As final ruling nears, activist says officers should be held accountable
STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: Hello. This is Stephen Janis for the Real News Network in Baltimore, Maryland. We’re outside of Mitchell Courthouse, where the proceedings in the case against the first officer to be tried for the death of Freddie Gray, William Porter, has just concluded. What do we have, the prosecution has just rested on their–or no, no. The defense. Defense. We’re here with two people who are going to talk a little bit about the trial. Michael Wood is a former police officer who retired, what, a year ago, and is now watching the trial. Has been somewhat a critic of policing. And Kwame Rose is an activist who has been arrested for protesting, and also been heavily involved in the Freddie Gray uprising and sort of the post-critique. So let me start with you. What did you think of the prosecution closing? MICHAEL WOOD: The prosecution’s closing was strong. I didn’t get to see all of it. But really what we’re boiling down to here, we have to jump to it, is that we have a court that is having testimony that is signifying that for as long as we know, there’s systemic policy not following. There’s systemic malfunctions in management. And these are all the same leaders that we keep putting in place, have been here the whole time. And we have testimony right here, and yet where’s the reform? Where are we going forward? And the second thing is reasonableness. What is a reasonable officer? That doesn’t make a lot of sense, and this is what we’re focusing on here. So if we have a fundamental problem, what happens if the police are unreasonable? And then the reasonable officer is unreasonable. So we have to really think about what that means. JANIS: Well, it’s more about culture than the law, right, at this point. Doesn’t the law sort of supersede culture, in this sense? Isn’t the law more important? Maybe not? WOOD: Maybe not, because the law has been structured so that no matter what a cop does, then they’re justified. So if your idea of reasonable is to do something unreasonable, then the law says that what you did was reasonable if that’s what we’re looking at from a straight legal definition. And that has to change. I don’t know if it’s going to happen here, but it has to change somewhere. JANIS: It’s almost Kafkaesque. How do you think people are responding to the trial out in the community in terms of, you know, there’s been a lot of suspicion, skepticism. Do you think the trial proceeding itself had done anything to affect the community’s perception of justice against police in this community? KWAME ROSE: Well, I think for one, the community is preparing for the track record of America not convicting killer cops. I think we’re preparing for that to continue. And we see that our right to protest is being limited by city officials, even the Sheriff’s Department. I was reading an article yesterday, they got a permit to block protesters from protesting on the public sidewalks. So I think that the city is preparing for Officer Porter to get off, as well as the citizens. And we’re going to make sure that the demand for justice is one that is met, either it be inside of the courthouse or it be from shutting the city down. JANIS: Well, if there’s a split verdict, like several convicted, some–what do you think is going to happen? Do you think people are going to take to the streets again? Or do you think people accept that? ROSE: Well, we made it clear, the community has made it very clear that a $6.4 million settlement is not justice. Doesn’t even begin to paint a picture of what justice looks like. And even if there’s a split verdict, unless it’s a guilty verdict where Officer William Porter goes to jail for the murder of Freddie Gray, then the community’s voice will continue to be heard. And there’s five more trials. So we just want to make it known that all five–all six officers are expected to be convicted for the murder of Freddie Gray. Because had it not been for him being in custody with Baltimore City police, he’d still be alive today. WOOD: And we just watched Daniel Holtzclaw, felt like he was going to be completely fine and was utterly shocked when he was [inaud.]. JANIS: Just so people know, a cop in Oklahoma City who was char–convicted of raping 13 women, or 8 women. Right. Go ahead. [Inaud.] WOOD: Right. So I mean, he was utterly shocked. He felt like he was going to get off. I’m a little shocked that Porter’s so comfortable. Maybe it’s a front. I don’t know, I don’t want to project into what he’s, he’s going through. But it does seem that he’s confident that the system will protect cops, and history says that he should be confident. JANIS: Well, is that something to do with, like, the FOP and their power, and the fact that they probably said to him, don’t worry about this one, we got this one? I mean, where does that come–is it partially based in the power that the police department has in this city? WOOD: Yeah. I mean, I just can’t say. I, I would be not so comfortable. So, so I don’t understand why the portrayal of comfort is there. ROSE: If I could say something–. JANIS: Yeah, sure, of course. ROSE: So if you look at the donations from politicians that have been receiving donations from the FOP, they’ve paid off all the politicians in the city. So you don’t have that political power pressuring the judicial system for justice. Instead you have a bunch of silenced politicians. That has become the trend in Baltimore City, who have been paid off by the most corrupt workforce union, probably in the country, right. The FOP here in Baltimore City has shown no care for black life. It has shown no care for the citizens of Baltimore City. JANIS: Well, and–and you know, the city, this didn’t stop the city from going after protesters, right. They had no problem of–we followed one case where a young man who had only been charged with disorderly conduct had a three-day trial. So they have gone after the protesters. ROSE: Yeah they have, right. My lawyer, and my own–speaking from my own personal experience, it was either I take the probation for a day, or four years in jail. And that’s a very easy decision for many of us. But you know, the state’s attorney’s office, right, I said so at the end of my court case. I wish that the state’s attorney’s office as well as the court system would stop allowing Baltimore City police officers to make a mockery of the judicial system. It shouldn’t be law enforcement charges individuals and then the individuals have to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars for simply doing nothing but getting a charge, a corrupt charge. It should be that the law enforcement is here to uphold and protect a law that is fair and transparent for all. JANIS: Michael, you know, we had said before that kind of, the policing process is on trial here with Porter and the next trials. What is that–what are we learning about the policing process being on trial that maybe people don’t know about Baltimore policing? WOOD: Well, what Kwame is speaking about right now is procedural justice. So one thing that we are getting right now is a bit of procedural justice, but it’s not 100 percent there. And what procedural justice does is it gives us the feeling that police are legitimate authority. And so what we’re used to seeing is that there is no procedural justice to victims of police brutality. So then the–the trust in the police, the integrity of the police, falls apart, and the citizenry doesn’t rely on it. So that’s where we are now. To fix that it’s clear that we can’t be doing these things anymore. We have to change this system. We’ve got to stop saying, well, this is what the system is. So we’re, we’re good. It’s right here in front of us. JANIS: Well, Kwame Rose, Michael Wood, thank you joining us. Thank you for your analysis, very interesting. This is Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore. We’ll have more updates on the trial as they occur.