Baltimore residents fighting for justice are celebrating this week following the news that Keith Davis Jr. has had all charges against him dropped by the State’s Attorney’s office of Baltimore City. On January 13, Davis reunited with his wife, children, and friends when he was freed after more than seven years of incarceration.
On June 7, 2015, Baltimore police cornered Davis in a garage, and shot him in the face, back, and arms — nearly killing him. He was charged with a robbery but was acquitted when the victim testified that Davis was not the person who robbed him. Prosecutors then charged Davis with an unrelated murder and were unable to sustain a conviction, despite four trials over the next several years. The office of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby had been preparing to try Davis a fifth time, but her newly sworn-in replacement Ivan Bates fulfilled a campaign promise by dropping the charges.
There is no evidence to support the notion that Keith Davis Jr. is anything but innocent: the alleged murder weapon was never fired, security camera footage shows a man much taller than Davis, and Davis never knew the victim. Further, Mosby has seemed to have a personal vendetta against Davis. She gave the middle finger to supporters of Davis, and a judge ruled that her repeated attempts to convict him amount to “prosecutorial vindictiveness.”
Ivan Bates’s decision has led some prominent figures to put forth Davis’s newly won freedom as an argument for the importance of voting for and electing the best prosecutors. This is a dangerous and misguided analysis. First, Bates campaigned to the right of Mosby, presenting a more so-called “tough on crime” alternative to her so-called “progressive prosecutor” approach. But “tough on crime” is well-known code for attacking the poorest, most vulnerable communities in the city. And Bates the candidate knew that many voters were angry at Mosby’s treatment of Davis.
It is clear that the real cause for Davis’s release is the powerful and sustained activism promoting his story and fighting for his freedom. Keith’s wife Kelly Davis has tirelessly led “Team Keith” community members through years of forceful marches, rallies, car caravans and other protests which targeted local officials and spread support for the #FreeKeithDavisJr cause. The energetic and aggressive campaign also included extensive neighborhood canvassing and other educational outreach, and it was so prominent in Baltimore that it spawned other movements such as the dedicated legal observer group, Baltimore Courtwatch. Support for #FreeKeithDavisJr grew to the point where it could no longer be dismissed, and the Bates campaign successfully took advantage of this support.
Davis’s long struggle for freedom reminds us that our legal system does not treat us fairly without a fight. “Free Keith Davis Jr. until it’s backwards” has for years been a rallying cry of his supporters. Now it IS backwards: Keith Davis Jr. is free! The work of organizers and activists like Kelly Davis is what made the difference, not the election of any politician. We have to keep organizing to protect our communities.