When Baltimore police officer Caesar Goodson Jr., was acquitted Thursday of all charges related to the death of Freddie Gray, the one emotion absent from the courtroom, social media, and the crowds of protesters in the city was surprise. The cases of all six officers alleged to be involved in Gray’s April 2015 death have been tossed about in a sea of strange legal wrangling and reshuffling, but without much real suspense. The trial of Officer Edward Nero ended in a judge’s acquittal, and that of Officer William Porter in a hung jury. All six officers charged in the case remain on administrative, drawing full salaries, pending the outcome of an internal investigation. But it’s likely that these officers will share the fate of most officers accused of killing black people in the line of duty: a return to police work.
The process will grind on. It must. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby is poised to continue cases against the three remaining charged officers who have not been tried. Judge Barry Williams—who presided over Goodson’s bench trial—will continue to hear them. Porter will be retried after those three, and a process that was originally slated to be completed this summer might stretch into 2017. But the lesson at the end of that process will likely be the same as it was during trials for officers involved in other high-profile deaths of people of color. The criminal justice system just doesn’t possess the will, tools, or objectivity to consistently deliver justice for victims of police violence. Criminal justice is incapable of policing itself, and that will continue to be the case for as long as its inherent conflicts of purpose and interest remain. But the idea of restorative justice provides a sorely-needed alternative.