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  December 10, 2015

NAACP Official: Freddie Gray Case Shows Baltimore Police Need Overhaul

NAACP Baltimore President Tessa Hill Aston responds to the opening of the defense case in the trial of officer William Porter
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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in front of Courthouse East in Baltimore, Maryland.

Early today I spoke to Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP. This was before the testimony of police officer William Porter. I got to talk to Tessa Hill-Aston about how she felt about the prosecution's case against William Porter, first of six officers on trial for the death of Freddie Gray, and what this case and all six cases mean for the city of Baltimore.

TESSA HILL-ASTON: I think this trial means a lot to Baltimore. Quite naturally it means a lot to Freddie Gray's family. That's number one and foremost. But I think this case and the next five cases mean a lot because we've had so much tragedy, and people either being beaten or died at the hands of a few police officers in Baltimore. Just a few. But it still makes a bad statement for Baltimore.

All over the whole United States we're having this problem, and this is just the icing on the cake when Freddie died. And that's why we're having such a poor relationship, because the Baltimore City police saw other cities doing this. And you would think that you'd be on your guard not to do the same thing, and rough up everybody. I'm a firm believer, doing something bad or wrong as far as society, then take us to jail, take us to central booking, and let the court process work. Not hurt, injure, or cause the death of someone.

So these cases are putting Baltimore on the map. People are here from all over the world looking at this. A lot of students and law students are here looking at this. This case, and Baltimore's situation, will be on the map and in the law professors' hands for a long time. It's a learning and a teaching moment. Unfortunately I hope that Freddie's death will bring light to the fact that the Baltimore City Police Department will take action amongst themselves and not let something like this happen again.

NOOR: Part of the defense argument was that, was they're talking about the incompetency, the lack of training in the police department. The defense argued in their opening statement that they're going to provide an officer that made thousands of arrests and rarely, almost never, buckled in a passenger. So is this trial sort of proving that there needs to be overhaul in the policing here?

HILL-ASTON: Yeah. I think it needs to be an overhaul. I think there has been training--not adequate training in recent years. I think a lot of police come out in the street and just look at all, and especially African-American men, as their enemy, and that they're bad and they can just talk to them and do things to them, that they don't--that they do not do in other neighborhoods. And that's quite evident. Everybody sees that.

What happens in Sandtown, or Park Heights, the way that a man is treated is not the same thing that would happen in a predominantly white neighborhood or a [foreign] neighborhood. And that's [without saying], don't treat someone different unless they're acting out of hand and doing something. But just to chase someone who hasn't robbed anybody, hasn't raped anybody, and they wind up dead, it's totally, totally inappropriate.

NOOR: And Freddie Gray's death and the uprising that happened in the days and weeks afterward, it put the spotlight on the lack of jobs and opportunities and social mobility. Baltimore has the worst social mobility for poor black people in the country.

HILL-ASTON: And you know what, there's more Freddie Grays. In Baltimore, in every neighborhood that is predominantly African-American, between the age of 16 and 40-something, there are more people that are just equivalent to Freddie Gray. There's more mothers that need help with their children. There's more young men that need jobs. And so we need to take this as a learning curve. And number one, the police have done something wrong. But right now as a society, as a government, anybody in Baltimore, people are trying to engage. But we need to do more, because time is of the essence to make corrections in neighborhoods that need help.

NOOR: Thank you so much.

HILL-ASTON: You're welcome.


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