What Mosby told an anxious Baltimore and nation was not easy to hear. Police officers “illegally arrested” Gray after making eye contact with him on April 12. The pocket knife subsequently found in Gray’s pocket “was not a switchblade and is lawful under Maryland law.” Gray was shackled at his ankles, handcuffed behind his back and placed in the back of the police wagon on his stomach unrestrained. There were many stops of that wagon. Many requests by Gray for medical assistance that started almost immediately upon his arrest. All were ignored. By the time they arrived at the police station more than an hour later, Gray was unresponsive and “in cardiac arrest.”
Mosby announced that Gray’s death was ruled a homicide and that she was filing criminal charges against the six officers involved. A cheer could be heard in the distance on television. No doubt a relief to a community long under the thumb of a police department that applied “undue force.” Of course, the charges announced mark the beginning not the end of the legal process. But they are a relief to a city and nation that has grown weary of police officers escaping legal accountability for their tragic actions.
Towards the end of her remarks, Mosby struck a beautiful balance between the righteous anger of the community and the necessary respect for law enforcement.
To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America. I heard your call for “no justice, no peace.” Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man…..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 come from five generations of law enforcement. My father was an officer. My mother was an officer. Several of my aunts and uncles. My recently departed and beloved grandfather was one of the founding members of the black police organization in Massachusetts. I can tell you that the actions of these officers will not and should not in any way damage important working relationships between police and prosecutors….….To the youth of this city: I will seek justice on your behalf. This is a moment, this is your moment. Let’s ensure that we have peaceful and productive rallies that will develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come. You’re at the forefront of this cause. And as young people, our time is now.
By using her personal story, Mosby planted her feet firmly in both camps. Her family’s deeply rooted history in law enforcement allowed her to say implicitly, “I know you” to Baltimore’s police. Her own standing as a young person, especially as a young African American woman born and raised in inner-city Boston, allowed her to say, in essence, “I am you.” The sincerity of her words and their emphatic delivery will go a long way in keeping Baltimore calm in the months ahead.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @CapehartJ