Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Democrat Mayor of Baltimore, should have put her brain in gear before she opened her mouth last weekend. She spoke these shocking words in a press conference: "It's a very delicate balancing act because while we tried to make sure that the protesters were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well." These foolish (and dangerous) words sent a message to the criminals that were destroying the city with arson and looting - clearly the wrong message to those looking to cause harm and do damage in Baltimore.
She then compounded her mistake the next day by saying she never said that - even though several networks videotaped her doing so. She could have gracefully recanted with "I'm sorry. I said something stupid while I was under stress. I don't really feel that way." By lying about it she lost credibility both with the police and the community.
Her office issued this statement about her original statement that “We also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.” The official explanation: “The mayor is not saying that she asked police to give space to people who sought to create violence. Any suggestion otherwise would be a misinterpretation of her statement.” Well, her statement was pretty clear and didn’t need “interpretation.” I am reminded of the old Groucho Marx line, “Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying ears?”
But an even bigger mistake was sounding like Al Sharpton instead of like a mayor trying to heal her city. First, she made it clear that she sided with the rioters. After calling the thugs who were rioting, looting, burning and murdering “thugs” on CNN, she APOLOGIZED to them. (See LINK below.)
Later she said, “We will get justice for Freddie Gray…If, with the nation watching, three strong black women at three different levels can’t get justice and healing for this community, you tell me where we’re going to get it in our country,” she asked, referring to herself, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
There are so many things wrong with these statements I scarcely know where to start. First, what does being black or being a woman have to do with justice? Justice is supposed to be color blind. And how does her being a woman increase her ability to be just? This is a strictly political statement, and a foolish one at that.
She talks about “Justice for Freddie Gray?” How about justice for the six police officers indicted by one of her “three strong black women,” i.e., Marilyn Mosby? In the mayor’s public statement after the indictments, she said that the officers were “racist.” She failed to mention that half of them were black – including a black female Sergeant. (I’m guessing that this police officer is a lot stronger than the obviously out-of-shape mayor.) She said that they had been “taken into custody,” failing to mention that they had voluntarily surrendered. By twisting the facts, she is ratcheting up a lynch mob mentality, so much so that the mobs celebrating the arrests called their event a “Victory Rally.”
What does this indicate? To me it is a clear indication that the mayor knew the riots would continue until she gave the thugs what they wanted. For days they had been chanting, “No justice, no peace!” Their meaning was clear: “Give us some sacrificial lambs or the riots will continue.” So she caved into their demands, rushing to indict police officers for political expediency. No one knows at this point what happened to Mr. Gray, but it is clear that it's impossible to do a thorough investigation in the course of a few days while the city is burning. The decision to indict was not a legal decision – it was clearly a political decision.
She also failed her community by holding the police back. She obviously meant what she said when she talked about giving "... those who wished to destroy space to do that." The police wanted to go in and nip the riots in the bud - the only strategy that has ever worked in these situations. Instead, the police took the blame for a lack of response, when they were obeying her orders. One senior police official quoted the Mayor as saying, "Let them loot. It's only property."
As a result, a badly needed senior community center built by a Baptist church was destroyed. And a CVS Pharmacy - the only place in that part of Baltimore where residents could get prescriptions filled - was first looted and then destroyed by arsonists. It has taken Baltimore decades to recover from the 1968 race riots. The city had to beg CVS to take the risk of building the pharmacy there.
Another huge mistake the mayor made was in being too prideful to ask for assistance. The Republican Governor of Maryland had been ready for a week to send in state troopers and the National Guard. But he had to wait for the Mayor to request help. In the 1968 riots the Mayor called the Governor by 10PM of the first day. Mayor Rawlings-Blake waited three days before doing so. In that time at least one person died, over 100 were injured (mostly police officers) and many millions of dollars in property were destroyed. Many of the businesses will never reopen, and poverty will grow because of the lost jobs.
Here is a side issue that might have been significant in Mr. Gray’s death. Mr. Gray was in the police van being transported to the station. At the last stop he was in fine form, cursing police officers and in no distress. A few miles later he had somehow been injured in the back of the van, where no officer was present. Another prisoner in a different compartment of the van, who could not see but could hear Mr. Gray, said he could hear him “throwing himself around” and banging himself against the sides of the van. In his first testimony he said it sounded like Gray was trying to hurt himself. Later, probably fearing the thugs in the mobs would come after him, he withdrew his statements about Mr. Gray deliberately hurting himself.
We don’t know what caused the injury to the front of Mr. Gray’s head that caused his neck injury. One doctor has speculated that an underlying medical condition could have caused a seizure that made Mr. Gray thrash around. We know that Mr. Gray was a police informer who would often be “arrested” and taken to the station in the van so that he could inform on criminals out of their sight. It’s possible that he banged his head on the van in order to have injuries to show street gangs who might have become suspicious that he was an informer. He might have just banged his head too hard.
What we DO know is:
1) The medical examiner has determined that the injury took place in the back of the van between the last stop and the station.
2) The distance was too short for the “rough ride” theory being circulated by some anti-police activists. The other prisoner has said the ride was smooth.
3) There was no police officer in the back of the van.
4) The only one of the six officers arrested was the driver. The others were nowhere near the van when the medical examiner said the injury took place.
5) The black officer who was driving the van has an exemplary record and is highly spoken of in the community. Shockingly, the prosecutor has charged him with murder.
The State’s attorney is clearly casting a wide net, arresting every officer who had any contact with Gray, in hopes that one of the officers will turn on another and give her some kind of case. As things stand, from the evidence released thus far, she has a snowball’s chance of getting a conviction against any of the six - unless she can coerce one of them into testifying against another.
This State’s attorney has been following her mayor’s lead in promising to “get justice” for Mr. Gray. Her job is to see justice done, not to lead a political witch hunt against the police department. Her cozy relationship with the Gray family attorney is enough to make any honest prosecutor recuse herself from the case. (The Gray family attorney, Billy Murphy, is - by her own admission - her mentor; he gave the maximum allowable to her political campaign; and served on her campaign.) In addition, her husband is also a politician who represents the district where the Gray family lives.
Ivan Bates, a former prosecutor and a current defense attorney in Baltimore, blasted Mosby’s ties to Murphy. “I think she has too much pressure to indict, from the pressure of her husband’s constituents, of her mentor Billy Murphy, and of the pressure of making sure she wants to hold on to her job in four years,” Bates said.
But Mosby has resisted the calls from city leaders and the police union to step down and allow a special prosecutor to handle the case. Although only on the job a few months and clearly too inexperienced to handle such a case, she seems to want the glory of being in the spotlight for the year or more it will take for these six officers to clear their names.
Finally, let’s talk about the Mayor's biggest mistakes: Coddling criminals and thinking she could negotiate with a mob. Mobs by their nature are unreasoning. They are like wild animals let out of a cage. The only way to deal with a mob is with overwhelming force. When they see that there are consequences - that they aren't going to be given "space to destroy" - they will slink back to their homes.
If the Mayor had let the police do their jobs, called for reinforcements and instituted a curfew the moment violence reared its ugly head, the damage would have been minimized. Now it will probably take Baltimore more decades to rebuild. And I doubt CVS will participate again.
Plenty of “Space to Destroy” in Baltimore
Baltimore Mayor Apologizes to Rioters for Using the T-Word
Prosecutor Has Ties to Gray Family Lawyer