Fear flooded me when my boyfriend, a 24-year-old, college-educated fella with bold freckles and an endearing spirit, told me he was planning to install upgrades on his car. His Nissan Versa, with its tinted windows and blazing blue rims, calls attention to him. Adding a louder exhaust and modifying his engine will surely mean cops will have their radar on him. And that frightens me. Law enforcement won’t know how loving he is. Or how his radiating smile can qualm any sense of nervousness that arises within me. Or how patient and kind he is with my nieces and nephew as they pepper him with impossible questions.
Some police officers will see his locs and his tattoos and his lanky 6’3” frame inside of a tricked-out whip, and immediately feel threatened. And that scares me. White supremacy and fear of Blackness has created a society where, despite Black people having full legal rights on paper, Black men and women are often killed with impunity. Last year, 1,149 people were killed by police in the United States but few officers are charged with any wrongdoing in deaths—only about four officers a year are charged in civilian deaths and convictions are even more rare. Within that crisis is a justifiable fear that Black lives don’t matter.
Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City’s State Attorney, is attempting to reverse that narrative. Pride, and a sense of relief, swelled within me when she announced that her office was filing more than 25 charges against six police officers for the death of Freddie Gray. After Gray was arrested on April 12, he “suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet, and unrestrained inside the BPD [Baltimore Police Department] wagon,” according to Mosby. Gray was also illegally arrested, according to Mosby, since the officers “failed to establish probable cause for Mr. Gray's arrest, as no crime had been committed.” In that moment, Mosby made it clear: Freddie Gray’s life mattered. He deserved to live, no matter his flaws.
After her stunning statement, Mosby has quickly ascended into the role of a prominent prosecutor. She’s even being referred to as “America’s favorite prosecutor” by news network Fusion. She’s not everyone’s favorite, though: Lawyers for the police union are demanding Marilyn Mosby be dismissed from the case and have it reassigned to a special prosecutor. National media has been quick to describe the prosecutor as “a lightning rod”—painting her as someone who attracts controversy. While it pushes Mosby into an unkind limelight, the decision to charge the police officers in Gray’s case has raised the hope of a people who have been brutalized, killed, and silenced. When it comes to accountability in the justice system, we’re so accustomed to disappointment. The police officers who killed Eric Garner, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, and Rekia Boyd have faced no accountability. Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old who was shot by police officers in Cleveland, Ohio, still remains unburied, his body considered evidence as their state’s attorney weighs the option of prosecuting his killers.
Hope is warranted. Black folks need hope in times such as these. Yet, it’s critical to understand Mosby’s role within a legal system that often railroads the very Black folks who have decided she is our legal savior. Marilyn Mosby has said that she isn’t prosecuting this case any differently. “My administration is committed to creating a fair and equitable justice system for all… no matter what your occupation, your age, your race, your color or your creed,” she said in a press conference. She is committed to applying the biased law however and whenever it is appropriate, which has penalized some of the same Baltimore residents she is proclaiming to advocate for.
Allen Bullock, an 18-year-old Baltimore resident, used a traffic cone to damage a vehicle when the Baltimore Uprising first erupted. His parents convinced Bullock to turn himself in, hoping he’d be freed since he was attempting to exercise his First Amendment right. Instead, Bullock is being held on $500,000 bail, which is less than the bail set for the officers charged with killing Gray. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. The potential destruction of Bullock’s life also falls into the lap of Mosby, leading Daily Kos to initiate a petition urging her office to dismiss all charges against Baltimore protestors.
In her job, Marilyn Mosby is in a tricky role. For some, including me, she’s a possible role model. She’s representative of what I aim to achieve: She’s a mom with a fulfilling career and a dedication to bettering the community she resides in. However, Black folks can’t afford to pledge allegiance to public officials without also holding them accountable and questioning their decisions. Mosby is operating within a system that is biased against people of color. Each of her decisions in this case, and others, will be scrutinized. In fact, some legal experts are already questioning Mosby’s decision to charge the six officers so swiftly. Page Croyder, a former deputy state’s attorney in Baltimore, has called Mosby’s legal efforts incompetent and reckless. “When the police cannot depend upon the state's attorney to be as thorough, competent, non-political and fair with them as she is supposed to be with all citizens, none of us will be safe,” Croyder wrote in the Baltimore Sun.
Black people aren’t safe. We never have been. The question is whether or not Marilyn Mosby recognizes this—and whether she’ll be able to use the law to enact some semblance of justice.
Related Reading: A Baltimore Uprising Sketchbook
Evette Dionne is a race and culture writer whose work has been published at the New York Times, Clutch Magazine, The Root and a multitude of other digital and print publications.