Freddie Gray's Murderers Will be Charged, But Is That Enough To Call "Justice?"

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It is my militancy that makes it difficult for me to celebrate in moments like these; instead I take the news soberly and look towards all the work yet to be done.

"I will never say that progress is being made. If you put a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there's no progress. If you pull it all the way out, that's not progress. Progress is healing the wound the blow made and they haven't begun to pull the knife out much less heal the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there." –Malcolm X

Charges will be filed for the murder of Freddie Gray by Baltimore City Police Department, but I am wary of celebrating accountability for something that is preventable.

Everyone has different reactions to the news and I respect that. I respect that in seemingly unending darkness, indictments can appear as some light.

However, I have become so disillusioned with the system that I can't help but notice that while this particular rebellion against oppression has been met with indictments, there is little to no mention of institutional change.That says something about how the system works to hand down decisions in an effort to placate justified outrage rather than acknowledge its inherently and willfully oppressive nature.

To be clear, this is in no way an attempt to shame or discourage those celebrating the news that Baltimore police will be held accountable for so viciously severing Freddie Gray's spine. However, the great writer and social critic James Baldwin said, "To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in rage almost all of the time." And to know the pervasiveness of white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, imperialism, and capitalism in this society causes me to live seemingly every day of my life enraged.

I am enraged that following this news, there will undoubtedly be numerous more reports of extrajudicial killings. My rage stems from the fact that Freddie Gray's murder was preventable and yet we exist in a society that thrives on and profits from Black pain. It is my militancy that makes it difficult for me to celebrate in moments like these; instead I take the news soberly and look towards all the work yet to be done.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby issued warrants for the police officers responsible for Freddie Gray’s indicating assault, manslaughter, and second degree murder among the charges. As a Black female and the youngest chief prosecutor in a major city, social media quickly championed the conviction with which Mosby issued her comments.

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At the presser, Marilyn Mosby said, “I heard your call for 'no justice, no peace.' However your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of Freddie Gray.” She continued: “To the youth of this city: I will seek justice on your behalf. This is a moment. This is your moment. As young people, our time is now.” These words registered powerfully to those listening as she seemingly uses language identifying herself as an ally of the calls for justice.

But what does justice look like? If justice is defined by indictments and convictions of killer cops, I'm wondering if this actually signals enough change to satisfy the fight for freedom?

The significance of the indictments and Marilyn Mosby’s comments should not be ignored, for they speak to the cries of a community grieving a loss. However, it is difficult to view Mosby’s actions and statements outside the context of her integral role of the injustice system in sustaining prejudicial power dynamics of society.

As a state’s attorney, Mosby’s role serves the need of the sovereignty by working closely with politicians and law enforcement agents to administer prosecutions of an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of Black people. Prosecutors have a great deal of discretion in issuing indictments, setting charges against suspects, and negotiating plea deals. The level of discretion is detrimental when considering the prevalence of implicit racial bias against Blacks in the United States.

About 90% of all criminal cases are resolved with plea deals between the prosecution and defense, never making it to trial. Prosecutors are well-known for pursuing higher chargers against Black defendants than white ones for having committed the exact same crimes. In 1991, San Jose Mercury News conducted a study of 700,000 criminal cases between 1981 and 1990 in the State of California. The study compared white and Black defendants by crime as well as criminal background and found that whites were far more likely to receive the more successful outcome in plea bargaining. This produces favorable results for whites such as lesser charges, lower sentencing, and access to diversion programs such as community service instead of jail time.

Knowing that Blacks are just under 13% of the United States population but nearly 38% of the prison population does not allow me to feel the spirit of celebration in these all-too-scarce moments of police and political accountability. Hearing expressions for justice from political figures who exert powers of oppression over us fails to move me. Understanding the part public officials like Marilyn Mosby play in fortifying such systems of oppression leave me wary of being swayed by her rhetoric of justice.

Mosby clearly positioned herself with the system in articulating that her choice to indict six officers is not a condemnation of the entire Baltimore City Police force. She said, “To the rank and file officers of the Baltimore City Police Department, please know that these accusations of these six officers are not an indictment on the entire force.”

I cannot help but ask: With such a long torrid past between Baltimore City police and the communities, why is there not an indictment on the entire force?

Just like that—after breathing in a mere moment of release in the asphyxiation of unrelenting oppression, we are so quickly reminded of the burden ahead as we move towards true freedom and actual justice.

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