In some of her most expansive public comments about the Freddie Gray case since dropping charges against the accused officers last year, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby told an audience in Chicago over the weekend that reforms in the police department wouldn’t have occurred if she hadn’t filed charges.
“Had I not been in that position as State’s Attorney, had I not had a seat at the table to make the unprecedented decisions that I was forced to make, had there been no accountability, there’d be no exposure, there’d be no reform, and the systemic discriminatory police practices in one of the largest police departments would’ve persisted,” Mosby said, according to a video of the speech.
The comments came at a forum held by the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition. She pointed to officer body cameras, policies regarding the loading of prisoners into police transport vans, cameras in and outside of transport vans, software that tracks when officers have received and read new agency directives, and de-escalation and use-of-force training as outgrowths of the criminal case.
“In spite of the fact that the six police officers were not convicted and held personally accountable for the death of Freddie Gray, justice has prevailed because now every Baltimore Police officer is being held accountable for the actions of a few,” Mosby said.
T.J. Smith, the chief spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department, said the agency has moved forward with reforms “as a progressive police department, not because of any single event, but more because they needed to occur.”
The speech was part of a busy weekend for the first-term top prosecutor for Baltimore. She appeared at a “meet and greet” Friday night in Chicago with Jackson and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and at the Rainbow-PUSH conference Saturday morning. She then flew back to Baltimore to attend a campaign fundraiser Saturday night hosted by Baltimore-born actor Charles “Roc” Dutton.
Though Mosby has not formally announced that she is seeking re-election in 2018, she recently unveiled a revamped campaign website touting her record and has held a number of fundraisers.
Mosby gained national attention in 2015 after quickly filing charges against six Baltimore Police officers involved in Gray’s arrest and transport to jail, at a time when prosecutors across the country were being maligned for not taking action in killings committed by police.
But she also attracted criticism for the move, and lost the case: three of the officers were acquitted at trial, leading prosecutors to drop the remaining cases.
After dropping the cases, Mosby took credit for reforms taking place in the Baltimore Police Department, a refrain she has struck in subsequent speeches.
“What I’ve learned having been in office for two years … is that any and every step toward equality is well worth fighting for,” she said.
Body cameras were first discussed in Baltimore in 2013, when they were recommended by a consultant hired by then-Police Commissioner Anthony Batts.
Batts and then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in 2014 proposed a task force to study the implementation of body cameras following an investigation into brutality lawsuits filed against city police. The Baltimore City Council in November 2014 voted to require the entire force to wear body cameras.
Del. Charles Sydnor III said he promoted legislation at the state level related to body cameras based on his reaction to the 2014 police-involved death of Eric Garner in New York.
“When I promoted that legislation, I was thinking about Eric Garner and his pleading that he could not breathe,” Sydnor said. He said a state law was needed to allow body cameras to record audio. The bill was introduced in the 2015 General Assembly session and signed into law May 12, 2015.
The officers’ trials, however, cast a spotlight on how officers receive updates to department rules called general orders, with the officers asserting they had not been apprised of new rules on securing detainees with seat belts that were issued just days before Gray’s arrest. Officers now have to complete quizzes based on information in new orders, and sign their names at the bottom.
Mosby, who campaigned for office in 2014 by repeatedly pointing to the murder and violent crime rate, noted Baltimore’s skyrocketing murder rate during her term. She said the media “likes to focus on these numbers … that’s how they want to define our cities … [show] how violent we are.”
She said not enough attention is put on the unemployment rate, the number of vacant houses and lots, and the poverty rate, adding that young black males are “routinely dehumanized by the very people that are sworn to protect and serve.”
She also decried a “self-inflicted genocide,” and said people of color are being dehumanized “by everyone, including ourselves.”
Mosby also used her prepared comments to criticize President Donald Trump, saying he has “overtly perpetuated” an “ever-increasing racial divide.” She said organizing at the local level is an urgent priority.
“History will be defined by those who resisted,” she said.
She told the Chicago audience that it was important for African Americans to win political seats and effect change, noting that she is one of only a handful of black female elected top prosecutors in the country. She said criminal justice reform remains a top issue, and that marching is not enough.
“Systemic reform comes from within and starts with each and every one of us,” she said. “If we really want to end the violence that plagues our communities and our cities, if we really want economic education and social and political equality, we need to have a seat at the table so that we can address the systemic ills that are killing our children.”
“Criminal justice reform must still be the number one priority for African Americans in this country, at a time when regression is being touted as making America great again,” she said.