Baltimore Residents Wary As Freddie Gray Trials Slated To Begin The city braces for the trials of six police officers charged in the death of the unarmed black man who suffered a fatal spinal injury after his arrest and transport in a police van last April.

Baltimore Residents Wary As Freddie Gray Trials Slated To Begin

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tomorrow in Baltimore, the trial opens for the first of six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. He's the unarmed black man who suffered a fatal spinal injury after his arrest and transport in a police van last April. Anger over his death erupted into looting and arson. The officers face separate trials on charges ranging from murder to misconduct. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports that Baltimore residents are hoping they won't see more violence.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: At the crowded West Baltimore intersection that became the face of the unrest, the walls of a new red brick building are halfway up. This is where a CVS was looted and burned, then later torn down, a potent reminder as this week's trial begins for Officer William Porter.

MISSA GRANT: I just want peace while the trial and everything is going on.

LUDDEN: Missa Grant says if the evidence shows the officers are not guilty, so be it. But with such a long and growing list of unarmed black men killed by police all over the country, she doesn't think everyone will see it that way.

GRANT: I believe there's going to be another riot, I really do. It's not what I'm looking for, but I really believe that they're going to react out if somebody doesn't have to stand up for what happened to Freddie Gray.

LUDDEN: Tanya Peacher says she wants to see the officers convicted.

TANYA PEACHER: It's just going to be lack of respect even more for the polices now if they don't be found guilty.

LUDDEN: Like many, Peacher says she, her children and neighbors have had bad run-ins with police. However the Freddie Gray trials turn out, she doesn't see the problem changing.

PEACHER: 'Cause one stupid cop going do something stupid again. Then they're going to be on camera again. This ain't the end. It's just going to get bad.

LUDDEN: Defense Attorney A. Dwight Pettit has won a long string of civil cases over excessive police force. Baltimore's paid out millions to settle such claims in recent years. But while Pettit sees systemic racism among the city's police...

A. DWIGHT PETTIT: The Gray case is not a slam dunk.

LUDDEN: Pettit says there are lots of questions about what happened, despite the video of Gray's arrest that played over and over on cable TV.

PETTIT: That video is very inconclusive on many areas. Cause of death - there's going to be a major war between pathologists as to how he died. Ample opportunity to paint reasonable doubt.

LUDDEN: The first officer to face trial, William Porter, checked on Gray in the police van. He reportedly warned the driver, Officer Caesar Goodson, that Gray needed medical help. That could be key for prosecutors, says attorney Karen Kruger.

KAREN KRUGER: From what I know of the facts, it appears that they do not have enough evidence to convict Officer Goodson of any kind of a homicide offense and that they're hoping that Officer Porter will implicate him in some way that he has not so far.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hey, how you doing? Good.

LUDDEN: The No Boundaries Coalition, based in Freddie Gray's neighborhood, is trying to improve relations between police and the public.

RAY KELLY: I think that we can't get lost in the trials.

LUDDEN: Organizer Ray Kelly.

KELLY: I think we have to remember to focus on systemic oppression, so to speak, that led up to Freddie Gray being able to just be killed in a paddy wagon. I mean, that wasn't unique.

LUDDEN: Kelly's group is seeking more teeth for the civilian review board that oversees police. It also hopes to double single-digit voter turnout in this zip code. Kelly wants residents to get more involved and to feel safe, no matter the outcome of the trials. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Baltimore.

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