When the trials of six Baltimore police officers charged in connection with Freddie Gray’s death have ended, how will we know whether justice was achieved? University of Baltimore law school dean Ronald Weich asks that question, writing in the Baltimore Sun. Some see the trials that start today as a way to vindicate a young man who died in police custody. Gray’s family already won a $6.4 million judgment to settle a case the family could have brought. “Monetary compensation and the effect it may have on future police practices is one very important form of justice, and Gray’s family has already accomplished this goal,” Weich says.
Some hope the officers’ trials will advance the agenda of the “black lives matter” movement. “A single prosecution (or six) cannot solve broad social problems or reform troubled institutions,” Weich writes. Instead, the question in any criminal trial is narrow: Has the defendant violated a specific law? Some hope the trials will show the true story of Gray’s fateful ride in a police fan last April, but Weich says that “a criminal trial is a notoriously bad way to tell a story. The presentation is fragmented. The narrative is constrained by technical rules of evidence. Those who expect the trials to answer all the questions or to solve all the problems highlighted by Gray’s death are bound to be disappointed.” Perhaps the most important pretrial ruling was that each officer get a separate trial. That is based on a fundamental principle, says Weich: “Individuals in our society are to be judged for their own actions, not on their proximity to others who may have engaged in wrongdoing.”