When Lt. Brian Rice was cleared of wrongdoing at the Baltimore police disciplinary boards recently, that left only one more officer to go. Sgt. Alicia White was the last of the officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray to face the board. Even though she’d been found guilty of no crime, the possibility existed that official misconduct could have resulted in administrative discipline up to and including losing her job.
Now that process has concluded as well. White was found guilty of nothing, received no discipline and will return to her beat. (Baltimore Sun)
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis dismissed all administrative charges against the last officer facing discipline in the Freddie Gray case on Wednesday, meaning all six officers who were accused in the arrest and death of the 25-year-old two years ago will keep their jobs.
Police spokesman T.J. Smith said Sgt. Alicia White, who faced charges that could have resulted in termination, would face no further administrative actions. Two other officers have been acquitted of administrative charges by police trial boards.
Davis “feels proceeding with this administrative hearing would not be in good faith, and has dismissed the charges,” Smith said.
So that’s the end of years worth of angst, accusations, anger and riots. This was one of the most closely scrutinized police encounters in the country and in the end, no wrongdoing was found either in criminal trials or before disciplinary boards composed of both police officials and community leaders. There was, as it turned out, nothing to find.
Sadly, the local paper is still describing this as “an end to efforts to hold police officers accountable…”
Seriously? How much more accountable could they be at this point? The media is getting plenty of help in trying to roil up the masses. Here’s Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund:
“A young man entered the custody of police and within an hour his spine was broken, his voice box crushed,” she said. “Our city has been defined by this. Now Baltimore must decide how to go forward. Baltimore must commit itself to whatever changes to policing, to internal police discipline, to our legal system are needed to ensure that this cannot happen with impunity ever again.”
Obviously, nothing happened “with impunity” except for cops using outdated safety and operating procedures during an arrest. But that doesn’t mean that things haven’t improved. The procedures for arrests and transport have been modernized. Body cameras are in use by police virtually everywhere in the city now. (And some of them have been turning up potential corruption or wrongdoing by a few cops not involved in this incident.) Much which was usually left in the dark has been brought to light and fully explained, giving the public a chance to offer their own opinions and suggestions.
Perhaps things might get a bit better now. There’s room for hope, anyway. But did we learn anything? Dan Rodricks at the Baltimore Sun asks and answers the question of whether or not there were any lessons taken away from all of this. And he even manages to find room to agree with Sherrilyn Ifill (quoted above), at least to a degree. The city is at a crossroads and might come out of this better for the process.
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.
Nothing was ever going to improve in terms of civilian cooperation with law enforcement in the city with the worst per capita murder rate in America without getting the communities and the police talking to each other. It’s been a rocky road to travel, but that conversation has begun and continues to this day. Hopefully the residents of Charm City feel like their concerns are being heard. And on the other side of the coin, perhaps they can be a bit less suspicious of the men and women in uniform who are trying to protect them. That might be the beginning of some actual healing. Let’s all hope so, because Baltimore is in desperate need of help.