May 25, 2016

Baltimore Change Makers: Leaders of A Beautiful Struggle, By Example


By:  Donna Owens

Source: NBC News

Our "Baltimore: Change Makers" series will introduce you to some of the individuals who are engaging youth, seeking to improve their neighborhoods block by block, and demanding that their voices be heard in corridors of power. Each one different, but determined in their own unique way to change the paradigm in the city, pushing to help rebuild it one day, one person at a time.

BALTIMORE, Md. — The eyes of the nation and world were once again on Baltimore as the `State of Maryland v. Edward Nero,'—the second trial involving one of six police officers charged with the 2015 death of Freddie Gray—came to a conclusion on Monday.

Gray, 25, died of a broken neck last April after being arrested and transported in a police van. Nero, one of the arresting officers, waived his right to a jury trial, allowing Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams to render the decision regarding his fate.

In a packed, hushed courtroom, the 30-year-old officer was acquitted of four misdemeanor counts: second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and two charges of misconduct in office. Emotions swirled after the not-guilty verdict was read, with Nero dropping his head and crying. Exiting the courthouse, Gray's twin sister, Fredericka, was visibly distraught, too.

Across the city and beyond, reaction ran the gamut from outrage and disappointment, to resignation and relief from the officers' supporters.

While the criminal phase of this high-profile trial is done and it's unclear what outcome will result when the other officers stand trial in the coming weeks and months, one thing is clear: Baltimore, which erupted hours after Gray's funeral following days of largely peaceful protests, is not the same city it was one year ago.

While some folks believe little or nothing has changed, there are signs of budding social, political and community transformation in this predominately African-American metropolis of some 620,000 residents.

As the U.S. Department of Justice continues to conduct a pattern-and-practice investigation of the Baltimore police, the department has purchased body-cameras and increased training; recent city elections have garnered record numbers of voters; countless forums have been sponsored to address poverty and other issues; and a new generation of social activists is emerging.

"The death of Freddie Gray was a national tragedy that sparked a national conversation about the need for justice and opportunity in the African-American community," said Maryland Senator Ben Cardin. "No verdict will bring back Freddie Gray to his family and his community, but we must ensure we continue the dialogue and the hard work to rebuild the trust between law enforcement and the neighborhoods they are sworn to protect and defend."

Maryland Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, who represents the district where Gray lived noted, "We cannot control the outcome of any of these trials, but what we can control is our work to continue healing our community."

"With eyes toward the future, we must continue working to reform our criminal justice system—in Maryland and nationwide—and we must continue to invest in our young people," Cummings continued. "Baltimore is a city on the rise, but the question is: will we all rise together? I believe that we are on the road to creating a city that uplifts all of its residents."