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.