And in Baltimore, the eternal battle between the rule of law and social justice rages on. Three recent developments will shape the eventual verdicts in the trials of six Baltimore Police Department officers, and those verdicts depend almost entirely on which philosophy prevails (the SMM Freddie Gray Archive is here).
The officers have been grossly overcharged. Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby, in far over her head, has relied on the common but unethical, prosecutorial tactic of lodging every charge possible in the hope that a jury will toss her a bone by convicting at least some of them of at least something on the theory that they would never have been charged if they weren’t guilty of something or other. But in this case a new element has been added: charging officers who played no active role whatever in Gray’s arrest, handling or transportation. A case in point is that of Sgt. White, who, as far as is currently known, never did so much as poke Gray with the tip of a finger, nor did she give an order to others that caused any harm to Gray. White apparently did no more than briefly look at Gray, and perhaps, spoke a few words to him. It’s exceedingly difficult to imagine how this constitutes felonious conduct.
Here we must differentiate between criminal conduct and negligence that might win settlements or verdicts in a civil suit. In the first instance, one may be convicted of a crime for their acts–for actions. One must actually do something that fulfills the specific elements of a specific crime. As in the case of Sgt. White, it is not enough–even to constitute probable cause–that she was present at some point in the odyssey of Freddie Grey, or that she may have spoken a few words that did not elicit a response from Gray, who may have been faking a medical problem or injury in the hope of scamming the city. In a civil suit, one might end up being culpable for failing to render an action they were duty-bound or otherwise reasonably required to take, but this is a very different matter than committing a crime. These distinctions matter under the rule of law, but not under social justice where any action or inaction is cause for perpetual outrage so long as it helps the cause, which is why social justice is so useful for those that find truth and evidence difficult to bend to serve their personal and political preferences.
The three recent issues:
All officers will be tried—separately—in Baltimore. No change of venue, at least not for the moment.
The City of Baltimore has settled with the Gray family—before any suit was filed—for $6.4 million dollars.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced she will not run for another term.
Readers that wish to review these three issues in the words of the media should take the links. I’ll stick, mostly, with analysis of the issues in the struggle between the rule of law and social justice.
NO CHANGE OF VENUE:
This is a real advantage for the prosecution. As I’ve previously noted, the prosecution wanted to try the officers, for the most part, together. In Baltimore, the full advantages of social justice are manifest and in play. Equal justice for all is the opposite of social justice, which picks favorites and spreads around taxpayer cash to ensure the right results. The media are the purveyors of the social justice narrative, and the Freddie Gray case remains an active and potent narrative. All of the power structures of the city are Progressive, and the Police Department is sharply divided among its rank and file—who believe in the rule of law–and its higher ranks who, if not exactly being social justice Kool-Aid drinkers, owe their jobs and careers to some of the most socially just politicians in America. Perversely, law and order are harmful to social justice because the opportunity to exalt the victim classes is reduced or eliminated. This makes rioting and general disorder, if not exactly a social justice goal, a useful and productive status quo.
Once a social justice narrative takes hold, if local and elected state officials buy into it, as the Mayor and District Attorney have, there is no end to the horror. It begins with riots over the original incident, continuing protests and riots over the continuing social justice news coverage of minor, procedural matters in the courts, and if the accused should somehow luck into a court run under the rule of law, it continues with riots after an acquittal fails to deliver ‘justice.
It’s hard to imagine a place, which by its very political and social demographics and by the riots, burgeoning crime and racial strife, and the promise of much, much worse to come regardless of the composition and outcome of trials, is a better argument for a change of venue than Baltimore. Such changes have often been granted in cities where the most significant indication of irreconcilable jury bias has been merely outlandish, one-sided and widespread news coverage. But Baltimore is in an entirely different class. Not only has news coverage been ubiquitous and outlandish, the riots, blatant bias of politicians–and the prosecutor–the loss of tens of millions in riot and fire damage, to say nothing of other lost past and future revenues, and the promise of far, far worse, provide an unquestionably powerful argument for reversal on appeal.
Judge Williams did suggest that he might change his mind if the jury selection process demonstrated outrageous levels of bias, but once that process begins, it is highly unlikely that he will reverse his initial ruling. The urge to insert stealth jurors on any jury will be overpowering and will not require the direct intervention of politicians giving anyone “ideas,” or pulling strings. Unless prospective stealth jurors are so foolish as to reveal their intentions on social media as some did in the George Zimmerman case, it will be next to impossible to eliminate them all. Even if they could not be disruptive enough to win convictions, even a single stealth juror could cause a mistrial, greatly worsening the situation in Baltimore. The social justice establishment, of which Marilyn Mosby and many of her associates are charter members, may not be smart enough to foresee this dynamic, but they are surely counting on stealth jurors to help them win what cannot be won by lawful means.
It must not be forgotten that the officers are being charged princely sums for every hour of legal work, and for expert witnesses and consultants in their defense. The extra hours necessary to even minimally vet prospective jurors will amount to staggering sums of money.
Social justice, in a city like Baltimore, can easily displace, even overwhelm the rule of law. When the prosecution has presented its case, the defense will argue that the prosecution’s minimal burden has not been met and move for dismissal. In this case, absent stunning evidence that has not yet been revealed, and that is beyond the imagination of reasonable, professional investigators, the prosecution will inadvertently present a complete and unassailable defense case, just as the prosecutors in the George Zimmerman case. Defense cross examination will consist of little more than forcing prosecution witnesses to tell the whole truth and of bringing out evidence the prosecution tried to conceal.
In a court under the rule of law, a competent judge would immediately grant a dismissal motion. That is practically impossible in Baltimore. Not only would it result in immediate riots, the judge’s life would, from that day forward, be in mortal danger and his career would be over. Even if a judge were unusually courageous, if they have the slightest social justice sympathies, all of these cases, regardless of whether the prosecution has presented evidence to prove a single element of any offense, must go to the jury to give them the maximum chance to convict, and possibly, prevent, or minimize rioting. That is likely to be a vain hope regardless of the outcome of any of the trials.
The political consequences of no convictions are, for social justice advocates, too terrible to contemplate. Not only would promising political careers be lost (more about that shortly), but all of the toadies and minions riding those politician’s coattails would also be out of a job. Such people are dispersed throughout the justice system, and every other facet of government. Above all, for reasons personal and collective, the narrative must not be allowed to fail, just as failure can never be admitted.
Six separate trials make the potential for riots and damage to the social justice narrative great indeed. Politicians trying desperately to stay in front of the mob while appearing to be noble peacemakers and statesmen will find themselves thrown under the race hustling bus in a millisecond if things don’t go the proper way (more about that shortly too).
$6.4 Million Dollars:
From the linked article:
The Gray settlement exceeds the combined total of more than 120 other lawsuits brought against Baltimore police for alleged brutality and misconduct since 2011. State law generally caps such payments, but local officials can authorize larger awards.
The mayor’s office declined to answer questions about the settlement, including why it was brought to the spending panel before any civil lawsuit was filed and how the payment amount was reached.
Civil suits against police officers commonly take two or more years before any settlement is reached, and settlements, for the most part, tend to be far lower than a million dollars. Everyone understands that a great many of these suits are settled because the time and costs of litigation would greatly exceed any settlement regardless of the outcome. Police officers hate settlements because even though everyone pretends that a settlement is absolutely not an admission of guilt–no sir, no way–the public thinks the police were in error no matter what.
Public officials, like Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake—need I say she’s a Democrat?—have a fiduciary duty to protect the assets of the citizens they represent. They also have a duty to see that their police force is properly supervised. If the police are wrong, they may feel they should reasonably compensate the victim(s), but in fact, that’s the job of the victim’s attorney.
Part of the reason such things take so long is to allow passions to cool, to ensure that everyone’s rights are observed—and that includes the rights of the taxpayers—to ensure that all possible evidence has been discovered, and when criminal charges are involved, to wait for a verdict, which will inevitably have a substantial effect on a civil settlement.
That’s why the Baltimore settlement stinks to high heaven.
Rawlings-Blake should have waited until the conclusion of the criminal cases. If the officers were acquitted, that’s a powerful—though not conclusive; criminal and civil law are quite different—incentive not to settle, or to be more aggressive in saving the taxpayer’s money.
On the other hand, the Gray family attorney, Billy Murphy Jr., who has close ties to Mosby and other local figures, would very much want a settlement long before the cases went to trial, which is exactly what he got. He stands to take home more than two million dollars of the settlement.
Why, then, would Rawlings-Blake—and many other progressive politicians who are praising the settlement in the most effusive terms—settle even before Murphy actually filed a lawsuit? Social justice ideology. Put as simply as possible, Freddie Gray was black, a criminal, and a useful pawn in the war against the police. The settlement is not only perfectly in line with Progressive reparation thinking, it is a thumb in the eye of the police, the middle class and conservatives everywhere.
Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the police union, called the settlement a ‘ridiculous reaction’ by Rawlings-Blake and urged the Board of Estimates to reject it.
‘Just as Baltimore is returning to its pre-riot normalcy, this news threatens to interrupt any progress made toward restoring the relationship between the members of the Baltimore Police Department and the Baltimore City government,’ Ryan said in a statement.
Police leaders also had concerns about the settlement.
‘Claims that are settled so quickly and for such a great deal of money are of a concern for police chiefs and sheriffs because these events may have a chilling effect on the work of officers who will perhaps feel that their city or town does not support or value their work,’ said Karen Kruger, an attorney with Funk & Bolton and general counsel to the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association.
What other conclusion could Baltimore police officers take from this? The settlement also poisons the jury pool even more—if such a thing were possible–a matter raised by the defense with Judge Williams, and inexplicably rejected. I suspect Rawlings-Blake agreed to the settlement in part to send that very message to the community.
There was no reason at all, legal, fiscal, or reasonable, for this settlement. There is, considering that the criminal trials have not yet begun, nothing compelling a quick settlement, but every reason for a responsible public servant to wait. That leaves political ideology, and using taxpayer money to line the pockets of select progressives. The settlement sets a terrible precedent for the future in every imaginable way.
RAWLINGS-BLAKE BOWS OUT:
This brief excerpt from the lengthy linked article may well sum it up:
I guess she realized her mismanagement of the city in the past several months made her un-electable,’ Joe Cluster, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, said in a statement.
Among the facts the article does not mention were included in Update 8.2 of the Gray case. Many of Rawlings-Blake’s highest-level deputies deserted the Baltimore government shortly after the riots, reminding one of nothing so much as rats deserting a sinking ship. Any profession of surprise at Rawlings-Blake’s retirement might therefore be taken with an appropriately large block of salt. I wrote then:
What’s going on here? [Andrew] Branca is almost certainly prescient: these are rats deserting a sinking ship. It’s possible Rawlings-Blake is in for a significant fall, one likely involving years behind bars. Why might that be? I’m not sure, but for her top underlings to flee so rapidly and abruptly suggests something that could conceivably catch them in the blast radius. Democrat rule + large city = massive corruption.
It’s difficult to imagine what else could cause these mass defections. Normally, leaving in this way would cause those fleeing to forfeit any chance of high-ranking political positions in the future, unless their flight was caused by reasons so understandable and serious they won’t be held against them in the future once those reasons are made public.
I do not know that any criminal liability is lurking after Rawlings-Blake. However, every social justice warrior knows that their fellows will turn on them in a millisecond if they think it best for the cause or themselves. Most likely, Rawlings-Blake has had her finger on the local political pulse since she disastrously observed that she gave mindless thugs—who she quickly assured the public were not thugs—the “space to destroy.” I suspect the political focus group/pollster crystal ball did not reveal any future for her in the Baltimore Mayor’s Office. Among the candidates planning to run against Rawlings-Blake in the upcoming mayoral contest is City Councilman Nick Mosby, husband of Marilyn Mosby. Rawlings-Blake may have been encouraged to step aside to enable his political advancement.
Rawlings-Blake may have believed that if she is to have any political future, she needed to lay low and distance herself from Baltimore as quickly as possible. She is yet young—45—in political terms and may be able to rehabilitate herself if she can avoid any further political debacles before she leaves office.
By leaving office so soon, she also avoids extended, repeated, embarrassingly public explanations of the $6.4 million settlement, a matter that could very well become impossible to explain should the officers be found not guilty, which even in Baltimore remains a strong possibility if any vestige of the rule of law remains.
Once might be coincidence. Beyond that… What are the odds that the unforced, unnecessary and generous-out-of-all-proportion-to-reality settlement, the denial of a change of venue, and the “unexpected” and “surprising” retirement of Rawlings-Blake are coincidences? What, on the other hand, are the odds they are not?
Those questions might be better answered by first considering whether these developments, taken individually and as a whole, support the rule of law, or the anarchic, racist, and progressive goals of social justice.