Of Murder vs. Mayhem, or, Does Taking Property Warrant Higher Bail than Taking Life?
Bail amounts for Baltimore rioters set much higher than for the officers accused of murdering Freddie Gray
I know I am supposed to be happy that six Baltimore police officers have been charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray, the wrongfully arrested young black man who died of severe neck and back injuries in Baltimore police custody. And I am.
Maryland State Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s decision to charge the six officers with crimes ranging from second-degree murder and manslaughter to assault was no doubt welcome and correct, a refreshing departure from the impunity or slap-on-the-wrist punishments meted out in far too many cases in which police kill, maim, brutalize, terrorize and victimize far too many black and brown people. Baltimoreans, and people of conscience everywhere, rejoiced at the news, as Mosby declared that “no one is above the law” while announcing the charges.
However, even as many people congratulated the system for doing what it’s supposed to do, injustice and disparity once again reared their ugly heads. Consider the charges, or lack thereof, and the bail amounts set in connection with two types of crimes—murder and mayhem—allegedly committed by those arrested in Baltimore over the past week.
First, the murderous. Bail for four of the officers, the ones charged with felony second-degree murder and manslaughter, was set at $350,000. The remaining two, who were charged with misdemeanors including second-degree assault, had bail set at $250,000. All six of the charged officers were able to post bail within hours and were quickly released from custody.
Now, the mayhem. Many of those arrested and accused of rioting, looting and other offenses during the protests and unrest sparked by the Freddie Gray case were slapped with six-figure bail amounts. One teen, Allen Bullock, who infamously appears in photos vandalizing police vehicles, turned himself in to police. His bail was then set at a staggering $500,000, twice as much as for some of the officers charged in connection with Gray’s death.
“By turning himself in he… let me know he was growing as a man and he recognized what he did was wrong,” stepfather Maurice Hawkins told the Guardian.
“He was dead wrong and he does need to be punished,” mother Bobbi Smallwood told the Guardian. “But he wasn’t leading this riot. He hasn’t got that much power. It’s just so much money. Who could afford to pay that?”
Indeed, Bullock, whose job as a sanitation worker pays $15,600 a year, will likely remain behind bars for some time, even as Gray’s killers, with their much higher salaries and nationwide law enforcement support networks, post bail and walk free.
Bullock is far from alone. Courts were busy throwing the book at impoverished Baltimoreans arrested for relatively minor crimes. One father who works in a warehouse was detained away from the mayhem with a pair of tennis shoes that still had the price tag on them. The state’s attorney requested $50,000 bail. Judge Flynn Owens ignored that and set bail at $100,000. The jailed man will now likely lose his job.
Judge Owens also rejected a $50,000 bail request for a grandmother charged with fourth-degree theft and burglary and set bail at $100,000. The woman earns $60 a week babysitting her grandchild; there is no way she can afford to post the $10,000 needed to get out of jail.
“People in Baltimore often refer to bails as ransoms because they’re impossible to meet,” Baltimore public defender Marci Tarrant Johnson told Newsweek.
Adding to the injustice is the fact that many of the more than 200 people arrested in Baltimore had not been charged more than 24 hours after their detention. Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan, effectively suspended habeas corpus—the basic right the right to be free from unlawful imprisonment, which limits detention without charge to 24 hours, a move the Republican said was “necessary to protect the public safety.”
Is destroying and stealing property worth more than destroying and stealing life? In Baltimore, the answer is apparently yes. And that is only going to pour fuel on the fire of those who are still asking if, and how much, black lives really matter.