Tired of Waiting for the Courts, Students Get Their Own Measure of Justice for Freddie Gray
TRNN Exclusive: Students at Baltimore’s Reginald F. Lewis High stage a mock trial for Officer Caesar Goodson, one of six officers charged with the death of Freddie Gray
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: A year after Freddie Gray was killed at the hands of Baltimore police, his life, and the upheaval caused by his death, continues to be felt across Baltimore. The national spotlight focused on Baltimore’s apartheid-like inequity, a justice system that is often stacked against the city’s black majority, and a police force many feel operates with impunity. A year later, the city’s youth question if anything has changed.
JENAE BURRELL, 11th Grader Baltimore City High School Student : They’ve been heard through media but I feel like nobody’s really taking the steps needed for change.
NOOR: Even though six officers were charged with Gray’s death last May, not a single verdict has been returned in the case, leading many to question if justice will ever be served. That’s why Tim Freeze’s tenth grade law and community justice class at Baltimore’s Reginald F. Lewis High School decided to get a measure of justice in their own hands.
STUDENT: All rise. The court of Reginald F. Lewis is now in session.
NOOR: They put on a mock trial for Officer Caesar Goodson, who drove the wagon where prosecutors allege Gray suffered his fatal injury. He faces four charges, including second degree depraved heart murder.
The students prepared for months, going through hundreds of pages of legal briefs, medical examiners’ reports, and then took the trial to the makeshift courtroom in their school. With the judge presiding, both prosecution and defense gave opening statements, swore in witnesses and cross-examined them on the stand. They even had a re-creation of the police wagon that Freddie Gray was placed [in] after he was arrested to test defense arguments that Gray injured himself.
STUDENT: He had to be picked up and placed into the van. Could you try to get up, sir?
STUDENT: I can’t get up.
NOOR: Fifteen minutes after closing arguments, the jury, made up of University of Maryland law students, school seniors, and a psychologist, returned to the courtroom and delivered this verdict.
STUDENT: We find the defendant guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
NOOR: The judge sentences the defendant.
STUDENT: I hereby sentence you to ten years. Please take the defendant into custody. Court is adjourned.
NOOR: We spoke to some of the students involved.
STUDENT: [crying] It was sad to hear that, you’re just sitting on a street corner and you’re chased, and you’re thrown into the back of a van, and then you’re not alive anymore. Being here in the jury, it’s made me learn facts about the case but, overall I still feel that what happened was uncalled for. And it’s sad that if certain stops wouldn’t have happened and occurred, he would still be here, when it should have never occurred in the first place. And, like, he said it is not fair. It’s taking too long, and the process is, the system is not fair, it’s not right. I feel like change is just, equality. It’s just that you been treated and me being treated, we should be treated equal.
STUDENT 7: At first my opinion was that, like, I really thought it was purely the police officers’ fault. I go to, didn’t learn […]. I learned so much from this, because I wasn’t, I just saw it on the news here and there. I didn’t investigate it, but now that I know what’s going on, I feel like I understand it.
NOOR: And so talk about how the media covered it was different than what you wanted, actually doing research and going through the documents.
STUDENT: The way the media covered it, they put like, they wrapped it up into a nice bowtie and tried to present it in a kind of sheltered way. And what I learned were, like, all the facts, the autopsy, I had a pile of papers on procedures, and I saw the videos that were taken by people, and all that.
NOOR: What do you hope finally comes out about this whole incident?
STUDENT: I hope that people acknowledge that, [be]cause some people like to ignore the fact that there is institutionalized racism and prejudice against, like, people, black people. Like we’re especially targeted just because of the color of our skin. [Police officers will] approach us more than other people. It’s not like, we get convicted of crimes at the rate that we do because other people are going the crimes at just the same amount, but we’re being approached more just because of our color. And one person’s actions don’t account for the entire race. There’s people trying to do good, we’re all people, we’re all in this together.
NOOR: And so talk about some of the things that you would like to see change?
STUDENT: Citizens and police communication. I would love to see that change. I would love to see just, you know, when you see a police officer you’re like, “Hey, good morning! How’s your day going?” instead of walking past like, “I hope they don’t say anything to me” or “Oh I hope they don’t think I’m doing anything wrong.” You should not see them as a big, bad policeman, you should see them as another citizen. They should just be another person. That’s how I feel.
NOOR: So you’re talking about, there [are] tensions between communities and police.
STUDENT: I believe that should change.
NOOR: Where do you think that comes from?
I believe that all the past incidents, building up and leading up to this point have just put a label on police officers and citizens. Put a label on our friendship and relationship with police officers, it’s just a big fat label on there because of past incidents.
NOOR: And it’s something that could be changed?
STUDENT: Yes, it really could be changed. But sadly, it’s not. It seems like it’s not going to. And that’s what’s wrong—it needs to change and it seems like it’s not going to.
NOOR: And how did you feel about the results of the jury?
STUDENT: I felt that I really got to sit down and communicate with the jury, and we really got to share our viewpoints and our opinions based of the case, and that the case was like just really great and gave me more information, instead of saying, “Oh guilty, guilty, guilt,” I actually got to think and conjure up thoughts based on the case.
NOOR: We’ve invited Mr. Freeze’s entire tenth grade class into the Real News studio next week to continue this conversation. Send your questions and comments for the students to [email protected]
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.