When Freddie Gray suffered fatal injuries while in police custody last year, his death ignited a fire of racial conflict and mistrust in Baltimore that quickly spread around the country (for more on his death and the immediate aftermath, see Nick Pitts’s Baltimore: Who is the Enemy?). Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby eventually charged the six police officers connected with his arrest and subsequent injury, and has spent the better part of a year putting together the case against each. But after three officers were acquitted by Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams and a fourth trial ended with a hung jury, Mosby decided on Wednesday to drop the remaining charges.
Her decision to not press for further convictions, however, does not equate to her belief that all the officers charged were innocent. Rather, it simply became clear over the course of the trials that “We could try this case a hundred times and cases like it, and we would end up with the same result.” Mosby intimated that individual officers who obstructed the investigation and the inherent problems of police trying to police themselves made it impossible to collect the necessary evidence to prove guilt. Moreover, so long as the charged officers would continue to be tried by a judge instead of a jury, she doubted the results of further trials would differ from those that came before.
However, she went out of her way while making such accusations to remind people that the problem was not with the police but rather with individuals. She cited the support from Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and others as being key to helping her investigation, and stated clearly that “the decision to prosecute six police officers was not and has never been an indictment of the entire Baltimore police department.”
Mosby, whose mother and father were both police officers, went on to say “I know firsthand the sacrifices, the dedication, the commitment it takes to protect and serve our communities. For those who believe I’m anti-police, it’s simply not the case. I’m anti-police brutality.” In an earlier interview with CNN, she described the “disservice” done to hard-working, upstanding officers as one of the primary reasons behind her belief that it’s important to hold the police accountable when they act wrongly.
Given the increasingly strained relationship between police departments and the communities they serve, such accountability will only increase in importance going forward. While many will presume guilt for the officers involved in Gray’s death, it’s important to note that the primary reason that such assumptions exist is that the full truth simply isn’t known. These officers, or at least some of them, could be innocent of any wrongdoing in this situation. However, because of the lack of transparency and the abundance of unanswered questions, many will always see them as guilty.
That tragic truth should only motivate those on both sides of the divide to work on rebuilding the kind of trust that could hopefully prevent the next such tragedy, or, should it occur, bring swifter justice for those wronged. As Christians, we should be praying every day that God would use us to help heal that breach.
In Romans 12, Paul offers us some good advice on how to do just that. In this passage, he instructed the believers in Rome to live peaceably with everyone to the extent that it was within their power to do so (Romans 12:18). That command presumes that we will have legitimate reasons to seek vengeance, and he is neither ignorant nor dismissive of such wrongs. Rather, the kind of peace he describes is one that we create in the midst of chaos and persecution. It cannot result from our circumstances, but must instead come from those who choose to rise above those circumstances and seek something better.
Our culture is in desperate need of people who are committed to doing just that. As Christians, we have been divinely called and gifted to be those people, and, in so doing, to lead others to follow our example. Will you be such a peacemaker today?