BALTIMORE—Over the past week, Baltimore has suffered riots, looting, tense protests, destruction, and a state of emergency. On Friday evening, it seemed as if Charm City was ready to party.
In a press conference, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that she found probable cause to file criminal charges against the six police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray, the most serious of which is second-degree murder. The officers were taken into custody.
“There will be justice for Mr. Gray, there will be justice for his family, and there will be justice for the people of Baltimore,” Mosby vowed.
The crowd present broke out in cheers as she announced the charges, which came as a surprise to so many.
“I’m gratified that we’ve seen the constructive, thoughtful protests that have taken place,” President Obama said, following Mosby’s press conference.
Hundreds rushed out onto the streets in West Baltimore. And as the sun set—with a citywide curfew still in effect, and police and National Guard Soldiers still stationed around areas recovering from the mayhem—the mood had markedly changed from the previous, angry nights. Cops stood off to the side of Pennsylvania and North Avenues, a flashpoint for protests and violence just days before. They looked on, without the riot shields they previously carried or the helmets they previously wore.
There was no danger of a riot Friday evening—the biggest danger was that a jubilant local would get dinged by an overzealous, honking driver celebrating the charges, and Sandtown, Gray’s old neighborhood that had been hit hard by recent violence, morphed into a block party. There was a drum circle. A saxophonist riffed on the corner. Selfie-sticks replaced cinderblocks in the intersection that a few days prior had been filled with tear gas and smoke.
But everybody in West Baltimore—no matter how loudly they cheered Friday—realizes that a conviction in the death of Freddie Gray is far from a sure thing. Cops are rarely even charged for on-duty killings.
“I don’t know why people are really happy,” said a local who goes by the name Rollman Ralph. “The trial hasn’t even set in. … It’s going to take at least a year or two, and then they might bring the charges down. All the charges might go down one day—so all the people out here are happy for nothing.”
“If they’re not found guilty, it may be a Part 2 of what happened on Monday,” said Natasha Jones, a nurse who lives in Park Heights. “But this is something we fought for. Today is not the end, it’s just the beginning. ... We want jail time. In the same way that they want us to go to jail when we do something bad, we want … justice.”
Other local residents expressed mixed feelings, at best.
“They got charged, but they still got bail,” Justin Hopkins, a lifelong resident of West Baltimore, remarked. “That says the system still isn’t fair. If we got those charges, we don’t get bail—we get life.”
“I feel that the fact they got anything against them is a relief to me,” Lakia Scott said. “Some police get off with nothing. Even if I know some of the charges won’t stick, they should have gotten worse charges, [like] first-degree [murder]. I’m still glad they got any charge.”