Tomorrow in Baltimore, the first court hearings in the Freddie Gray case will be heard in the Circuit Court on Calvert Street, just a few blocks up from the Inner Harbor. Demonstrations are planned and security will be at maximum levels. This has the potential to get out of hand.
Police and city officials have been preparing for protests — and possible unrest — in light of the hearings. The Police Department canceled leave to maximize availability of city officers for both hearings, a police spokesman said on Monday.
The Baltimore Sheriff’s Office, which is responsible for safety at the Calvert Street courthouse, also said it will have “an increased presence” in and around the courthouse.
Activist Duane “Shorty” Davis said his organization, Baltimore BLOC, is encouraging residents to engage in nonviolent acts of civil disobedience this week and next. He said they don’t plan to protest in West Baltimore, where the bulk of April’s unrest occurred, but downtown and in wealthier parts of the city.
“I want you to go to Canton, Fells Point, the Inner Harbor, the Orioles’ games,” Davis said. “We’re not just going to go in the black community and wave our hands. We’re going to the white communities.”
That is precisely the thing that the Baltimore police do not want to hear. Back in April, it appeared pretty clearly that there were more police around Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor than anywhere else, even as West Baltimore turned chaotic.
The hearing is on preliminary matters – whether the case should be dismissed, whether the defendants should be tried together or separately, and whether prosecutor Marilyn Mosby should be removed from the case. A second hearing on September 10 will decide whether the case remains in the City or gets shipped off to one of the suburbs. One thing for sure – the protesters know what they want.
“Our message is pretty obvious. Do not drop the charges. No change in venue. Do not recuse Marilyn Mosby,” said Sharon Black of the Baltimore People’s Power Assembly, an organization known for its protests against alleged police brutality. It is planning the demonstration at the downtown Circuit Court.
“Our demands are pretty simple. We want to keep the attention on those three issues.”
I’d say the separate trial issue is important, too. Trying essentially the same case six different times presents logistical nightmares for the prosecution, while defendants want separate trials so as not to taint their defense with bad evidence as to other defendants. Also, in a group trial, if the jury is split, a compromise verdict may end up with some defendants found guilty and others acquitted. In separate tries, that option is off the table.
Tomorrow’s going to be a crazy day in Charm City. And that’s just the start of what is likely to be a protracted legal process.