The Vilification of Marilyn Mosby

The Baltimore City state’s attorney had the audacity to stand up for Freddie Gray, and she’s paying the price.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Just last week, the right-wing Media Research Center’s annual black-tie gala honored the three arresting officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray.

Officers Brian Rice, Edward Nero and Garrett Miller received standing ovations and “deafening cheers” while they explained how they have to deal with a hostile public that is down on cops in the aftermath of their trials and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s indictment of them.

A day later, on Sept. 28, a controversial profile of Marilyn Mosby appeared in the New York Times magazine. The profile begins with family time between her and her husband, Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby, who ran a failed bid for mayor this year. The opening alludes to a rift in their marriage as a result of public scrutiny of the trials.

To let that reporter tell it, Marilyn Mosby, it seems, is to blame for it all. The underlying sentiment was that when women—young black women, specifically—are ambitious or go against the status quo, their marriages may suffer.

This is not how the media treats men who make unpopular decisions in the public sphere—one toupeed person comes to mind. No one is concerned about how his actions will affect his marriage or marriages.

Dan Rodricks in the Baltimore Sun jumped on the bandwagon a few days later, on Oct. 2, suggesting that on the day the unrest began after Gray’s death, Mosby “screamed” at Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, blaming her for the fires and looting, and claiming that Mosby “shouted” charges against the six police officers. He went on to say that instead of Mosby “admitting that she lacked evidence of criminality,” she blamed a broken justice system—rigged in favor of defendants who opt for bench trials—and accused the police who investigated Gray’s death of “inherent bias” against her efforts at justice.

It should be baffling that Mosby has faced so much disrespect for seeking justice for an unarmed black man who was killed in police custody, while the officers responsible for his death receive applause.

But it isn’t.

The language that has been used to describe Mosby—from saying she “screamed,” is focused on her marriage or is incompetent, to suggesting that she is too young for the job—is both sexist and racist. She has received death threats, had people come to her house and threaten her, and been called derogatory names that wouldn’t be used for a white male.

“It’s really the [Fraternal Order of Police] and those that think like the FOP that have been attacking her,” said longtime Baltimore activist Sharon Black with the People’s Power Assembly. “It’s a scurrilous kind of abuse they have heaped on this woman, a kind that I have never seen someone in her high-ranking position being attacked in the way she has been.”

Wil S. Hylton, writing for the New York Times magazine, talked about how the public felt she was “incompetent” and not qualified because she had only served as a corporate lawyer and worked in the state’s attorney’s office for six years before being elected to serve as the state’s attorney.

“One thing you can’t deny is the true grit of Marilyn Mosby,” said lawyer J. Wyndal Gordon, who has worked in Baltimore for over 20 years. “It speaks to the incumbent [Gregg Bernstein] and how important it was to get him out of office. As a state’s attorney, you’re not really a prosecutor; you’re an administrator or an executive. The only requirement to be state’s attorney is admission to the bar and residence in the county for two years. 

“Bernstein was bad for Baltimore. Talk about incompetent—he couldn’t win a case,” Gordon continued. “He was more concerned about how he looked in public than he was about ridding Baltimore streets of crime. There was a lot of criminal conduct happening in the Police Department, and he was turning a blind eye to it.”

The whole notion that the decision to prosecute the officers was controversial or against the status quo is confounding. The grand jury came up with the charges for them. The medical examiner ruled Gray’s death a homicide. Mosby’s office made the decision to indict and announce it publicly. This was not a one-person operation, but Mosby has become a target simply for doing her job and having the nerve to care about justice for Freddie Gray.

“The FOP is not mad at her because she didn’t do enough,” said Black. “They’re upset because she did anything. That she had the audacity.”