Separate Trials in Freddie Gray Case Could Pave Way for Outsiders in Baltimore Mayoral Race

Activists and residents say protracted legal proceedings could heighten city’s anti-incumbent mood

Story Transcript

ERICA ALSTON: I think we celebrated prematurely because we don’t know the process. STPEHEN JANIS, TRNN: Words of caution during the first day of court proceedings this week for six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Sandtown Winchester resident and activist Erica Alston, concerned that the vagaries of an unwieldy legal system could prolong the court proceedings in a city already enveloped in an emotional roller coaster of protest and passion on the eve of the trial. ALSTON: The best case scenario I believe is maybe the driver will have some charges. But I’d be very–it’d be silly for me to believe that all of these officers are going to be brought to charges. JANIS: Caution that took on even greater significance after Judge Barry Williams ruled in favor of segregating the defendants, meaning that each would be tried separately and consecutively. It’s a move that could prolong the legal proceedings well into next year, and observers of the city’s political scene believe it could turn the trial into more than just a matter of guilt or innocence, but the final arbiter of the city’s fragile political future. SEAN YOES: But the roller coaster ride is going to be just played out that much longer. JANIS: A development which they say bodes particularly poorly for anyone associated with its past. YOES: Obviously you’re looking at the mayor’s race in April. The Democratic primary. So the trials will still be in process. It will absolutely have an impact, and it will be a constant reminder of what happened in April of 2015 and who was presiding over what happened. JANIS: Host of Morgan State’s First Edition and Afro-American newspaper columnist Sean Yoes says the prospect of a series of trials stretching into the primary season early next year and into the election in April could have serious implications for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s bid to keep her job. He thinks that acquittals or even protracted court proceedings could remind the public of the failure of her administration to implement long-term police reform. YOES: Those challengers are going to be constantly pointing to what’s happening on the periphery at that time. And that’s going to be the trial, the Freddie Gray trial. JANIS: Which is why Yoes says the ongoing courtroom drama could pave the way for an outsider like State Delegate Jill Carter, who is the city’s only politician outspoken against the department’s zero-tolerance policy and aggressive tactics. We talked to her about the prospect of running last week. JILL CARTER: You know, I’m looking around to see if any quality candidate really understand the great need to completely change the politics of the city, and thus far I haven’t seen that person arise. But you know, it’s something I very much want to do. It’s just that I don’t want to do anything that doesn’t have a probability of success. JANIS: Another potential candidate is talk show host Wes Moore, who Yoes said could attract a wide swathe of voters because he would be perceived as an outsider. YOES: I think that there is a population of Baltimore that would gravitate to him. If you have Nick Mosby, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Sheila Dixon, possibly Katherine Pew, possibly Carl Stokes, possibly Jill Carter, if you have six black candidates, right, that would be a significant split of the black vote. If Wes Moore could grab a significant amount of the white vote, which in my mind seems viable, he would be a really formidable–he could be a formidable opponent. JANIS: A public hunger for leaders without ties to the past, shared by protesters outside the courthouse on Wednesday who say they are tired of the political establishment whose lack of leadership they believe is responsible for the process of justice that may now take years to resolve. LEE PATTERSON: And she’s building all types of big, gentrifying, big luxury housing for the rich while poor people have to not have any place to live. All these abandoned houses with trees growing out of them. JANIS: Stephen Janis and Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore.


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Stephen Janis

Host & Producer
Stephen Janis is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work has been acclaimed both in print and on television. As the Senior Investigative Reporter for the now defunct Baltimore Examiner, he won two Maryland DC Delaware Press Association Awards for his work on the number of unsolved murders in Baltimore and the killings of prostitutes. His in-depth work on the city's zero-tolerance policing policies garnered an NAACP President's Award. As an Investigative Producer for WBFF/Fox 45, he has won three successive Capital Emmys: two for Best Investigative Series and one for Outstanding Historical/Cultural Piece.

He is the author of three books on the philosophy of policing: Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore; You Can't Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond; and The Book of Cop: A Testament to Policing That Works. He has also written two novels, This Dream Called Death and Orange: The Diary of an Urban Surrealist. He teaches journalism at Towson University.