The first of the six long-awaited trials in the Freddie Gray case began in Baltimore on Wednesday morning, with opening statements made by both the prosecution and the defense by the afternoon.
The jurors, selected from a pool of 150, are five Black women, three Black men, three white women and one white man, and the alternates are three Black men and one white man,The Baltimore Sun reported.
Gray, 25, was arrested in April and suffered from a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody. He succumbed to his injury several days after his arrest. His untimely death sparked outrage and riots throughout Baltimore. Baltimore City’s State Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged all six officers involved in Gray’s arrest and death with charges ranging from false imprisonment to involuntary manslaughter.
The first officer being tried, William Porter, 26, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, assault in the second degree, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. According to the prosecution, Porter failed to seek necessary medical assistance for Gray.
In the prosecution’s opening statement, Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow said that Porter is “on trial for what he did, and more important what he didn’t do” because he failed to secure Gray in one of the five seatbelts available in the police van.
The defense, meanwhile, described Porter as “a good cop with no record of misconduct” (which does not mean much given he has only been on the force since 2012). Rather, defense attorney Gary Proctor blamed the poor structure of the Baltimore Police Department for Gray’s death and insisted that the majority of the department does not seatbelt their detainees. Because poor police conduct is so commonplace in the city, the defense claims, Porter cannot be held accountable for Gray’s fate.
All six officers have pleaded not guilty.
Earlier this week, potential jurors were asked if they had any connection with people who could be called as potential witnesses. Among these people were police officers, friends of Gray or people who witnessed his arrest. In total, there were about 200 names on this list; however, not all potential witnesses will definitely be called to testify.
The court has implemented strict rules regarding media coverage and electronics in the courthouse. No cameras are present in the courtroom. All electronics must be turned off in both the courtroom and a room where reporters are permitted to watch the trial via video feed. Those attending the trial can only post social media updates about it in a separate room that does not have this feed. Court officers may confiscate any electronic devices if they suspect misuse.
Despite the restrictions, the local chapter of the NAACP said they are sending at least one person to the trial, calling it “a monumental thing” that the officers are being tried.
“We just want fairness and justice for Freddie Gray in a legal, calm way, and the courtroom is where it’s happening,” chapter president Tessa Hill-Alston said. “We want the prosecutors to do the right thing and continue to press forward and get results.”
Prior to the final jury being selected, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had said that she is hoping for the best but is also prepared for protests in relation to the trial.
Indeed, protests began outside the courthouse on Monday morning, and a larger one took place later that night. Tawanda Jones, whose brother Tyrone West died in July 2013 following a struggle with Baltimore police officers, helped lead the evening protests.
“Cell blocks for killer cops!” Jones yelled to the crowd. “This is what democracy looks like!”
“All night, all day, we gonna fight for Freddie Gray!” the protesters shouted.
While the protesters chanted Gray’s name and stated that the protests would continue throughout all six trials, the cause speaks to a problem much larger than Gray’s death.
“There is a systematic problem of racism,” said Sharon Black, a member of the People’s Power Assembly. “It’s a structural problem within our police department. There’s a problem of neglect in our communities.”
Issues regarding policing in the city of Baltimore have been evident for years and brought to light following Gray’s arrest and death, as well as the subsequent riots.
Due to the case’s extensive media coverage and the April riots, the defense called for the trials to be moved out of Baltimore to ensure an impartial jury would hear the case. A judge denied this request.