Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake came under attack on Tuesday morning for her remark that people who “wished to destroy” need their space, which seemed to condone the violence that ensued in the aftermath of the funeral of Freddie Gray, a young African American man who died while being held by the police. In the aftermath of the torrent, which included the torching of 15 buildings and 144 vehicles, looting, and street shootings, more than a dozen police officers were injured as they clashed with rioters leading to 202 arrests. As a response to the violence, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, setting up an office in Baltimore, and closing down businesses and city schools. National Guard troops also arrived in the city, patrolling areas like Pratt Street, in order to keep the peace.
As the city of Baltimore is reeling from all the destruction, residents began cleaning some of the streets, and tow trucks removed burnt the vehicles off the road. Special services such as safety homes have been set up while the city, and the Mayor has issued a 10pm curfew. In addition, President Obama as well as other politicians have expressed their concern over the matter, and later on this week, Reverend Al Sharpton will be arriving to meet with officials and will be conducting a march from Baltimore to Washington D.C. in order to protest racial bias and police brutality.
Many, however, including the governor, are finding the overall approach wrong, and questioning Rawling-Blake’s judgment in her response to the situation, criticizing her for having not acted sooner in order to maintain calm in the city. The remarks, which she made only seemed at best to send a mixed message and at worst were inflammatory, doing more to hurt than to help the situation in Baltimore following Gray’s death.
Blake at first tried to deny that she made any type of remark referring to “destroying,” but after her office released a statement confirming that she said those words, she attempted to defend herself by stating that she was trying encourage peaceful protests and free speech, explaining that it was a “very delicate balancing act,” and that she would never encourage destruction of the city. She accused the critics of twisting her words and “blatant mischaracterization.”
Strategic Planning and Policy Director, Howard Libit, explained Blake’s rationale that she was trying to give protesters room to demonstrate peacefully, however, the words that she used could easily be misconstrued to imply that she was condoning incitement and violence. To understand this one only has to look to the nature of Baltimore’s divide between the wealthy and poor.
In the western part of Baltimore, nearly 35% of its residents live below the poverty line, putting it at almost the same level as parts of Cleveland and Detroit. In the zip code alone where the riots took place, the unemployment rate in 2011 was reported at 19.1 per cent, and less than 60 percent of its high school students graduate from high school, giving the city of Baltimore the worst mark in the country. Along with these statistics, giving Baltimore an appearance of a third world country, in the African American community, infants have a mortality rate nine times that of white infants, and AIDs cases are five times more likely.
With the unemployment, the lack of job and education opportunities, the violence that ensued following the Blake’s remarks was all but inevitable, and it does not help that leaders like Al Sharpton seem to use these incidents and public media outlets to advance their own agenda, rather than condemn violence, or promote advancement and hope for people who are living in such inexcusably deplorable conditions. Critics are correct in pointing out that such the Mayor’s use of such language at best sends out a mixed message, and at worst, and a kind of worst which should not be tolerated, incites violence among people who live their lives day to day devoid of any hope whatsoever.
By Bill Ades