The Baltimore cops on trial are responsible for Freddie Gray’s death AP

The trial of the first of six Baltimore police officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray has been declared a mistrial, the first concrete result of what will undoubtedly be a very long legal process.

Of course, by the standard of many other police misconduct cases, it is sadly impressive that criminal trials are happening at all in response to Gray’s death. The “rough ride” that snapped his spine wasn’t caught on video, and even cops involved in on-camera deaths like Eric Garner’s have avoided criminal prosecution altogether.

Furthermore, the hopeful might note that Gray’s family already received a multi-million dollar settlement from the city of Baltimore. Financial damages are a good first step—though they offer no incentive for responsible police behavior, as the costs are born by taxpayers instead of the offending cops—but they’re ultimately not enough, as this New York Daily News op-ed argues:

Ten years before  Gray died, another man, Dondi Johnson, was arrested by Baltimore Police and placed in the back of a van. By the time they got to the precinct, he had a fractured and dislocated spine.

Completely paralyzed from the neck down, Johnson survived long enough to speak of how outrageously rough the ride that caused his injuries was. He died two weeks later and his family was awarded a $7.3 million settlement.

Guess who was convicted for this? Nobody.

The same thing happened with James McKenna in Philadelphia – except he lived to talk about it. After being arrested, he actually heard police speak about their plan to injure him by giving him a rough ride in the van. They broke his neck, he received a $490,000 settlement, but nobody was held responsible.

That’s pretty much the American way. Checks get written and taxpayers pay for the brutality and pain caused by police.

Even in the death of Gray, his family has received a $6.4 million settlement.

It’s just not good enough.

In our legal system, if you accidentally kill someone while merely intending to injure them, you’re still criminally liable. It’s called manslaughter.

Freddie Gray should have received medical attention at the arrest site, should have only ridden about five minutes in the police van instead of 40+, should have been restrained by appropriate seat belts or other safety measures, should have—well, you get the idea.

I don’t know and can’t know whether the arresting officers intended to kill Gray, but it seems indisputable that they are responsible for his death in custody (which, remember, all started because Gray had a pocketknife—not because he was hurting anyone with it, just that he owned it).

In fact, back in April, both Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis admitted that the cops who arrested Gray had been medically negligent. “No excuses for that, period,” Batts said. “We know our police employees failed to get him medical attention in a timely manner multiple times.”

So as these Gray trials proceed, one thing is clear: if you or I or any non-uniformed citizen had accosted Gray and given him a fatal rough ride, we would be tried and at least found responsible for manslaughter, probably involving criminal negligence.

And the presence of those uniforms in Gray’s real-life rough ride should not negate the fact that someone must take responsibility for his death.

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