With the nation captivated by the rioting in Baltimore and the initial shocking pro-rioter statement of the city’s mayor, members of the National Center’s Project 21 black leadership network are speaking out about this civic crisis.
Violence there was sparked by the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man with a long string of prior arrests, while Gray was in police custody. It brought the current trend of anti-police tensions to Baltimore. As opposed to most other recent incidents reported in the mainstream media, this time the heightened emotions led to attacks on police and innocent bystanders, property damage and looting.
What really didn’t seem to help things at all was a statement essentially endorsing mayhem that was made by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. At a press conference, she said:
I’ve made it very clear that I work with the police, and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure that the protesters could exercise their right to free speech. It’s a very delicate balancing act because while we tried to make sure they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we 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 deescalate. And that’s what you saw.
Now, with spread of horrific violence in the city she is charged with leading, she’s tried to walk back the comment. She is presiding over a nightly curfew (starting on Tuesday!), cancelled baseball games and school trips and National Guard involvement.
Project 21 Co-Chairman Horace Cooper, a legal commentator and former professor of constitutional law, said:
Felons don’t need “space to destroy”
Criminals and looters don’t need an excuse to destroy property and to engage in mayhem. They don’t prey on the rest of us because of perceived societal injustice. They do so because they are lawless. It’s incumbent upon our elected officials, including the mayor of Baltimore, to stand with those in her city who respect order and safety — not take actions which sanction criminal acts.
Unfortunately that what she’s done with her misguided rhetoric.
And, as all the nation can see, tonight’s activities clearly show the need that all Americans — regardless of color — have for law enforcement. I call upon Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to switch sides and join with law-abiding citizens against the street thugs who make life miserable for inner city residents all over Baltimore.
Bishop Council Nedd II, a Project 21 member and rector of St. Alban’s Anglican Church in central Pennsylvania, added:
The riots in Baltimore are a beast of the Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s own making.
Giving space to those who wish “to destroy” is not a responsible statement from a mayor and chief executive. In one statement, Mayor Rawlings-Blake effectively gave disgruntled youth an excuse to riot and hamstrung the ability of the police to respond.
I come from a family of police officers. My father and brother were both police officers in Washington, D.C. I had several uncles who also served as police officers, as well as two of my closest friends. While I have never served in law enforcement, my comments are not being made totally void of some insight.
Riots are interesting things. You have people drawn to those situations for a variety of reasons. There are those who are interested in perpetrating violence and those who are merely interested in watching and observing the goings-on. As untenable of a situation as it is, it unfortunately falls on police officers to use their discernment and training to determine the intent of the groups and individuals.
Rioters throwing rocks and bricks at police officers should never be tolerated. However, under no circumstances do police officers have the luxury of throwing the rocks and bricks back indiscriminately into the crowds.
Project 21 member Nadra Enzi, a community policing advocate in New Orleans, said:
“Will Baltimore burn?” is the question I asked after last weekend’s wild protests struck the city’s downtown to (dis)honor Freddie Gray, the man whose in-custody death still has many scratching their heads.
It’s burning now.
I see visions of the Watts super-riots from 1965 and 1992 being repeated in Charm City. The fact that this place is already ultra-violent joins the notion that Gray died when he could apparently offer officers no threat. There is now the threat of recreating and expanding the Watts-style carnage, and Americans are wondering if their town is next.
Black male-police relations are emotional embers soaked with rocket fuel. There is intensity in the racial resentment. So soon after the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina, this case could spark national rioting. Advocating police-community unity — always an uphill climb — has now become nearly insurmountable.
The protesters have center stage, and in their ranks are criminals committing chaos in the same way they do when publicized marches aren’t underway. Protesters who aren’t vandals nonetheless mistrust police. Advocates for police-community unity who are among them are few and far between.
America’s most logical anti-crime alliance, inner citizens who are against violence and allied with the police, is shoved even further aside as chanting shouts down cooperation. Against this backdrop, I must ask, will Baltimore and more cities burn on the funeral pyre of failed police-community unity?
Project 21 Co-Chairman Cherylyn Harley-LeBon added:
The death of Freddie Grey is a tragedy. This young man’s spine was virtually severed, and my prayers are with his family.
The violence unfolding on the streets of Baltimore is not justified and could have been avoided with appropriate leadership. It might have been helpful to have a curfew on Monday evening instead of waiting until tomorrow. A state of emergency is necessary and appropriate.
Like so many people, I am looking forward to getting more details as the investigation continues.