The presence of a predominately African-American jury in the first case against a Baltimore police officer involved in the death of Freddie Gray may help expose the strained relationship between the city’s residents and law enforcement.
While Officer William Porter’s trial began Wednesday, potential jurors were previously asked public and private questions by Judge Barry G. Williams about the case a few days beforehand, The New York Times reports. Most of the potential jurors were aware of the case from the news and knew the family was given a $6.4 million civil settlement from the city. Over half of the 75 potential jurors had relatives who were victims of a crime, in jail, or investigated for a crime. A third of the potential jurors believed police misconduct happens in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
Judge Williams also questioned potential jurors on whether they had strong feelings regarding race. The only person to answer in the affirmative was a Black woman.
The final jury was selected from a new group of 75 potential jurors and is made up of three White women, five Black women, one White man, and three Black men, with an alternate jury pool of three Black men and one White man.
Porter’s defense team previously tried to move the case out of Baltimore to avoid bias. During the jury selection, however, the staggering number of Black residents and their families’ encounters with police officers was hard to ignore.
Feedback from the potential juror questioning painted a portrait of how people of color view law enforcement. Critics like Professor Douglas Colbert tells The Times the jury will be important to the case because they are actual residents of the community.
The New York Times reports:
“You’re having a Baltimore jury selected, in this case, and that’s perhaps the greatest assurance that the community will accept the verdict — whatever the jury decides,” said Prof. Douglas Colbert of the University of Maryland’s law school, who is attending the proceedings. “Baltimore has lived this case.”