On Friday, Baltimore’s Chief Prosecutors charged 6 police officers in the death of Freddie Gray. Let’s take a moment to look at these officers since we now have faces and names that go with what we’ve been hearing over and over – 6 police officers. 3 of the officers are Caucasian, 3 are African American. 1 officer is a woman, newly promoted to sergeant. A few were rookies and one was an experienced lieutenant with 17 years on the force. And whether they are found innocent or guilty, their lives, as they know them, are essentially over.
There are certain jobs that are more of a calling than a career – soldier, police officer, doctor, firefighter…. In my case – lawyer. Where if you’re not allowed to follow that calling for whatever reason – whether legal, medical, or otherwise – that’s it. Game over. It’s not just a line on a resume, or a “JOB” you can change like a sweater. It’s who you are a person. It is a piece of your identity.
And to be clear – this is a general point I’m making about police officers. I am not defending those police officers because it’s not my PLACE to judge them either innocent or guilty. I’m just a spectator in this like the rest of us. We are not their judge or jury – although sometimes the television media likes to believe they are. And yes, if the charges against the Baltimore police officers are true, and proven in a court of law – then I believe they must be held accountable for what they did to Freddie Gray. That is why we have a legal system in the first place – to hold people responsible for their actions and bring justice for those who have been wronged. This is why we have due process, a jury of one’s peers, evidence, and trials. Because if we simply went by the court of public opinion, based on here-say, rumors and media speculation - very few Americans would EVER get a fair trial. Is that what we want? When the arrests were announced, people rushed back onto the streets of Baltimore to celebrate. They felt vindicated. Even though nothing has actually been proven yet in a court of law. Let’s not let the agenda get clouded by actual facts – right?
Which brings up a big concern I have for this whole situation. In situations like Baltimore and Ferguson, where the media screams the headline as loud as they can – cop kills unarmed man. And people rush to the streets with signs and voices raised in anger. In these situations – are we allowing social activism to trump due legal process? Are we letting our emotions overtake the legal system? Is – “innocent until proven guilty” – now considered a casualty of social activism? Because if this is the precedent we’re setting – judging people in the court of public of opinion, instead of in an ACTUAL court… that is a slippery slope that will be VERY difficult, if not impossible, to climb back up from. Or democratic legal process, in my opinion, is one of the greatest things about our country. Is this often combustive passion we are now demonstrating as a nation, to prove a point – putting our legal process in jeopardy? I am asking these questions from my own passion – my passion for the law. It is not a perfect system but I love it. The law is my calling, so how can I possibly NOT be concerned?
Let’s talk about what I’ve referred to a couple times now as social activism. Yes, that may not be the correct phrase but what should I call it? Is setting the law aside – throwing out “innocent until proven guilty” – just a much easier way to act like solved the core issue here? Are these arrests – and will this trial – be nothing but another Band-Aid on race relations? Because it seems to me that the only thing riots usually do is create even more racial divide. What have we solved here? And again – I have to ask – has it been at the expense of our legal system? Will people expect – and even DEMAND – that this is how stories like this play out from now on? Something bad happened, we are angry, there had better be some arrests and FAST – and unless you want all heck to break loose – you’d better find them guilty. Is this how we REALLY want our legal system to work from now on?
One man is dead. 6 careers are over and the Baltimore Police Officers Union is now speaking out against the state attorney’s office in protest. Businesses are burned to the ground. Police officers and even residents are afraid for their lives. Media trucks and vans with satellites and anchormen and women in suits have basically moved into the city of Baltimore. Is this nothing but a circus or is something actually being solved here?
What have we learned? What has been accomplished that will make things better next time? I fear that some of the things that happen may make things even worse – because it’s becoming normal now. And this is a really dangerous new normal.
In the middle of the chaos and now moving into what will be an EXTREMELY high profile, volatile, emotional court trial… did we take a step forward toward fixing the root problems? Or a step backwards?
You tell me – Is social activism putting the integrity of our legal system in jeopardy? Has the court of public opinion declared – guilty until proven innocent? Does this concern you?