Young Protesters React to Not-Guilty Verdict in Baltimore

Shana Ashby, 21, outside the Baltimore Courthouse. Ashby used to live in the neighborhood at the center of the riots following Freddie Gray's death on April 19, 2015. Marco Poggio

BALTIMORE — As word of the not guilty verdict spread from the second-floor courtroom down to the crowd waiting in the street below, resident Shana Ashby, 21, stood across from the courthouse and worried about how the verdict will affect her four younger siblings.

“They see their fellow black people being killed off like that, and they’re scared,” she said. “They’re thinking ‘that could be me’.”

Baltimore police officer Caesar Goodman was found not guilty Thursday on all charges related to the death of Freddie Gray.

Gray died in April 2015 of spinal injuries sustained while riding in the back of a police van driven by Goodman. After the death, six officers, including Goodman, were charged with felonies related to Gray’s death. So far, none have been convicted.

For many of these residents the not-guilty verdicts were yet another blow. Of the six officers who were indicted, Goodman is the second to be found not guilty. A third ended in a hung jury.

“This verdict is outrageous,” said Ashby.

“Freddie Gray died in the back of a police vehicle,” she said.

“I’m still not understanding how he had a fractured spine and all those serious injuries unless they were roughing him up or giving him a rough ride,” she added.

A ‘rough ride’ is the term used to describe placing detainees in the back of a police van and driving erratically, taking sharp corners and slamming on the brakes in order to cause those in custody to be jostled violently about the back.

Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon, with the Baltimore chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said no type of police brutality is acceptable. He brought his son, also named Cortly, to the courthouse.

“I came here because people are dying in Baltimore City, and we need to stop it,” said 7-year-old Cortly Jr.

The elder Witherspoon wants young people to know they’re not forgotten. “I think it’s important that we send a message to the next generation that we need to continue to fight for freedom, justice and equality,” he said.

Ashby agrees. She said while verdicts like today’s tell young people the system doesn’t care about them, she said as the oldest of child of a single parent, she needs to let her siblings, who range in age from 15 to 20, know that’s not the case.

“It’s young people like us who know what’s going on in our communities and to speak up in order to create the change we need,” said Ashby, who hopes to make the world safer for her younger siblings.

Part of that change, she said, is to hold police accountable and to end police brutality.

“There’s just too much evidence in this case not to have a guilty verdict,” she said.

This story was written by journalists from our New York Bureau.


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