The first trial of six police officers charged in Freddie Gray’s death began last week, but the officers aren’t the only ones standing in judgment.
The city’s black political leaders are facing their own day of reckoning as well.
The death of Gray, a 25-year-old black man whose spine was virtually severed while in police custody, sparked one of the worst urban riots since the 1960s and led to the officers’ arrests.
His death also challenged a fundamental assumption that drove the civil rights movement and still reverberates in the demands of Black Lives Matter activists who press for black leadership in cities such as Ferguson.
Their assumption: Black political power can right the wrongs white leaders failed to address.
That belief propelled blacks into mayors’ offices across the nation, beginning with the 1967 election of Carl Stokes in Cleveland. Those mayors vowed to create jobs and reduce police brutality. Some such as Maynard Jackson in Atlanta and Marion Barry in Washington became virtual folk heroes, lauded for breaking the power of white big-city bosses. And majority-black cities such as Baltimore – which has a black mayor, police chief, chief prosecutor and a majority-black City Council – became bastions of black political power.
But if black political power is so important, why hasn’t it made more of a difference in the lives of poor black people in Baltimore such as Gray?