In an unprecedented and largely unexpected move, Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby on Friday charged six police officers over the death last month of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, which sparked citywide protests. The charges included one of second-degree murder.
Officially ruling Grey’s death a homicide, Mosby, who during her 2014 campaign for state’s attorney promised to prosecute officers when needed, said: “No one is above the law.” A small crowd gathered at the press conference broke out in cheers as she read out the list of charges.
“To the youth of this city: I will seek justice on your behalf,” Mosby said. “This is a moment. This is your moment. Let’s ensure that we have peaceful and productive rallies that will develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come. You’re at the forefront of this cause. And as young people, our time is now.”
Mosby, one of the youngest African American prosecutors in the the country, holds a crucial role in the latest case to draw international attention to police brutality in the US. In the wake of Gray’s death a week after he was arrested, handcuffed and shackled in the back of a police van without a seatbelt, tensions have mounted in Baltimore between the black community and the police force they so mistrust.
Friday’s announcement was an extraordinary moment for Mosby, less than half a year into the job. When she assumed office in January, the 35-year-old became the youngest chief prosecutor of a major US city.
Earlier this week, William Murphy, the Gray family’s attorney, expressed confidence in Mosby, noting that she was undertaking her own investigation into Gray’s death and, according to the Baltimore Sun , telling protesters: “She doesn’t trust the police herself.”
But Mosby comes from five generations of law enforcement officials. Both her parents were officers, she said on Friday, as were an aunt, four uncles and her grandfather, who she said in a campaign video last year was one of the first African American police officers in Massachusetts.
At the press conference on Friday, Mosby specifically addressed the Baltimore police force by saying: “The accusations [against] these six officers are not an indictment of the force.”
When running for state’s attorney last year, she was endorsed by the city police union, even as she criticised the excessive use of force.
“Police brutality is completely inexcusable. I’m going to apply justice fairly, even to those who wear a badge,” Mosby said .
Her interest in the justice system was largely shaped by a personal tragedy in 1994, when she was just 14. Mosby’s teenage cousin, mistaken for a drug dealer, was shot and killed in broad daylight, outside her family home.
Raised by a single mother, Mosby was the first in her family to graduate from college, having attended Tuskegee University in Alabama. She attended Boston College law school and served as an assistant state attorney in the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office.
In her short time as state’s attorney for Baltimore, Mosby has pledged greater transparency in incidents involving police while not shying away from addressing violence in a city plagued by crime.
“When thugs and murderers control our neighborhoods from jail and our mothers, grandmothers and children are afraid to walk down the streets in their own communities for fear of being robbed, hurt, and/or intimidated by gangs,” she wrote during her campaign last year, “we are failing in every sense of the word.”
Mosby is married to a city councilman, Nick Mosby, who has spoken out about the socioeconomic factors that have led to the unrest in Baltimore.
“This is bigger than Freddie Gray,” he told Fox News on Monday, in reference to the rioters. “Unfortunately, this is their voice – the voice is destruction, the voice is anger.”
Questions have been raised regarding possible conflicts of interest. Mosby’s husband represents the district Freddie Gray was from. Murphy, the Gray family attorney, donated $5,000 to her campaign and served on her transition committee.
On Friday, the president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, Gene Ryan, published an open letter on behalf of the charged officers to Mosby, requesting that she appoint a special independent prosecutor.
Ryan specifically cited “very deep concerns about the many conflicts of interest presented by your office conducting an investigation in this case”, and called into question Mosby’s personal and professional relationship with Murphy.