Commentary on the Baltimore Riots
This post is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion of the current tense situation in Baltimore, nor is it meant to address the systemic problems that face disadvantaged (largely) minorities in urban and depressed rural areas. However, I feel that before I post more about politics, it’s right to, very briefly, address the situation in Baltimore where I live.
I believe in the City of Baltimore. I really do. There are a lot of good, honest, and hard-working people that have dedicated their lives and money to revitalizing sections of the City that, a decade ago, were crime-ridden and blighted. A vision by Mayor William Donald Schaefer and carried on by Mayor Kurt Schmoke made the Inner Harbor an attraction. I own a home in Baltimore. I would not have made this investment if I wanted to see the City fail or provide “armchair” criticism of the Mayor and City Council from a position of relative calm.
With this expression aside, Baltimore has had single-party rule since the race riots of the 1960s. Though leadership in the City since that point has been bi-racial (Black and White though few other ethnic minorities), there has only been one track of politics. The City has not sent a congressman to Washington or a state senator or delegate to Annapolis in the lifetime of the average Baltimore voter.
My first criticism falls to the Republican Party of Maryland. Especially in the counties, a fear of, and disengagement with, the City has harmed the image of the Party. Without an active and vocal Party presence decrying the poor leadership of the past five decades, the Party has a deficit of history with the average Baltimore voter.
Criticism of Republicans aside, what is happening in the City of Baltimore arises from utterly failed policies of single-party rule. I don’t mean to say that any Democrat or politician intended for riots and looting of businesses in the City. Moreover, I am sure that, aside from the corruption that goes hand-in-hand with single-party rule, most politicians in the City truly believe that their policies are doing/have done some good for the average resident of the City.
All the good intentions in the world do not hide the fact that poverty, income inequality, and desperation have all been on the rise in Baltimore. One can blame anything from the failed War on Drugs, incarceration rates, the welfare state that pays out higher for broken families, or bad schools for the situation where Baltimore found itself on Monday night. Add to this the catalyst of alleged police misconduct and the simmering national unrest about the same topic, and the outcome is a predictable disaster.
Now is not the time to judge the Mayor and City Council on their clear deficiencies in leadership on the response to the violent protests. There will be time for that after we clean up the City and brace for the inevitable conclusion regarding the catalytic event: the death of Freddie Gray. It would be incendiary to post something about Mr. Gray’s death without evidence. Though protests and riots have started with only one side of the story, I am withholding any conclusions until the facts come to light.
Because my faith in the competence of the Mayor and City Council has been shaken this week, I do not trust that a full and fair investigation is taking place. Hopefully they will prove me wrong. If it comes to light that information and evidence that clears police officers of misconduct have been known to the Mayor since before the riots, she is not fit to serve the City any longer. The reason these, possibly unfounded, doubts spring to mind is that the Mayor failed to take action in a prompt manner to prevent looting and rioting in the City. Whether she mis-perceived events as they were unfolding or actually thought that the rioting was not a threat does not really matter. What matters is that the City could have been spared from a night of violence had the Mayor acted in concert with State officials to bring in the battle-tested National Guard.
I should note here how professional, competent, and restrained the National Guard has been in protecting the streets of Baltimore. They are a welcome presence in the City. The MD National Guard was deployed to Afghanistan to protect American interests abroad. It is odd that the same young men and women are now protecting the American way of life on the streets of an American city. Having had the opportunity to observe the National Guard up close during this time of turmoil, I cannot say enough good things about their professionalism and dedication to peace.
It remains to be seen whether peace will be kept. While there are no catalysts on the news, protests and actions have been peaceful. If a fully and fair investigation into the death of Mr. Gray reveals that there was no misconduct, I wonder if the protests will stay that way.
To conclude (though I am sure I will write more on the subject at a later date with the benefit of hindsight and objectivity), I leave you with a few points for consideration:
1. The focal point of the riots in the City has been the same area that was the focal point of the riots in 1968.
2. If you were a business owner and you saw the events of Baltimore, would you open a business in any of the areas affected by the rioting?
3. Councilman Nick Mosby has been an outspoken activist in the community regarding this incident in favor of holding police accountable. Is his wife, newly elected State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who will make the ultimate decision on prosecuting police in the City, free of prejudice on this issue?
4. Will the Republican Party make a play for seats on the City Council in the 2016 municipal elections arguing that Democrats have failed the City for decades?