Gray Settlement Prejudices Justice

Baltimore’s Settlement in the Gray Case, Along With Officials’ Public Statements, Lacks All Proportionality and Prejudices Justice Against Those Charged in His Death

By Ken K. Gourdin

The city of Baltimore’s recent agreement to settle with the family of Freddie Gray, who died under disputed circumstances while in police custody, raises troubling questions.

This post shouldn’t be read as conveying a lack of sympathy to Freddie Gray’s family and friends. While I’m not comparing Mr. Gray to Hitler in any way, there is that old saying that Hitler’s dog even loved him. As I’ve pointed out on the Blog before, it’s not only those who are preyed upon by criminals who are victimized by crimes; the friends and family of criminals are victimized, too, when they lose the companionship of loved ones who are incarcerated.

For example, the young boy who, with a jam-smeared face, brought his mother a bouquet of sunflowers is not the same person who grew up to commit (and to be incarcerated, and perhaps executed, for) perhaps-heinous crimes. Few, if any, parents set out to rear criminals, and even most who are guilty of bad parenting are, at the worst, indifferent. See the following address, last accessed today: Whatever crimes he did or did not commit, Freddie Gray was probably no worse than an average drug user, and if people still can love even those who commit heinous crimes, they still can love someone like Freddie Gray. In no way am I disputing that fact.

Sometimes, municipalities and other purportedly “deep-pocketed” defendants will offer a settlement, not because they’re liable, but rather to avoid protracted, expensive litigation, and because it’s better to pay less in a settlement initially than it would be to pay for protracted litigation, only to be held liable for a judgment of (possibly) millions of dollars later on (after a verdict at trial). The city of Baltimore’s agreement to pay the family of Freddie Gray, who died under disputed circumstances (although six Baltimore Police officers have been charged with murder in his death) $6 million makes me wonder how much the mayor and the city attorney thought the city might’ve been on the hook for if an adverse judgment had resulted after trial.

Yes, people may have depended on Freddie Gray for their livelihood, but $6 million? That’s a lot of lost earning power. Was Mr. Gray an aspiring rapper or an aspiring athlete? (Not, I’ll hasten to add, that I’m arguing that any rapper or athlete actually is worth that much.) I admit, I’ll never be an aspiring rapper or athlete. Still, I’m at least as smart and as capable as Freddie Gray was in certain areas, but even I’ll never come close to $6 million in lifetime earnings. Another thing that’s often compensated in such settlements is the loss of the deceased person’s companionship. But $6 million? Mr. Gray must’ve been absolutely the life of quite a few parties among his family and friends.

It makes me wonder how much the mayor and the city attorney thought Baltimore would have been held liable to pay if the city had lost a civil suit at trial. (Not to mention the fact that agreeing to a settlement before the cases against the officers charged in his death go to trial likely greatly lessens the chances that those trials will be fair: “The city’s already agreed to pay the family $6 million,” potential jurors might reason. “Why would it do that if these officers were innocent?” The settlement (or at least its timing) is yet another in a long chain of actions by Baltimore city officials that has made it difficult (if not impossible) for these officers to get a fair trial.

There seems to be a troubling trend of intemperateness and unwiseness by public officials in their statements and actions that tends to prejudice justice (and Baltimore city officials’ statements and actions regarding the Freddie Gray case are but the latest examples). While President Barack Obama wasn’t the first (and won’t be the last) such public official, he is perhaps the highest-profile. See here, last accessed today:

In their public statements about race and about the Ferguson shooting and its aftermath, respectively, Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon are two more examples. Before the controversy regarding events in Ferguson had died down I wrote the following about Holder and Nixon:

It remains to be seen . . . , given the facts that Attorney General Eric Holder has publicly said that the U.S. is full of “cowards” when it comes to race and that a large portion of the animus toward President Obama is based, not on disagreement with his policies, but rather, on his race – whether sending Holder to Ferguson will be any better [than President Obama going himself]. . . .

. . . While President Obama has avoided injecting himself into the current controversy, alas, the same cannot be said of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon. Nixon should have said that investigators and the grand jury are obligated to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Instead, he presumed the investigation’s outcome – and [now former Ferguson Mo. Police] Officer [Darren] Wilson’s guilt.

Ken K. Gourdin (August 26, 2014) “Holder, Nixon may complicate justice in Ferguson,” Tooele Transcript-Bulletin (Utah) A4.

Baltimore City Attorney Marilyn Mosby made similar statements when announcing the charges that had been filed in the wake of Gray’s death.   Whatever compensation anyone may feel Freddie Gray’s loved ones deserve, it should be remembered that when it comes to such settlements by municipalities, there is no “they” and “them”: there is only us—taxpayers. In an age of increasing rates of municipal bankruptcy, any sympathy for Gray’s family and friends, and any desire to see that they are compensated for his loss should be balanced against that reality.

About kenngo1969

Just as others must breathe to live, I must write. I have been writing creatively almost ever since I learned to write, period! I have written fiction, book- and article-length nonfiction, award-winning poetry, news, sports, features, and op-eds. I hope, one day, to write some motivational nonfiction, a decent-selling novel, a stage play, and a screen play.
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