Although Charges Have Been Brought Against the Police, the Justice System Still Doesn’t Work

We should all welcome the news of charges being brought against the six police officers in Baltimore for the death of Freddie Gray. At the very least, the Baltimore Police Department’s culpability in Gray’s death is uncontroversial.

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves, those of us not on the ground in Baltimore, anyway, in considering this matter resolved, either locally or nationally. Because it isn’t.

The idea that the “system” is “working” because of these charges is completely false. On the morning of May 1, soon after the charges were brought, Al Sharpton spoke to Tamron Hall on MSNBC. The charges prove the system works, Sharpton said, because “it will [work] if the system has the spotlight on it.”

Well, I’m sorry, Reverend, but that’s a perfect example of why the system doesn’t work.

A justice system actually interested in justice does not need to have attention paid to it for it to function properly. A justice system actually interested in justice does not require a grassroots movement to address its overwhelming use of force against people of color. A justice system actually interested in justice would have taken steps to address the killing of Freddie Gray before the situation in Baltimore spiraled out of control.

I wrote earlier that violence is the only language power understands. I stand by that. If anyone really thinks the six officers would have been charged in relation to Gray’s death without the mass outcry and the explosion of riots and anger in Baltimore over the past week, they’re delusional.

Because the people of Baltimore have proven they are willing to turn to extreme measures in their fight for justice, the power structure in that city has realized there are consequences for the dismissal of the grievances of the downtrodden.

Police brutality and the wholesale disrespect for the value of black life in America are very much alive and well. Just as the furor over Freddie Gray is dissipating, it’s come to light that in Atlanta a black woman was killed by police under suspicious circumstances.

Today’s developments in Baltimore are a first step towards justice. But those who would oppose injustice and racism have a long road ahead of them. The fight isn’t over.

Eoin Higgins is a writer and historian from upstate New York. Read other articles by Eoin, or visit Eoin's website.