Baltimore prosecutor gets rock star treatment

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby smiles before addressing the Women in NAACP brunch yesterday at the convention center. MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

YOU'D HAVE thought a rock star was in the ballroom, from the way female members of the NAACP had their camera phones out at the Loews Hotel yesterday.

There was a star, actually.

Only, Marilyn J. Mosby isn't your typical superstar. She's a big-city prosecutor who in May became an overnight sensation after announcing that Freddie Gray's death had been ruled a homicide and that charges had been filed against six officers in his death.

A native of inner-city Baltimore, her bold and decisive actions quelled the street unrest that had dragged on for days in the Charm City, fueled by outrage over the death of Gray as well as those of other black males around the country - Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice.

I'll never forget the drama of the news conference that day and how she forcefully stated: "I have heard your calls for 'No justice, no peace.' " I was blindsided. Listening, it felt like something was lifted off me to realize that finally a prosecutor was willing to do what others hadn't in recent months - and that was to hold police accountable for the death of a black male.

Afterward, she quickly became the talk of the nation. America's "It girl," if you will. Prince pulled her up on stage during a Rally4Peace concert. Vogue magazine came calling.

Along the way, she also attracted more than her share of detractors who criticized her for, among other things, attending a concert held in support of Gray. But none of that was evident yesterday as audience members - most in their Sunday best - held up their tablets and phones to record her fiery speech.

The theme of yesterday's brunch was, "Is there justice for black girls?"

Mosby didn't disappoint.

In the tradition of many in the NAACP, she brought it when it was her turn at the podium.

The audience, who not that much earlier had been watching a mini fashion show put on by Philadelphia Fashion Week, appeared spellbound as Mosby shared her personal journey to become Baltimore's state attorney. She described how, after graduating magna cum laude from Tuskegee University, she got wait-listed at every law school to which she applied because of her LSAT scores.

Mosby managed to get around that by calling and requesting interviews with admissions officers to persuade them that "my LSAT score was not indicative of my potential. I was told that it was 'a hopeless effort . . . clearly now is not your time.' "

She ignored the doubters and eventually was admitted into her first choice, Boston College Law School. But she stumbled again when she failed to pass the bar exam on her first try.

"I became relentless in my pursuit to walk in my purpose and with God in the midst of it all, I was determined that I would prevail and that I would one day be in a position to reform the criminal justice system," Mosby said. "And that I would one day be a top prosecutor. And I did.

"I tell you my story not to brag or to boast," the Baltimore native added. "Ladies, all too often in our communities when we feel we have obtained a level of success, we want people to see where we are and not how we got to where we are."

She also weighed in on the so-called confidence gap, citing studies that say that women hesitate to run for office or apply for promotions unless they meet all of the requisite requirements for a particular post. In contrast, men will run for office or apply for promotions even if they meet only half the criteria.

Confidence is a quality she doesn't appear to be lacking. Mosby got wild applause when she stated, "At 35 years of age, I'm the youngest chief prosecutor of any major American city."

Back when she was an insurance attorney and considering running for the Baltimore city-attorney post, Mosby was warned over and over by local politicians, clergy men and business leaders not to do it.

"I was told that I was too young, that my dream was impossible, I was too young, I was too inexperienced, that I couldn't raise enough money, that my decision to run would not only interrupt but destroy my husband's political career," Mosby recalled. "For me, as a young black woman, to run against an older, white male incumbent with powerful backers who had the ability to raise close to a million dollars, the skeptics wanted to know: How could I have the audacity?"

She drew strength by thinking about civil-rights activists Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Dorothy Height, Mary McLeod Bethune and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, as well as other black female trailblazers.

"From slavery to Jim Crow to the industrial prison complex, there comes a point where we must say enough is enough," she said, to rousing applause. "I asked myself: If not me, then who? If not now, then when?"

Mosby, who grew up in a family of police officers, handily defeated the sitting city attorney in a surprise upset this past November. The job ahead is a difficult one. She pointed out that there have been 160 homicides in Baltimore so far this year, a 48 percent increase.

"We have work to do," she said. "And the time to do it is now."

The NAACP's 106th annual National Convention is in town through Wednesday.

On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong