Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) remembers Freddie Gray, a young African-American man who succumbed to spinal cord injuries he suffered while in the custody of Baltimore City police officers one year ago. His was the fifth in-custody death in Baltimore in three years, laying bare the longstanding problem of police violence against people of color in Baltimore and across the nation. But, unlike many other cases, the six officers involved in Mr. Gray’s death have been indicted and are awaiting criminal trials. Recognizing that police indifference, violence, and misconduct is a systemic problem in the African-American community, local advocates have spent the past year pushing for changes in policing policies and practices. There has been some progress, but much work remains to be done to realize unbiased and responsible policing in Baltimore.
“Our thoughts are with the Gray family and the families of others who have died in police custody, including Tyrone West, George V. King and Trayvon Scott,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s President and Director-Counsel. “Mr. Gray’s death is the result of larger systemic problems in law enforcement, including a lack of supervision and accountability, which must be confronted in Baltimore, in New York City, and in other cities and towns nationwide. We should use this day of remembrance as an impetus to redouble our efforts to denounce police violence and brutality and call for meaningful reform.”
The criminal trial of William Porter, one of the officers who failed to buckle Mr. Gray into the back of the police van, resulted in a hung jury in December 2015. Officer Porter will be retried in September, with the other five officers slated to stand trial over the course of the year. LDF will continue to closely monitor these trials. “While local jurors or judges will decide the officers’ fate, any conviction will not cure the multiple tragedies that have occurred at the hands of police or the biased practices to which Baltimore’s residents have been unfairly subjected for decades,” said Angel Harris, Assistant Counsel at LDF. “Police supervisors must monitor and address systemic policy violations through the imposition of corrective actions or discipline of officers.”
Weeks after Mr. Gray’s death, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) opened a federal investigation of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) to determine whether officers have engaged in a pattern or practice of violating Baltimoreans civil rights, and its findings are expected in the near future. LDF has urged the DOJ to expand its investigation to include the Baltimore School Police Force, which works closely with BPD and whose officers have assaulted students. The most recent incident involved a school police officer slapping and kicking an unarmed student. DOJ has indicated that it will conduct a very limited probe into the relationship between the two police forces.
And, as the DOJ investigation is underway, advocates, including the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability, recently won a multi-year struggle to amend, for the first time in decades, the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, which will now allow persons more time to file complaints against police and permit lay persons to serve on police discipline boards.
“Mr. Gray’s death has created a moment in which policy makers can no longer ignore policing concerns and are promoting policing reforms in Baltimore and the State of Maryland,” said Monique Dixon, Deputy Director of Policy and Senior Counsel at LDF. “While police misconduct in communities of color is not new, there is a newfound determination among my fellow Baltimore residents to ensure that policing in this city is thoroughly investigated, unlawful policies and practices are eradicated, and officers perform their duties responsibly.”
As LDF remembers Freddie Gray, we continue to promote unbiased and responsible policing practices in Baltimore and elsewhere. As part of LDF’s Policing Reform Campaign, we advocate for: (a) annual collection, analysis, disaggregation, and public reporting of data on arrests, use-of-force incidents, and pedestrian and traffic stop data; (b) training on implicit bias, de-escalation, use of force, adolescent development, and proper interactions with persons with mental illness and other disabilities; (c) enforcement of these trainings through close monitoring of police conduct and the imposition of disciplinary actions or retraining; and (d) timely investigation and resolution of civilian complaints against police.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.