Rascovar: Heartbreaking failure of leadership in Baltimore

Rascovar: Heartbreaking failure of leadership in Baltimore

Photos above: On NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, former mayor and governor Martin O’Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

Baltimore deserves better. The citizens of Charm City, black and white, dutifully worked for decades to overcome obstacles of urban decline, including poverty and joblessness, with the goal of creating a thriving neo-urban, multi-racial environment attractive to residents and employers.

Those intent on achieving that dream have suffered a heartbreaking setback.

Baltimore’s younger generation of African Americans decided anger and violence were more important than taking constructive steps toward empowerment.

They seized on a failure of leadership at multiple levels and drove their inflammatory actions, like a spear, through Charm City’s armor.

Partial responsibility

The roots of this civil unrest will be analyzed for decades.

One obvious flash point could become a bone of contention in the Democratic presidential campaign. Another could dominate next year’s election for mayor.

History may record that both Martin O’Malley and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayors past and present, bear partial responsibility for what went wrong in Baltimore over the last week.

O’Malley, who has set his sights on the U.S. presidency, won election in 1999 to Baltimore’s top position with the courageous support of Rawlings-Blake’s father, Del. Howard “Pete” Rawlings, one of the most influential power brokers in the Maryland General Assembly and a staunch defender of black Baltimore.

The O’Malley mayoral campaign of 1999 centered on the need for tougher police enforcement after eight years of a failed community policing policy under Baltimore’s first elected black mayor, Kurt Schmoke.

Indeed, O’Malley made a name for himself on the Baltimore City Council as a persistent critic of the soft, ineffective policing tactics put in place by Commissioner Thomas Frazier.

Discontent with violence

Baltimore is a heavily African American city. For a white to win the city’s top elected post speaks volumes about the discontent with the violence and rising crime rate in 1999. Pete Rawlings’ endorsement of O’Malley over two major black contenders proved pivotal.

Martin O’Malley came into office promising a tough law-and-order stance that would deter crime. He initiated a zero-tolerance approach based on New York City’s successful “broken windows” theory — go after petty crimes, such as vandalism or a broken window, and it would prevent more serious criminal action. Young blacks simply congregating on street corners ended up in jail on suspicion of drug dealing.

Over 100,000 arrests were made one year (in a city of 650,000). O’Malley also embraced New York City’s statistical analysis, renamed Citistat, to pinpoint crime hotspots.

The two initiatives led to a dramatic drop in law-breaking. At the time, O’Malley was lauded for his tough stance that seemed to have made Baltimore safer. It also eased the way for his reelection as mayor.

Residue of anger

But zero-tolerance sowed the seeds of discontent and bitterness among young black men. Much of the fury expressed on the city’s streets last week flowed from those mass-arrest sweeps and the targeting by police of young blacks during the O’Malley years.

His tough-on-crime approach as mayor stands in stark contrast to O’Malley’s current attempt to position himself as the ultra-liberal alternative to Hillary Clinton. Indeed, zero-tolerance policing is the antithesis of what Democratic liberals believe in.

His hard line on law enforcement could well dog O’Malley during presidential campaign debates and interviews.

His successor as mayor, Sheila Dixon, quickly discarded O’Malley’s zero tolerance strategy in favor of a more humanizing law-enforcement tool — increased on-the-street patrols and closer affiliation with community groups.

Rawlings-Blake has continued that less confrontational approach to policing.

Some now contend that the mayor’s permissiveness on that first night of clashes encouraged young blacks to engage in looting, arson and attacks on policemen and firefighters knowing there would be no crackdown.

In hindsight, the mayor’s critics may have a point. But on-the-spot decisions are easily faulted after the fact.

No rapid response

Rawlings-Blake will be dogged over the next year and a half by those who point to her failure to go after the miscreants immediately — before the violence got out of hand.

Her mystifying refusal to request help from Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. in the critical hours leading up to the outbreak of lawlessness now looks like a tragic mistake. Her standoffishness from the governor since then defies explanation.

Prior to last week’s upheaval, Rawlings-Blake looked like an easy winner in next year’s mayoral election.

That’s no longer the case — especially with the hero-worshipping status accorded Baltimore’s new state’s attorney, Marilyn Mosby, who rushed to charge six police officers with a kitchen sink of serious wrongdoing.

Winning convictions may prove infinitely harder, though, which could color the public’s perception of Mosby in the months ahead.

Former Mayor Dixon also looms as a possible contender.

Clearly, Rawlings-Blake has some serious repair work to do politically, once things return to normal in Baltimore, if she hopes to remain in the mayor’s office for another term.

Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com


  1. Vidi

    Regardless of the interpretations of “space to destroy”, the fact is that Baltimore City is propped up by the taxpayers of Maryland and, yes, by the very high taxes the city itself levies on its residents and businesses. Where are those dollars going? Obviously not to Sandtown and its needs. Why? Who is making those decisions?

  2. nutty mcnutz

    Baltimore cannot wait for another election. SRB needs to go NOW.

  3. dwb1

    Work for decades? Only about 80k people voted in the last mayoral primary, and 40k in the general election voted. So, not really worked very hard at all. What those decades of hard work have given us is a Hilton that loses money every year, a dysfunctional and corrupt government reluctant to release audits, regulation and bureaucracy that stifles innovation, high taxes (but a willingness to give credits to cronies for more failed projects). Where did the $130 million “investment” in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood go anyway? The cost per pupil to educate kids in Baltimore is higher than nearby Howard County, yet the results are abysmal. Where are our tax dollars going?

    If you vote for the same policies for decades (or: don’t vote and send the message everything is fine) then you get the same results. Urban decline.

    If Baltimore residents want justice, the residents need to look in the mirror and vote for change. Progress is approximately 180 degrees from the current direction. But, the only people who can do this are the people who live there.

  4. Chad Cannon

    If the mayor was a military commander, of any rank, she would have been relieved immediately. Not only did it happen on her watch, it happened with her verbal approval. Her words are not “taken out context”, she did not misspeak. She proved she is incapable of leading in a crisis situation. Lives could have been lost, fortunately they were not. She did have one thing right though, before she corrected herself and got it wrong. There are thugs in Baltimore and the mayor was watching them, live and in color, as they went about burning, looting, cutting fire hoses, and stealing most anything they could carry. The entire nation was also watching.

    As for the prosecuter; her actions may well turn out to be the most damaging of all.
    It isn’t too difficult to imagine what will happen if any of those charges wind up being reduced, amended or dropped. She is closer to a ticking time bomb than a hero. Time will tell.

  5. Dale McNamee

    When Mayor Rawlings-Blake said that she wanted to give the demonstrators “space to destroy property” as protest and said that “it’s only property”… She showed her disregard for those residents, business owners, and businesses ( CVS ) who try to live in the city, and in the cases if small – business owners and large chain stores to offer products and services to the residents…

    It’ll be interesting to see if the businesses return and re-build, and if the residents who lost their homes will stay in the same neighborhoods…

    • dale ruff

      Here is what 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 were able to exercise their right to free speech. It’s a very delicate balancing act, because,while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also [as a result] 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, and that’s what you saw.”

      If you allow people space to exercise their first amendment rights, the result is that some will take advantage of that That in no way implies approval.
      She did not say “It’s only property.” It was alleged she said this and it was promoted as her words by the racist media.

      She could have spoken more clearly but there is no excuse for misinterpreting. If you allow people their right to protest, in the context of a police murder, a small minority will escalate to violence. To call this minority “the youth generation” as this article does promotes racist stereotypes.

      With justice will come peace; without it, people, according to the Declaration of Independence, have the right of revolution. What the African American community wants is justice, which has been denied for over 400 years. You cannot constantly have the police kill unarmed black people and expect that everyone will be “nice.”

      • Dale McNamee

        But, that “400 years ” does not give permission to destroy another’s business or home, or a senior center/, neighborhood center bring built… Which in turn, burned a couple of houses and, a pickup truck with the embers from it…

        I heard that same sick reasoning trying to justify the riots in ’65, ’68, & the Rodney King beating riots…

        All this is going to do is guarantee that businesses will avoid areas like North Ave.and Pensylvania, especially corner stores, and if CVS & Rite Aid rebuild there, the stores will be more like fortresses and less like
        stores found in the neighboring counties… I’ll lay you even money that Mondawmin Mall will be minus a few stores and may be less welcoming…

        Then, there’s the future effect that these riots will have on drawing conventions, tourists, and other business development in the rest of Baltimore City in the next few years…

        Finally, I have no sympathy for the protestors, their “sainted” icons… I’ll reserve my sympathy for the innocent victims who suffered because of Mayor Rawlings-Blake ‘ s moronic decision to encourage the destruction…

        • dale ruff

          According to the Declaration of Independence, a long history of oppression justifies the right of violent revolution.

          No one “gave permission” to destroy. But when you allow the freedom to protest, in the context of anger over a police murder with a background of violence against blacks, there will be those who escalate. This is not approval but a result of a situation of community outrage.

          You have no sympathy for protesters who are exercising their First Amendment rights? Then you have no sympathy for human rights. I note you have sympathy for those whose property was damaged but express no sympathy for the family of the innocent young man the police murdered. I smell racism…and the result of racism will always be anger and sometimes violence.

          Allowing free speech is not encouraging destruction; it was an attempt to prevent even more extreme violence, which would have resulted from banning protests.

          You are totally unAmerican. Freedom of speech and assembly and the the right to petition government is fundamental. The Founding Fathers used violence to oppose the oppression of the British. All people have the right of revolution; our nation was founded on it.

          With justice will come peace. With justice, Baltimore will rebuild to become a better city.

          • Dale McNamee

            How dare you compare the criminal activities of the protesters with the Declaration of Independence !
            They are not in any way equivalent !

            I’m not denying anyone their First Amendment rights to free speech to redress the government, but violence, attacking persons, burning out businesses, homes aren’t the same as SPEAKING OUT against the government…

            I remember the SCOTUS ruling that burning the US flag constituted “free speech”, so I can see where the idea that destroying peoples’ homes and livelihoods can be construed as such…

            I have to love the justification of this behavior to avoid even more extreme violence… /sarc

            Where did you learn that ?

            You accuse me of being “Un-American” and a “racist” for sympathizing with the black, Korean, Arab, and white victims who lost their jobs, businesses, and homes to the willful actions of your “sainted” protesters…

            I can accuse you of being a racist because you placed your “sainted” protesters right to destroy over the
            lives and property of the victims…

            I’m a “race realist”… I entertain no illusions about these folks…

            In 1968, I joined my cousins and my uncle to protect their home and neighborhood from the ancestors of
            your protesters… And every other man and boy in the neighborhood lined the main street … They came in cars, looked at us as they drove down the street, and kept on going…

            And the black neighborhoods were vandalized by blacks and never were fully rebuilt… And I felt sorry for the innocent victims back then…

            Freddy could have stopped being a drug seller, but didn’t… And that led to
            his death.

            BTW, my wife was a victim of a violent crime at the hands of a black perp. She went after him, becoming his worst nightmare and nailed him in court. So, I don’t have any sympathy for Freddy.

      • dwb1

        400 years denied justice? I wonder, why do so many immigrants come here, including those from Africa, and are successful? Why is Ben Carson successful, yet resoundingly rejected because he had the audacity to criticize Obama? While I am 100% sure racism still exists, if you tell people they are victims, then they will act like it. Seems to me, the only people denying the community justice are the residents of Baltimore themselves.

        • dale ruff

          Do yo deny 400 years of slavery, persecution, Jim Crow laws, and discrimnatory criminal justice and poverty for African-Americans? The success of some does not trump the reality that whites have 20 times more wealth than blacks,, that black unemployment is twice as high,and police brutality towards blacks, etc.

          People are not victims because someone tells them they are; people are victims because they are treated unequally.

          You may not think you are a racist but by blaming “the residents of Baltimore themselves (by which you mean blacks)”, you expose your racist assumptions.

          Many immigrants come here based on myths about opportunity in America, where it is, as studies have shown, increasingly hard for the poor to rise and where, in fact, the middle class, has become poorer. Most immigrants are not black and therefore do not experience this kind of racism, and 12 million immigrants are even denied legal status and the benefits of legal protection, etc.

          To deny that blacks have been victimized and to blame it on those who fight against that fact is racism, bold and naked. When we blame the victims for their suffering, we have become the bully.

          • dwb1

            I work (happily) in an extremely diverse work environment.

            I lay blame squarely on the 88% of the registered voters in Baltimore City that did not vote the last mayoral election, regardless of race or sex. Not voting sends the message everything is fine.

            To do things the same way for 5 decades and expect different results is the definition of insanity.

          • dale ruff

            I have been a student of voting for over 50 years. Non voting has many reasons, including cynicism (voting doesn’t matter), apathy (I don’t give a shit), and ignorance (I don’t vote because I don’t have any information). The claim that low voter turnouts is an indication that everything is fine is refuted by my studies of voter turnouts among nations. Some nations with low turnout are in terrible condition

            If you look up voter turnout by nation, you find no consistent pattern.For instance, Italy, where only 3% of the people approve of the direction of the country (things are not perceived as fine) has 89% turn out. Switzerland, where citizens often report they are the happiest in the world and have a favorable view of their government and society, has less than 50%. Turkey, which is racked by social conflict, has 92%, etc etc.

            Many factors go into why people vote. One of them is proportional representation which means if your party gets only 5% of the vote, it gets not zero representation as in the US (so why vote?) but 5% representation.

            A racist criminal justice system, which includes police abuse, which re-enforces 400 years of oppression against African-Americans is the root cause of the situation in Baltimore. False claims about voter turn out do not trump the outrage at police murder, which black communities have lived with for 400 years.

            Working in a diverse environment does not mean you are not using racist assumptions.

          • Lies, damn lies, and stats

            Slavery ended in 1865. The destruction of the black family unit began in the early 1960’s, 100 years AFTER slavery ended. If slavery was the cause of the breakdown of the black family, the breakdown would have occurred within 15- 20 years after the end of slavery, not 100 years later. It is no coincidence that the destruction of black America began when LBJ launched his ” war on poverty ” in the early 1960′ s, which consisted of the very entitlements and handouts that have trapped most blacks in multi generational poverty and other ills that plague the black American underclass. LBJ once said ” we’ll keep these niggers voting Democrat for the next 200 years” and sadly, he is right. 90% of the voting black population dutifully vote Democrat despite receiving ZERO return on their investment. They continue to vote for the very party that keeps them poor, defeated, and in victim mode. This is coming from a black woman.

          • dale ruff

            Legal discrimination ended when I was 20. Other forms of discrimination, in housing, in job opportunities, and in the criminal justice system still exist. This is admitted by those on the left and right (as with Rand Paul). The breakdown of the black family is mostly myth. Black fathers care just as much for their children as white fathers. Blacks have been trapped in poverty not by foodstamps but by an economic system which cannot create enough jobs (or offshores them) and by persistent racism. The quote attribuated to LBJ is questionabale, but what is not is that he said that when the Democrats thru the Dixcrats under the bus, they ceded the racist South to the Republicans. The party cutting foodstamps, aid for education and seeking tor reduce all assistance to the poor are NOT the Democrats. You may be a black woman but you have been brainwashed by a racist narrative and are aligning yourself with racists. Color is not the issue but ideology which blames the poor for their own plight and the party which has sought to help the poor. Who today is promoting raising the minimum wage, which would help 18 million rise above dire poverty and government assistance and who is opposing it. Wake up, lady. You are being manipulted as a useful idiot who takes positions opposed to your own interests Wake up and realize that a racist criminal justice system keeps blacks in prison, unable to find jobs, and unable to rise. Why do white families have 20 times more wealth than black families; it is not due to programs which raise income, whether through TANF (which helps 1.5 million famlies) or thru raising the minimum wage but due to systemic forms of discrimination in education, jobs, and housing. I marched with Dr. King and I can assure you, there were no Repuiblicans or conservatives marching with us but many religious folks, many students, many radicals, and many ‘Democrats and progressives. You have been sucked in by an ideology which has perverted your views of how racism in America operates and who is on the side of the poor. The best indicator of academic success, which is the path to rising out of poverty, is family income. Any programs which promote family income do not trap people but liberate them. LBJ”s War on Poverty raised millions out of poverty but cut back by Republicans since have brought millions back into poverty.
            I am telling you: wake up. You are aligned with those who want to blame the Democrats for black poverty while cutting help for black families. Taking away foodstamps and other social programs, refusing to raise the minimum wage, and trying to repeal healthcare is not the path to liberation for poor blacks or whites; it is a way to insure they stay poor.

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