On Wednesday, jurors in the case of Baltimore Police Officer William Porter failed to reach the consensus needed to either convict or exonerate Porter in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, which occurred while Gray was in police custody back in April. Porter was the first of six Baltimore police officers to be tried for their involvement in Gray's death, but the hung jury caused the judge to declare a mistrial. Without a clear verdict, most of the questions about Gray's death remain unanswered — but there's one important takeaway from Porter's mistrial for the city of Baltimore to keep in mind.
Shortly after the mistrial was announced, Gray's family and the Baltimore Police Department responded with surprisingly similar reactions. They had each perhaps hoped for different outcomes in the trial, but they both expressed a respect for the criminal justice system and a desire for justice to be served. That's a powerful message for the city of Baltimore right now, as well as activists across the country who support either side of the case, because it could prevent the sort of widespread violence that ravaged the city back in the spring. It could also set the tone for the other five trials that will occur throughout 2016.
The Baltimore Police Department, which will see six of its officers put on trial for similar charges in the Gray case, chalked the mistrial up to "part of the process." Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis spoke in a press conference on Wednesday:
My reaction is that [the mistrial] is part of the process of this great American criminal justice process. Many Americans think it's imperfect ... and maybe it is, but it sure beats what comes in second. The process is ongoing, and I think we have to be consistent, measured, and thoughtful as we go forward.
The Gray family echoed similar sentiments. Speaking through its attorney, the Gray family called the mistrial "a very important stage in the case." Attorney Bill Murphy's statement didn't express the frustration you'd expect to hear from a grieving family that has already waited months for a resolution in Porter's case. Rather, the family seemed intent on reassuring its supporters that the mistrial wasn't a bad thing:
The people who say this is not justice simply don't understand how the process works. This is just a temporary bump on the road to justice. It happens. It's part of how the system works.
Gray's stepfather, Richard Shipley, also spoke out after the mistrial announcement. Shipley expressed graciousness toward the 12-person jury and optimism about the next steps:
We thank this hard-working jury for their service to the public, their quest for justice, their personal sacrifice of their time and effort. We are not at all upset with them, neither should the public be upset. They did the best that they could. … Once again, we ask the public to remain calm and patient, because we are confident there will be another trial with a different jury. We are calm; you should be calm, too.
It was this call to action at the end of Shipley's statement that summed up the power in both the family's and the police department's messages: In expressing their trust in the criminal justice system, both sides seemed to reflect calm, collected manners. If two of the parties closest to Porter's case can keep calm and peacefully resolute after the mistrial, the city of Baltimore should follow suit.