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The Freddie Gray Case Should Be A Warning To Reporters Who Print Unfounded Police Leaks

CREDIT: AP
CREDIT: AP

The death of Freddie Gray was ruled a homicide and all six officers involved in his arrest and transport face criminal charges, including second-degree murder and manslaughter. Announcing the charges at a press conference Friday morning, Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby also condemned the leak of a police document in which a witness suggests Gray injured himself.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post obtained a Baltimore Police Department document with testimony from a prisoner who rode in the police van with Gray. According to the prisoner, Gray was “banging against the walls” and “intentionally trying to injure himself.” But the document contradicted previous reports of what happened to Gray, and was viewed as a power play to absolve police of their involvement in his death. And during Friday’s press conference, Mosby took time to blast the document’s leak.

“I strongly condemn anyone in law enforcement with access to trial evidence who has leaked information prior to the resolution of this case,” she said. “You are only damaging our ability to conduct a fair and impartial process for all parties involved. I hope that as we move forward with this case everyone will respect due process and refrain from doing anything that will jeopardize our ability to seek justice.”

Shortly after the Post published the document’s details, people took to social media to criticize attempts to assassinate Gray’s character — a move that’s been done to countless people killed by police. After high-profile, officer-involved killings, police departments selectively release information about victims that isn’t pertinent to the incident, thereby distracting the public from the case itself. And too often, mainstream media hones in on those details, contributing to a smear campaign that the deceased cannot defend themselves from. For instance, the New York Times wrote a profile of Michael Brown that emphasized his consumption of drugs and alcohol and detailed his “rebellious streak.” Sanford police informed the Orlando Sentinel that Trayvon Martin was suspended for possession of an empty marijuana bag.

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In some cases, the information provided by police turned out to be false, as was the case when the Cleveland Police Department claimed Tamir Rice pointed a gun at the officers who approached him. Video proved otherwise.