News that Baltimore prosecutors brought criminal charges against six police officers in the death of a man in custody brought a sense of relief and renewed hope for justice to Boston on Friday, particularly among those who have protested police mistreatment of blacks.
Leaders of the black community hailed the charges, which included murder and manslaughter, as a welcome sign that police officers will be held accountable for their actions and a validation that widespread demonstrations against police brutality are making a difference.
“It shows that if we fight and protest and push for the system to work, it should work,” said the Rev. Gregory Groover, pastor of Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church. “I look forward to the day when we will not have to protest for justice to take place.”
On Friday, Baltimore’s top prosecutor, Boston native Marilyn Mosby, announced the charges in the death of Freddie Gray, saying “no one is above the law.” Gray, 25, suffered a critical neck injury while he was handcuffed and shackled in a police van April 12, and officers ignored his repeated pleas for medical help, she said.
“Mr. Gray suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet, and unrestrained inside of the BPD wagon,’’ she said.
The most serious charge, second-degree murder, was filed against the van driver.
The Baltimore’s police officers union denied the charges, saying no officer injured Gray.
The charges followed days of unrest, including clashes with police, looting, and fires.
The charges came much faster than expected, and in Boston many said the swift move to press charges was an immense relief. While police officers in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City were not charged in the high-profile controversial deaths of unarmed black men, this time they would be held to account.
“This is certainly a ray of hope,” said Charles Yancey, a city councilor in Boston. “I think it sends a message to police departments all around the country.”
Like others, Yancey was stunned by how quickly prosecutors filed the charges, and said the speed reflected an urgency commensurate with the outrage around Gray’s death.
“It’s really refreshing to see someone in her position take that type of stance,” he said. “I think it could have an immediate impact on those few police officers who think they are above the law.”
Many praised Mosby for presenting the charges forcefully and providing a detailed account of Gray’s arrest and treatment. It showed that while the Baltimore officers are innocent until proven guilty, they would not receive preferential treatment, many said.
“This demonstrates some impartiality and fairness,” said Emmett Folgert, who runs the Dorchester Youth Collaborative, which works with at-risk youth. The news from Baltimore will help restore some faith in the process, he said.
‘It sends a message to police departments all around the country.’Charles Yancey, city councilor
“People want to be treated fairly,” he said. “That’s very basic.”
Folgert said the focus on the issue should be used to change policy for how police conduct themselves. Matthew Segal, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the public outcry over Gray’s death “shows the seriousness with which Massachusetts should address similar problems here.”
The group called on police in Massachusetts to use body cameras to document encounters between police and civilians.
Tito Jackson, another city councilor, praised Mosby for having the “backbone, foresight, and willingness to do exactly what she was elected to do, to fight for justice for all.”
“It shows that when we have the right people in office, people who operate with fairness and with the best interests of the community in mind, we see swift justice,” he said. “I think this is a model for what we should see in cases like this.”
At the same time, some cautioned that the charges against the officers, while welcome, should not be cause for celebration. Police mistreatment of minorities, seen again and again in recent months, must be addressed at its core.
“We know justice is not full yet,” Groover said. “We have to remain vigilant. I’m hoping this serves as a wake-up call to police officers all across the country.”Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.