On Freddie Gray, And The Rapidly Decreasing Value Of Hope In The Criminal Justice System

WUSA 9 screenshot
WUSA 9 screenshot

Earlier this afternoon, news broke that a mistrial was declared in the trial of William Porter, one of the Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. For those wishing to see any of the officers charged with Gray's death behind bars, this is particularly bad news. Because this could very easily set a precedent in the other trials, leading to more mistrials and possibly even acquittals.


After first hearing about this, I jumped on Twitter to get a bit of a gauge of the reaction on social media. Predictably, Freddie Gray's name is the top trending topic. But the general mood seems to be much different than it has been with these types of cases. There's outrage and sadness, sure, but the emotion doesn't seem to be as palpable as it was the week of Gray's death. Or the week of Michael Brown's death. Or the day the Ferguson grand jury announced there'd be no charges for Darren Wilson. Or even last week, when Daniel Holtzclaw was found guilty.

Perhaps this is because a mistrial is not a not guilty verdict. Also, there's no singular name to memorize and focus on here. No Darren Wilson or George Zimmerman. While most people familiar with the case know six officers were charged, I doubt anyone other than the case's most dedicated followers can name each of them. It's just easier to drum up anger for one person than it is for several people. Either way, I doubt this news will result in a sustained uprising again.

That said, I could very well be wrong. I'm writing this in Pittsburgh. I have no idea what the mood is currently like in Baltimore. Perhaps we will see a repeat of what happened in the spring. But I doubt it.

And, if this does happen, if Baltimore is about to exist without another week-long, city-wide uprising, it'll likely be heralded by many as a sign of process. Of cooler heads prevailing. Of us patiently allowing the wheels of justice to turn. And I will disagree. Not because uprisings and riots and the disruptions they cause are good things that need to be hoped for. But because I don't believe it's a result of progress.

Perhaps my feelings about this are just my own feelings; my thoughts my own, singular, thoughts. But what this relative (non)reaction feels like is a complete lack of faith. An abject pessimism in the justice system. The outrage isn't tempered because people are being mature and clearheaded and sober. It's because we've become so disillusioned that bad news is expected. Anticipated. We saw a bit of it last week, when the prevailing sentiments after Holtzclaw's verdict were sincere surprise and relief. Despite the ridiculously overwhelming evidence, a guilty verdict was met with the same feeling felt when a football team completes a hail mary or a basketball player actually makes an 80-foot buzzer beater. Like "Oh shit! That actually went in the hoop!"

Again, though, I hope I'm wrong. Not with the rioting, but with the collectively conditioned cynicism. And perhaps I misjudged the mood. Maybe people are as outraged and saddened by this as they have been in the past. But if the last three years have taught me anything, its that for people who look like me, the existence of hope in anything criminal justice-related is valueless.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)


Well in Chicago, we had a police commander who shoved a 9 mm pistol down the throat of a man he was "interrogating" and despite the young man's DNA being FOUND ON THE COP'S pistol, the judge found the cop INNOCENT. She dismissed the DNA, coming up with her own, non-scientific reasoning as to how the victim's DNA got on the gun. Cop went the usual route in Chicago—bench trial, no jury—and now is free to resume his life and his career. Why no outrage? Everyone involved is BLACK. Read this: http://chicago.suntimes.com…

I think that's a little bit of why the Porter verdict reaction was subdued; if they put the white guy on trial first, there'd be more rage. As a matter of fact, Porter's attorney pinned most of the blame on the white cop who has yet to be tried. But what I find soul-crushingly discouraging is how the system protects these cops again and again and everyone can see it, bu nothing is done. And how the "black-lives-DON'T-matter" virus leaps from white cops onto black cops who wind up mirroring the behavior of their sadistic Caucasian brethren.

On the same day as the Porter mistrial, we hear how one of the NYPD who shot 41 bullets at Bro. Diallo got PROMOTED to sergeant today. WHY DOES HE STILL HAVE A JOB, LET ALONE A F*CKIN PROMOTION?

It just underscores, highlights, reiterates, embodies, clarifies, or doubles-down that Black life, health, livelihood, security, rights, citizenship,and PERSONHOOD are not valued by our racial-caste based system, and this lack of empathy spills all the way down to the hood and the inner city where Malik shoots Jamal without a second thought because black lives don't matter at the top, so how will it matter at the bottom? Dr. King spoke of the badge of inferiority that segregation and Jim Crow imbued upon black people. Well I believe a badge of inhumanity is pinned unto black life when blacks are executed by law enforcement without trial, incarcerated with flimsy if not false evidence, and no one cares.