1st Edition: Marilyn Mosby Recalls Racists Attacks After Charges in Freddie Gray Case
On the inaugural podcast of The Afro’s 1st Edition, Sean Yoes speaks with Baltimore’s State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby about her role in charging the six police officers implicated in Freddie Gray’s death and the ensuing pushback
SPEAKER: To the people of Baltimore, I heard your call for no justice, no peace.
SPEAKER: It’s a lot of brothers and women too, that’s incarcerated for things they had nothing to do with.
SPEAKER: BPD engages in a practice of making unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests.
SEAN YOES: Welcome to the inaugural episode of The AFRO First Edition, I’m your host, Sean Yoes, Baltimore Editor of the Afro American newspaper, the number one black newspaper in America. My first guest for this inaugural episode is Baltimore City State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby.
Mosby officially took the SA’s chair in January 2015. Four months later, Baltimore was thrust into the international spotlight in April when 25 year old Freddie Gray was killed while in custody of the Baltimore city Police Department, following an arrest. The subsequent uprising after Gray’s funeral produced some of the most harrowing hours in Baltimore’s history. The next month, Mosby was elevated as a symbol of the law enforcement reform movement in America when she made the decision to indict the six officers connected to Gray’s death.
In some ways, it was an unprecedented move by a U.S. prosecutor. In the midst of a rising tide of police brutality, allegations and deaths of mostly poor, mostly black males in the hands of law enforcement. In the process, Mosby has become an arch target of the Fraternal Order of Police and their supporters. Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, thank you for joining us.
MARILYN MOSBY: Thank you for having me, Sean.
SEAN YOES: I want to go back to April of 2015, the day when Freddie Gray was arrested. I think the video of him being hauled into the back of that van went viral. What were your thoughts when you initially saw that video of him and him screaming, hollering in agony? You hear the people on the residence nearby, screaming their disapproval of what was happening. What ran through your mind?
MARILYN MOSBY: What I can say is I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. I really wanted to get to the bottom of what took place around the incident. I can tell you that we immediately started to do an investigation. We contacted the police and we were spending about 12 or 14 hour days trying to get to the bottom of what took place. I knew that there had been something that had to have happened before that incident. I’m thankful, we were grateful for some of the admissions that the officers made. At the end of the day on May 1, 2015, when I came out and I announced the charges against those six officers, we had more evidence in that case than we do a lot of other cases.
SEAN YOES: Mm-hmm.
MARILYN MOSBY: Yeah, I wouldn’t do anything differently.
SEAN YOES: He’s arrested on the 12th. Three days later, I believe, by April 15th, he’s dead.
MARILYN MOSBY: Mm-hmm.
SEAN YOES: His funeral was the 20 … I keep thinking it was the 27th
MARILYN MOSBY: 27th.
SEAN YOES: The 27th. Then, obviously, the Uprising began, the epicenter of it being on Mondawmin Mall and Penn North. As that was transpiring, as all that was happening, the investigation was already underway.
MARILYN MOSBY: Mm-hmm.
SEAN YOES: What was running through your mind? What was going through your spirit?
MARILYN MOSBY: I mean, when you talk about my spirit, again, as a prosecutor, I was looking at trying to get to the bottom of what took place. You had, in the end, an innocent 25 year old man, black man by the name of Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr, who was, in my opinion, unreasonably taken into police custody, made eye contact with the police. Was put into a wagon head first, feet shackled and handcuffed. Then his pleas for medical attention were ignored.
I based my decisions on the facts and the law. Again, I wouldn’t do anything differently. As the uprising was taking place, I can tell you that that was about two blocks away from my home. I live in the heart of West Baltimore. I always tell everyone, “I’m raising two little girls. I don’t have to open up the newspaper or look at the news to see the violence plaguing our communities. All I have to do is open up my door.” I was concerned. I was definitely concerned about the Uprising. At the end of the day, I also wanted to get to the bottom of what took place, for Freddie Gray.
SEAN YOES: Indeed. As you go forward, it’s interesting, you said that you basically a three minute drive from Penn North.
MARILYN MOSBY: Mm-hmm.
SEAN YOES: I live around the corner from you so I know exactly what you’re talking about. I was born and raised three minutes from Mondawmin. The juxtaposition of that intersectionality, if you will, of how everything played out is fascinating. Being someone who’s born and raised in West Baltimore. As you proceeded, as you went forward, and on that day, I think it was May 1.
MARILYN MOSBY: It was May 1.
SEAN YOES: When you made the announcements outside of-
MARILYN MOSBY: War Memorial.
SEAN YOES: Right. You hear, as you say the words, “We’re going to charge these officers,” I’m paraphrasing. You hear the uproar of approval. It was almost like a release, a cathartic release from people who had experienced decades, generations of police brutality with no consequences.
MARILYN MOSBY: The findings of our comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation, coupled with the medical examiner’s determination that Mr. Gray’s death was a homicide, which we received today has led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges.
Speaker 6: Yes! Yes!
SEAN YOES: Police had been able to operate with impunity. As you were going through that, as you were making that public statement about the charges, I understand that at the essence of it is you’re seeking justice for Freddie Gray. There was a lot of emotion on that day.
MARILYN MOSBY: I think there was a whole lot of emotion even leading up to May 1. When we look at the Uprising, I hate to even refer to it as riots because I don’t believe that, I think these were Uprisings. When you look at some of the systemic issues that plague our city, specifically our community, we had some unproductive responses to it. You could also understand why. When we look at our city, which is in one of the richest states in the country, Baltimore’s population, 24% of Baltimore’s population lives in poverty, 35% of children live below poverty. We have 18,000 vacant houses, 16,000 vacant lots. The number of liquor stores that inundate our communities.
When we look at even the unemployment rate for young African American men between the ages of 18 and 24, which is more than twice that of whites, those are some of the, on top of the discriminatory policing practices against African American men and the violence that plagues our communities, I understood the emotions that were attached to the Uprising.
So, on May 1, I did my job. That’s essentially why I wanted to become a prosecutor is to be able to apply justice fairly and equally to everybody, regardless of one’s sex, religion or occupation. For the first time, I think, I would say not the first time, but in a long while, you had accountability across the board. That accountability ultimately led to exposure.
A week after I announced those charges, the Department of Justice came in and exposed the discriminatory policing practices of one of the largest police agencies in the country. That exposure ultimately led to reform. We now have a federally enforceable consent decree that even despite the Trump administration that tried to forestall it, we, as a community, said, “Absolutely not.” I look back at that time and I wouldn’t do anything differently.
SEAN YOES: We’re going to get to the Trump administration and the DOJ Consent Decree in a moment but I want to go back to the first trial of Officer Porter. You came very close to a prosecution. I mean, a conviction, rather. I mean, you just alluded to the broader context in which the Uprising occurred. There’s even a broader context in which you prosecuted, rather, you indicted these police officers.
MARILYN MOSBY: Mm-hmm.
SEAN YOES: That broader context is a FOP. That is really one of the most powerful unions in the United States and one that has really been able to operate almost with impunity, in our state, specifically. Enjoying the first Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights in the nation. One of the most broad law enforcement, I mean, so what you were doing, in indicting these officers, the broader context was really attacking the system in a way that it had not been attacked before.
When I say that, I don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean, you were going against the status quo. Despite all of that, you still came extremely close to convicting Porter. Billy Murphy, the venerable defense attorney, who was the attorney for the Gray family, he has said recently, and you may not be able to comment on this, I don’t know, that he felt like, from his position, that sabotage was at work as far as your investigation was concerned. What can you say to that, as far as the process is concerned, speaking to the power structure that was in place, that you had to deal with?
MARILYN MOSBY: I think that when we look at what happened, and you’re absolutely right, when we had the first case, it was tried in front of a jury, among one’s peers. It was a hung jury, so we had the ability of trying Officer Porter again. I think I’ve been extremely vocal. You know, I learned so many different lessons through the Freddie Gray case, one of which I’ve actually proposed several police accountability reforms.
First and foremost, I just don’t believe that any sort of profession should have the task of investigating itself. I think there’s going to be inherent biases when it comes to questioning and interrogation. I’ve been already very vocal about some of the sabotage that did take place in that investigation. There were search warrants that weren’t executed.
But again, I think, when we look at it, I don’t think it’s just a police issue. I think that this is a professional sort of issue. This is one that we should take up. When we look all across the country at other municipalities, right? We go to San Francisco, we go to New York, and these are major metropolitan areas, they have their own investigators that will investigate police misconduct. I don’t have that.
SEAN YOES: Independent investigators.
MARILYN MOSBY: Independent investigators, outside of the police department.
SEAN YOES: Right.
MARILYN MOSBY: I didn’t have that in the State’s Attorney’s office. I have investigators that were former police officers but they have no investigative authority. They don’t have the power of arrest, they don’t have the power to execute search and seizure warrants. It was incredibly frustrating because the investigation, we needed that.
Again, those are some of the reasons why we have to stay and pay attention. I went down to the legislation last year and one of the things that I was pushing was the police powers for my investigators. You do have precedence for it in other major municipalities and even in the state of Maryland. You have Talbot county, Garrett county, Dorchester county where the State’s Attorney investigators have police powers. Unfortunately, I was told that that’s not going to happen in the city of Baltimore.
SEAN YOES: That it was not going to happen?
MARILYN MOSBY: That it’s not going to happen. Chairman basically said on the record, “It’s never going to happen.”
SEAN YOES: Chairman? Which Chairman?
MARILYN MOSBY: Chairman Zirkin.
SEAN YOES: I thought, okay.
You alluded to the fact that the first trial was a jury trial and you almost got the conviction. The rest of the trials were the bench trials, Judge Barry Williams. For lack of a better term, I think many of your supporters would suggest that the fix was in, if you will, after that transition was made. It seemed clear that that was the way all the officers were going to go, after the first bench verdict came down. After everything-
MARILYN MOSBY: I wouldn’t say the fix was in. I mean, I just want to be clear. I guarantee, as a prosecutor, the process, right? I don’t guarantee convictions in any case. I think that was done. What was clear was that the judge did not believe the state’s theory of the case. Not only did he acquit the driver of the vehicle, he acquitted one of the arresting officers, he acquitted the highest ranking police officer. It became abundantly clear that he didn’t believe our theory of the case. That’s the process. The judge was well within his right to make that decision.
SEAN YOES: Understood, understood. It was not long after you announced the indictment and then, obviously, through the process of the trials, the attacks came.
MARILYN MOSBY: Oh yeah.
SEAN YOES: With incredible zeal. You had somehow thrown the officers under the bus, it was politically motivated, you were in over your head somehow. The officers actually sued you, I guess, for defamation of character.
MARILYN MOSBY: Still pending.
SEAN YOES: Which is still pending.
MARILYN MOSBY: Mm-hmm.
SEAN YOES: Many of those attacks became extremely personal and many of those attacks were racial and racist.
MARILYN MOSBY: Mm-hmm.
SEAN YOES: Speak to what was going through your mind or what is still going through your mind, as you grapple with this. The onslaught, if you will, the attacks have not really let up, I don’t think.
MARILYN MOSBY: So, what I can say is that this was definitely something that I did not anticipate. Four months into my term, it was a precursor for what we see on a regular basis right now on Twitter, right? We see the negativity. This happened almost immediately after I charged the officers. I had a group, an organization called Red Nation Rising, where it was just on Twitter, I was being blasted. I was getting these death threats and hate mail to my office. I can remember one incident where they described vividly how my husband would be killed coming outside of our house, in an obituary. How, when we called for the police, no one would show up.
I would get these racist, I can laugh in retrospect but when you’re going through it, you’re like, “What is this?” This was before the divisive times in which we’re currently in. It was definitely something that I did not anticipate. I can remember one note was, “You racist nigger bitch.”
SEAN YOES: Wow.
MARILYN MOSBY: Am I supposed to say that?
SEAN YOES: That’s okay.
MARILYN MOSBY: I said, “The irony of that.” You know, that’s something where we can kind of laugh at now because we’re accustomed to it but when I was going through it, what I had to learn how to do, and rather quickly, was not to internalize it. To understand that it wasn’t about me, individually, about Marilyn Mosby, but what Marilyn Mosby represents. You kind of hit the nail on the head when you talked about challenging the status quo.
As a prosecutor, we’ve got to think about this role, right? It is the most important role in the criminal justice system. For far too long, we have not understood that. Prosecutors are the ones who decide who’s going to be charged, what they’re going to be charged with, what sentence recommendations they’re going to make. They make the decision as to whether or not a person is even going to get into the criminal justice system in the first place. When we look at the disproportionate impact that the criminal justice system has had on communities of color, you cannot ignore the fact that 95% of the prosecutors in this country are white, 79% are white men. As a woman of color, I represent 1% of all elected women of color prosecutors in the country.
SEAN YOES: Wow.
MARILYN MOSBY: What I had to learn how to do very quickly was not to internalize it and say, “The backlash that I’m receiving is not about me, individually, but what my position represents.”
SEAN YOES: You mentioned just a moment ago the irony of how you were characterized by some of these people. The other great irony is the fact that you come from a family of law enforcement.
MARILYN MOSBY: Oh yeah.
SEAN YOES: Speak to that. Speak to that a little.
MARILYN MOSBY: What I can say, I know I’ve been accused of being anti-police and that is so far from the truth. I’m anti-police brutality and I’ve been very clear about that. I come from five generations of police officers. My great-uncle, my great great uncle, my grandfather was one of the founding members of the first black police organization in Massachusetts. They referred to our house in the inner city of Boston as the Police House.
I told you the story, it was like a month ago, a month and a half ago, where I was in a coffee shop and somebody came in and was like, “Are you Marilyn? Are you the State Attorney?” I said, “Yeah, I am.” He was like, “Well, I just want to thank you.” I said, “Thank me for what?” He said, “Mr. T saved my life.” Mr. T was my grandfather.
SEAN YOES: Right.
MARILYN MOSBY: He was like, “I was one of those knucklehead guys from around the corner that used to be at your house all the time.” We would always constantly have people at my house who were claiming that they were related. They’d be like, “Hey, cuz!” I’m like, “I don’t know you.” You don’t appreciate, in that moment, that your grandfather, who is the epitome of community policing, right? He was not only a paternalistic sort of figure for me and my family but for that community. That’s the one thing that we lack.