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Blaming Baltimore Officials Isn't Helping Solve America's Race Problem

The chaos in Baltimore has settled. Sports teams and citizens have come out to help with cleanup downtown, and violence has ceased… for the moment.

What remains is verbal vitriol: a blame game playing out time and time again when accusations of police brutality turn into rioting and looting.

The police either handle things too violently or with too much restraint; leadership does too little or too much to quell the chaos.

The Monday morning quarterback opens his mouth, leveraging knowledge gained only from hindsight.

A series of missteps

The majority of criticism was leveled at Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who seemingly can do no right.

The weekend before the riots broke out, Rawlings-Blake remarked she wanted to ensure people were protected from harm during protests, but also hoped to give “those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”

She later backtracked from this comment.

Rawlings-Blake said what she meant to say was giving peaceful demonstrators a space to speak out would also require giving space to violent ones. It was a “balancing act.”

She went on to blame the media for taking her words out of context.

She was later criticized for calling the individuals partaking in looting and violence “thugs.”

This language was interpreted as racist, “akin to calling someone a ‘n—-‘,” according to Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes. Rawlings-Blake was forced to play defense after her poor word choice as well, saying she used the word “thug” out of “frustration and anger” and as a result, misspoke.

So should Rawlings-Blake hire a new speechwriter? Is word choice her only problem?

Apparently not. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, himself criticized for failing to call out the National Guard sooner, blamed Rawlings-Blake for the delay in his decision.

He said he wanted to call them out sooner, but did not because Rawlings-Blake would not return his calls for two hours on Monday, the day the riots began.

Rawlings-Blake's delay of response was most likely an effort to prevent the kind of criticism she's now enduring. Her defenders have pointed out by waiting to call in the National Guard, she acted prudently.

Due to accusations of police brutality towards Freddie Gray, Rawlings-Blake likely held back to avoid being perceived as intolerant to anger.

In addition to criticism about declaring a State of Emergency and deploying the National Guard, Hogan was peppered with questions from reporters about “whether the police response was sufficient and why more resources were not brought in sooner.”

In all fairness to the critics, one former Baltimore city police officer told Elite Daily in a phone interview that, in his opinion, police were not “sufficiently prepared for this, and they should have been.”

Rawlings-Blake and Larry Hogan weren't the only state officials to endure criticism for their handling of looting and rioting.

Even during the Ferguson riots, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon was forced to respond to allegations the National Guard did not come soon enough.

Ferguson officials were also widely criticized for allowing police to escalate confrontations there in the wake of a fatal police shooting.

In the case of this Missouri city, armored vehicles and sniper rifles were implemented, and some believe this inflamed the situation.

While Baltimore officials were accused of acting too cautiously, Ferguson officials were accused of acting too forcefully.


You're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts was also expected to answer for what was perceived as too slow and too weak a response.

Ironically, when Batts was Oakland's police chief, his officers were accused of acting too quickly to quell violence.

After the protests had died down, apparently there was still room for criticism. Ed Norris, former Baltimore police chief, criticized the mayor's implementation of a curfew.

According to Norris, a curfew makes police look powerless and weak if they cannot provide sufficient enforcement.


Pointing fingers any and everywhere.

For those who did not wish to put the onus on current local and state officials, there was ample opportunity to levy criticism at other figureheads, past and present.

The “no-tolerance” police policy enacted during Former Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's tenure was blamed for the Freddie Gray looting.

Everyone has been blaming everyone else in these matters, and no one appears willing to take the blame. Why? Because there probably isn't anyone to take the blame.

President Obama painted an abstract, but accurate, picture of who needs to take responsibility for the Freddie Gray incident and the riots that followed. On April 28th, Obama stated,

I think there are police departments that need to do some soul-searching. I think there are some communities that have to do some soul-searching… [sic] But I think as a country we have to do some soul-searching. This is not new.

Obama is exactly right. These riots have happened before.

They might happen again. And their existence throughout the country, in the past and in the present, points to the fact there is no one person, place or thing to lay blame upon or criticize.

These riots stem in part from Baltimore's history of segregation, racial tension and allegations of police misconduct.

If we point fingers and lay blame for mishandling and misconduct on one person, we're missing the whole point: There's no one person responsible and no one event responsible.

To think this is the case is to oversimplify and ignore history. And what's more ignorant than pretending we haven't been down this road once before?

Citations: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake Under Fire For Space to Destroy Comment (NBC News), Mayor Rawlings Blake clarifies use of word thug (AOL), Critics question delay in calling out the Guard (The Baltimore Sun), Maryland officials under fire for slow reaction to Baltimore riots (The Washington Times), Drummond Former Oakland police Chief Batts in hot seat in Baltimore (Contra Costa Times), Baltimore Police Complete Initial Inquiry Into Death of Freddie Gray (The New York Times), A former Baltimore police commissioner blasted the decision to impose a curfew on city residents (Business Insider), As Baltimore mayor critics say OMalleys police tactics sowed distrust (The Washington Post), Obama invites race row policeman for a beer in the White House (The Guardian), President Obama No excuse for Baltimore riots (Politico), The Brutality of Police Culture in Baltimore (The Atlantic)

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Jill Pohl

Contributor

I recently received my Masters in International Politics, but enjoy freelance writing whenever I can. Prior to delving into the political world in DC, I worked in film. Check out my lifestyle blog for young women: www.visionsofjillhanna.com.
I recently received my Masters in International Politics, but enjoy freelance writing whenever I can. Prior to delving into the political world in DC, I worked in film. Check out my lifestyle blog for young women: www.visionsofjillhanna.com.

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