Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Videotape of the Freddie Gray Incident Brought Us to This Moment

May 01, 2015

I spent two days this week in Baltimore on the ground with young activists, veteran activists, the Baltimore chapter of National Action Network (which was involved since day one) and in meetings with the Mayor of that great city. It was because of direct involvement and organizational involvement that I was cautiously elated when State Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced charges against six police officers for the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray earlier today. Elated because it shows again that if we raise issues, we are not anti-police or engaged in hallucinations but rather that there are in fact true abuses that exist -- and in many cases, criminal abuses. But I am cautious because I've seen charges brought against officers and defeated in court before. As we allow the process to unfold, one thing is clear: without video of this tragic incident and people's call for justice, we would never be here today.

Facing criminal charges ranging from murder to manslaughter and assault, the six Baltimore police officers will have their day in court and will be allowed to defend themselves in front of a jury of their peers. That is our legal system, and that is what we have always asked for: that officers be held accountable to the same standards as everyone else. Whether it was the horrific case of Abner Louima in 1997 where we helped lead a movement that brought charges against officers and led to jail time (that is ongoing), or whether it is the Freddie Gray case today, we only seek justice and fairness. There are those that would like to demonize and denigrate us, but we will continue to do the necessary work so that true reform transpires.

I repeat that I am cautious because I have seen charges brought and defeated in court before. One need only go back to the tragic death of Sean Bell, or the non-police related death of Trayvon Martin. But I also say that it is with much interest to me that we've now seen in the past 60 days an officer charged and arrested in N. Charleston, South Carolina, and the six now charged in Baltimore -- both with videotape evidence critical for prosecutors to make their decisions. It is incomprehensible, however, that the video that started an entire movement last year depicting the death of Eric Garner placed in an apparent illegal police chokehold has not yielded similar results against those officers. The local prosecutor in Staten Island failed to prosecute the cops and is likely engaged in an election for a Congressional seat now. The Justice Department has yet to come in with a decision here, but we hope that they will do what has been done in other cases -- let a court of law determine guilt or innocence.

Lastly, what is clear to all is what we have said for quite some time now: body cameras are a minimal first step that should be the law. Without videos of Freddie Gray and Walter Scott, their stories would never have been believed. These two cases should be instructive that young people and adults (Scott was a 50-year-old man with children) are not making this up when they talk about police abuse. This does not mean that all cops are bad, or that even most are bad, but it does mean that when we stand up and question police, we're not always wrong.

For years, it was simply an officer's word against citizens, and a vast majority of the time, a cop's word was deemed infallible. Today, thanks to technology and accessibility of that technology, videotape evidence is providing a third perspective that is hard to refute. Body cameras on officers does not mean a 100 percent solution to the problem, or that there won't be some issues with them, but they are an important initial step. We need them implemented across the country immediately.

When determining who is right and wrong in these kinds of dreadful cases, to begin the process, we can hopefully soon say: let's just go to the tape.