A jury was selected Wednesday in the trial of the first of six Baltimore police officers accused in the death of a young black man that led to protests and rioting in the eastern U.S. city.
Opening arguments in the case against the 26-year-old policeman, William Porter, started soon after his lawyers and prosecutors finished selecting a racially diverse jury of five black women, three black men, three white women and one white man. He is expected to testify in his own defense during a trial that could last two weeks.
Prosecutor Michael Schatzow told the jurors that Porter "is on trial for what he did, or more importantly, what he did not do."
Porter, who is black, is accused of manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office in the April death of Freddie Gray. Prosecutors claim that the officer failed to help Gray when he repeatedly asked for medical assistance while he was being transported on a 45-minute trip to a police station after his arrest in a sidewalk encounter with police.
Gray, who was 25, died of a severe spinal injury a week after riding in the back of a police van without a seat belt, a violation of Baltimore police rules.
For several days after Gray died, his supporters staged mostly peaceful protests. But on the day he was buried, looting and rioting erupted, with businesses destroyed in fires. The unrest caused $33 million in property damage and police overtime before the violence was quelled. Since then, the city's murder rate has soared.
Five other officers involved in Gray's arrest and transport to the police station have also been charged with various offenses and are set for individual trials in the coming months.
Gray's death became a focal point in the national debate in the United States over the treatment of blacks by police, especially white police officers. Gray's death and that of other blacks who died in police encounters led to the formation of the Black Lives Matter group, which has staged protests in many U.S. cities.