Baltimore Mishandled Seeds of Unrest
Now, the state called in the National Guard, imposed a curfew to deal with looting schoolchildren, gangland threats against police
The city of Baltimore is reeling after a savage night of rioting downtown that led to the burning of stores, looting and violent confrontations with police officers. The violence erupted in the hours leading up to and following Monday’s funeral of Freddie Gray, who died several days after suffering a spinal cord injury while in police custody. Facts are still hazy about Gray’s arrest and injury and just how an initially peaceful demonstration devolved so quickly into full-scale rioting.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency late yesterday and called out the National Guard to assist overwhelmed city law enforcement. “The National Guard represents the last resort in restoring order,” Hogan told reporters. “I have not made this decision lightly.”
Up to 5,000 soldiers could eventually be deployed. There are already at least 100 Maryland State Police officers already in the city, as well as municipal police from surrounding towns and counties. Close to two-dozen Baltimore police officers have sustained injuries in close-quarter confrontations with rioters who assaulted them with rocks, bottles and other objects.
Schools are closed today in Baltimore, and last night’s Orioles game was postponed, with baseball commissioner Rob Manfred suggesting the matchup between the Orioles and Chicago White Sox could be played elsewhere.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake ordered a week-long 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, calling out the rioters as “thugs who only want to incite violence and destroy our city.”
This is a much more decisive Rawlings-Blake than just two days ago, when she said during a press conference in the early hours of unrest over the weekend that “we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well. And we worked very hard to keep that balance and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate.”
Rawlings-Blake’s words were quickly clarified by her office in a follow-up statement that said, in part, “There was an effort to give the peaceful demonstrators room to conduct their peaceful protests on Saturday. Unfortunately … that also meant that those seeking to incite violence also had the space to operate.”
In some cases, it is prudent for law enforcement to back off to prevent further confrontation, and it seems the Baltimore Police Department did so at least a few times yesterday. But to come right out and say it, telling rioters and looters what the police will do? That’s absurd!
Whatever Rawlings-Blake meant to say, the opportunity to de-escalate the situation has clearly passed. The scope of the rioting and looting quickly overwhelmed the police, and it is not clear at this point just what their strategy was in the early hours of the mayhem. Sporadic acts of violence over the weekend spread into full-scale chaos Monday afternoon after a number of youths, fresh out of school, joined those already engaged in unlawful activity.
According to a notice by the Baltimore Police Department, there is a credible threat that the Black Guerilla Family, Bloods, Crips and other gangs entered into an agreement to attack police and coordinate looting. Furthermore, some of Baltimore’s outlaw elements may want to take the violence outside the city, targeting white police officers. The West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center released a memo warning police officers that they might be the target of gang violence. Remember: The man who killed New York City Police Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos earlier this year was associated with the Black Guerilla Family gang in Baltimore.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) suggested that the violence was actually perpetrated by out-of-towners. “[A]t the end there were a few people who said, ‘We’re gonna turn this city down [sic], we’re gonna close it down,’ and the next thing you know we had a few people mainly from out of town … start beating up on police cars and throwing all kinds of projectiles.” It may just be that Cummings doesn’t want to admit the fact that Baltimore has a criminal element capable of fomenting such chaos.
Rev. Al Sharpton, never one to miss a race-baiting opportunity, pledged to visit Baltimore to reach out to local church leaders who have been gathering with community leaders to find ways to stop the violence. Unfortunately, if history is any guide, Sharpton’s appearance might distract from that opportunity as he grandstands for the camera and solicits donations for his National Action Network.
And what about the man whose death sparked the rioting? The Baltimore Sun has attempted to piece together a timeline of the arrest of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, looking to discover how he sustained the injuries that led to his death. Like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, Gray has been made out to be a martyr at the altar of police brutality, but he was no angel. Gray’s rap sheet includes at least 18 arrests for various offenses. Baltimore police have not shed any light on why Gray was arrested earlier this month, stating only that he was carrying a knife, which was actually discovered after he was arrested.
It can be said that Gray was not a model citizen; however, the Baltimore Police Department is not a model law enforcement agency. The local police department has some problems of its own. A lengthy investigation in 2014 by the Baltimore Sun uncovered numerous incidents of police brutality and resultant civil suits that cost the city $5.7 million over three years.
As with civil unrest in Ferguson, Oakland, CA, and other cities around the country, a terrible pattern is playing out in Baltimore, and it looks something like this: In an effort to reclaim the city from criminals and gangs, police have on occasion gone beyond their mandate and sometimes been guilty of the very crimes they attempt to stop. The community, which should welcome and feel protected by the police, instead fear and loathe them because of injustices, either real or perceived. The situation can fester for years until an incident, oftentimes the shooting or death of someone in police custody, pops the top off a pressure cooker.
Not all those arrested are victims, and not all cops are criminals. Far from it. Yet, the media, ever in pursuit of a story, will report any angle that feeds the story. Sometimes facts are optional. Race hustlers like Al Sharpton and naïve liberals like Stephanie Rawlings-Blake don’t help the situation. Cooler heads must prevail and examine the root causes of these issues; otherwise Baltimore will be just another name on a sad and growing list of cities tearing themselves apart.