SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I’m Scott Simon. Many residents of Baltimore’s Sandtown neighborhood have celebrated the news of criminal charges filed against six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray. Those charges include second-degree murder, manslaughter and assault. The state’s attorney, Marilyn Mosby, said that Mr. Gray suffered a broken neck while being transported in a police van with his hands and feet shackled. Freddie Gray’s death led to a wave of protests in Baltimore, some of which turned from peaceful demonstrations to looting and rioting in Sandtown. Councilwoman Helen Holton represents the neighboring District Eight in Baltimore and joins us from her office. Councilwoman Helen Holton represents the neighboring district 8 in Baltimore and joins us from her office.
Councilwoman Holton, thanks so much for being with us.
HELEN HOLTON: Thank you.
SIMON: And you said just before we introduced you that you welcome the opportunity to clarify the story. What is going on in your judgment?
HOLTON: Well, today is a day of celebration to find that police officers are being charged in crimes having to do with the death of a black man.
SIMON: Do you think these police officers, given all the attention, can get a fair trial in Baltimore?
HOLTON: I believe they can get a fair trial in Baltimore. I have the utmost confidence – and particularly in our state’s attorney – that they can get a fair trial in Baltimore.
SIMON: You probably know the police union has called for a special prosecutor because they note the state’s attorney, Marilyn Mosby, is married to one of your colleagues who is the councilman from Freddie Gray’s district.
HOLTON: I’m well aware of that. And I know the Mosbys quite well, and I know that before she ever considered running for Baltimore City state’s attorney that they went through the process of vetting whether it was feasible or not, from an ethical perspective through the city and the state. There have been several independent investigations, so it is not just the report of the police department. The state’s attorney’s office conducted an investigation, the sheriff’s department participated an investigation, the Justice Department is on the ground investigating what has occurred.
SIMON: Councilwoman Holton, what do you think the Baltimore City Council’s top priority should be now?
HOLTON: Our top priority should be to help maintain peace and transparency with the citizens of Baltimore. And I’m going to say, the media being on our doorstep has opened up the mouths of young people and the young at heart to speak out on an injustice that we live with daily – inadequate housing to inadequate education as we fight for funding. And then this year, the state legislature cut funding for education in Baltimore City. We have the issue of – even in the midst of this – in over 200 murders last year, over 180 of them were black males killing black males.
SIMON: You mentioned the homicide rate. And among the statistics that didn’t – I didn’t quite know what to do with – that we learned over this past week, is that Baltimore has, I believe, so far this year perhaps including Freddie Gray, fewer than 70 homicides – at least so far. And that’s considered better than what it was last year. What about the argument – I think maybe some people in the police department will make – that it has been their aggressive policing that’s been responsible for reducing the homicide rate?
HOLTON: Maybe so, maybe not. I think that some of their – you know, there’s aggressive policing and then there’s an abuse of power.
SIMON: This, I think lastly, Councilwoman, is – are you sure that Baltimore’s prepared for what’s ahead better than it was week ago?
HOLTON: You know what? What I know is this – when asked the question, how do you eat a elephant? One bite at a time. Today we took one big bite of the elephant.
SIMON: Helen Holton, councilwoman who represents Baltimore’s Eighth District, thank you so much for being with us.
HOLTON: Thank you.