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Prosecutor In Freddie Gray Case Offers Lessons For Minneapolis

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're joined now by Marilyn Mosby. She is the Baltimore City state's attorney. We've called on her today because just a few years ago, she was at the center of a similar national story when 25-year-old Freddie Gray died after he was placed handcuffed and shackled in a police van without proper safety restraints and died from his injuries. Mosby prosecuted six Baltimore police officers, but there were no convictions.

Marilyn Mosby, thank you so much for being with us.

MARILYN MOSBY: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

MARTIN: Do you mind if I ask you how you are? I mean, this brings up a lot for many, many people. How are you?

MOSBY: So, first and foremost, I appreciate you even asking. Like every American, I'm sickened by the footage of an officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, for eight minutes and 46 seconds, sucking the life out of him as he struggles to say the words that have defined this movement - I can't breathe. And so, you know, I'm exhausted.

And when you think about the power dynamic of a police officer with the power and the authority of the state to not only protect a life but the power to take it - and yet, this officer exhibits his power, and is completely unfazed and indifferent to listening to a black man cry out for his mother as he takes his last breath and implores him to take his knee out of his neck because he can't do the one thing that every creature on earth is allowed to do in order to exist, which is to merely breathe.

When I think about the past month, where you had Ahmaud Arbery, you know, Mr. Cooper, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and even Omar Jimenez, who was merely reporting while black and arrested on CNN live TV, I'm exhausted. And so I think it's really, really important in this moment for us to kind of understand what's going on and truly understand that the indifference that's exhibited to the lack of humanity for black people and the threat that we seem to pose by merely existing.

You have to understand the fact that black people in this country have been dehumanized by the vested powers and the authority of the state in every aspect of our existence since we were brought here as slaves. And historically, the police, prosecutors and the court have been the enforcers of the state, enforcers of the conditions that have dehumanized us and kept us oppressed as second-class citizens.

And what we're seeing right now is a manifestation of that pain and the manifestation of that hurt. And it's on public police and prosecutors and courts as the enforcers. When we look at it historically, we have got to come to terms with what this culture of white supremacy has meant in the criminal justice system.

MARTIN: Let me jump in here because one of the reasons we called you is that you wrote a piece yesterday for the Washington Post titled, "I Was The Prosecutor In The Freddie Gray case. Here's What Minneapolis Should Know." And one of the things that you say Minneapolis should know is that the decision to charge the six police officers led to accountability, exposure and reform in the city even if no one was ever convicted. How so? And how could that apply to Minneapolis?

MOSBY: So I think that there are a number of lessons that are learned. And when we think about the riots, people - when you think about why it's happening, you have to consider the conditions as to why the riots are occurring. In the city of Baltimore, 80 - excuse me, 28% of Baltimore's population lives in poverty. Thirty-five percent of children live below poverty. There are over 18,000 vacant houses, 16,000 vacant lots. The unemployment rate for young African American men between the ages of 18 and 24, which is more than twice that of whites.

When you consider all of those dynamics that are at play, in 2015, three months into my term, you know, a 25-year-old black man made eye contact with police. He was unconstitutionally arrested. He was placed into a metal wagon, feet first - head first, feet shackled and handcuffed. And after his spine was partially severed in the back of that wagon, his pleas for medical attention were ignored, right?

In 2015, we were seeing police brutality and individual black men being killed in police custody and as a result of police engagement all throughout this country. I did something in those three months that a lot of people told me not to do, which was to apply one standard of justice - that accountability regardless of race, sex, religion and even occupation.

And I can say that that accountability - a week after I charged those officers, the Department of Justice came in, exposed the discriminatory policing practices of the eight largest police department in the country. But there was a 163-page report that exposed that pattern and practice of discrimination. That accountability led to exposure. That exposure ultimately led to reform. We now have a federally enforceable consent decree. And although those individual officers weren't held individually and criminally responsible, every single police officer is being held accountable for the actions of a few.

MARTIN: Just briefly, if you can - we only have about a minute left - you pointed out that one of the big differences in this case is that there's video footage of George Floyd being pinned to the ground by the officer who has now been charged, Derek Chauvin. But there are three other officers in the video who've been fired but not charged. Should they be, as briefly as you can?

MOSBY: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that's a major difference. If I had the videotape in the Freddie Gray case of the injury to his spine in the back of that wagon, yes, that would have been the smoking gun. And in my instance, I charged every single one of those officers that I believed to be accountable and responsible. And that's what the prosecutor in this case should do as well.

MARTIN: That is the Baltimore City state's attorney, Marilyn Mosby.

Marilyn Mosby, so much more to discuss, so thank you for starting this conversation with us. We hope we'll talk again, and hopefully under better circumstances. Thank you again.

MOSBY: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF GRAMATIK'S "JUST JAMMIN'") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.