Toward Trust

An officer involved in the death of Freddie Gray is found not guilty on all counts.

An Officer Involved In The Death Of Freddie Gray Is Found Not Guilty On All Counts

Just over a year after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, the Baltimore officer who arrested Gray was found not guilty of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office. Officer Edward Nero was one of three officers who detained Gray in April 2015 and put him in a police van without a seat belt. He was the second officer to go to trial for Gray’s death. In December, William Porter’s trial ended with a hung jury.

According to police records, the three officers chased Gray who was eventually caught and found with an illegal knife. Police records say the arrest was made “without force or incident,” but witnesses disagree and videos show Nero and another officer dragging Gray, who appears unable to walk, to a police van.

Seven days after his arrest, Gray died in police custody. His death, along with videos of his arrest sparked days-long protests and confrontations with police in Baltimore. The protests and violence that followed Gray’s death focused national attention on the city. But Gray’s death was just the latest grievance against a police department that has long been perceived as overly aggressive, out of touch with the community, and able to act with impunity.

Just as Gray’s death is one of the far too many black lives lost at the hands of police officers, Baltimore is just one of the many American cities in need of police reform. High-profile incidents like the shootings of Michael Brown and Samuel DuBose have shone a spotlight on police brutality. But the depth of the problem goes even further than the highly visible tragedies: Last year nearly 1,000 people were shot and killed by police across the country, and black men represented nearly 40 percent of all unarmed deaths.

The success of the Black Lives Matter movement has helped keep the issue of police reform at the center of the national political conversation. Strong grassroots movement and high-profile conversations about racial bias and police brutality are the foundation of meaningful change, but more action can be taken at a policy level to address the problems in our criminal justice system.

The federal government has acknowledged the need for police reform and accountability. Between 2009 and 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice opened more than 20 investigations into police departments, which is more than twice as many as the previous five years. The Department of Justice also convened the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which provides recommendations to help law enforcement agencies and communities strengthen trust and collaboration and transition to community-focused policing.

Center for American Progress Senior Fellow and former president and CEO of the NAACP Ben Jealous has put forward a list of recommendations for police reform in Baltimore that build on the president’s task force as well as framework released by the Campaign for Justice, Safety, and Jobs, a coalition of Baltimore organizations that have long advocated for police reform.

The Center for American Progress has also made recommendations for ways to improve police-community relations, including improved police training; data collection and accountability; repairing police-community trust; the promise of an independent and thorough investigation in instances where lives are taken; and removing barriers to opportunity for people with criminal records and their families. For more on CAP’s recommendations read this report.

BOTTOM LINE: More than a year after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, racial injustice and police brutality persist despite massive public attention and calls for policy changes. Today’s verdict reinforces the need for a new model for policing – one that moves away from the warrior model and instead embodies a guardian model.

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