Freddie Gray Protestors Fine Reveals a Bigger Injustice

November 4th 2016

Lucy Tiven

On Thursday, a federal judge sentenced 22-year-old Gregory Butler Jr to pay a hefty $1 million in restitution for cutting a fire hose during the April 2015 Baltimore riots.

The riots followed the funeral of Freddie Gray — a black man who died in police custody, igniting national conversations about police brutality.

Freddie Gray

Butler pled guilty to federal charges of "obstruction of firefighters during a civil disorder" in July, ABC News reports.

His sentence also includes three years of supervised release and 250 hours of community service, according to Reuters.

Video footage of Butler puncturing the fire hose outside a burning CVS was widely circulated online. The clip starkly illustrated growing tensions between black communities and law enforcement.

Few have argued Butler's guilt. However, the stiff penalty he initially faced — a federal minimum of up to 25 years in prison — struck some as evidence of the injustice of mandatory minimum sentences.

As of last June, each Baltimore Police Officer indicted on charges related to Gray's death had been exonerated by the court system. However, as public defender Todd Oppenheim told the Guardian in December of 2015, even if the officers had been convicted, it was unlikely they would have served even 20 years in prison, as Baltimore City Circuit Court judges are given leeway to reduce sentences. Conversely, had Butler not pleaded guilty, federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines would have required he serve his full prison sentence.

“It’s really an all-or-none situation," Oppenheim told the Guardian.

Given the severity of the sentence, defendants like Bulter often find themselves with little leverage in the criminal justice system, and are forced into accepting burdensome plea deals.

Reactions to the announcement were somewhat mixed on social media.

You can read the original report on ABC News.