one, and even more so when the defendants are police officers being tried for actions in the line of duty. That videos have the power to reveal truth, but we still can’t jump to conclusions about criminal intent. That there was a perfect-storm nature to the reaction to Freddie Gray’s death, coming as it did after the deaths of other black men at the hands of police.

Others will see nothing good here — no justice for Freddie Gray, and no admonition to police. I empathize with those who feel that way because of their personal experiences, which is another important takeaway from all this: Reach for empathy before you surrender to scorn.

Baltimore has gone through too much trouble for nothing of meaning to come out of this tragedy. Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and former professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, has it right: The Freddie Gray case put Baltimore at a moral crossroads (into a crucible, really), and we take what we can from it, like any life lesson, and use it to inform the future or risk repeating the past.

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