Incompetent response by Baltimore city officials making the violence worse

As the day went on yesterday in Baltimore, and the crowds became more unruly, and pockets of protestors split off to engage in massive looting and burning, Baltimore city officials from the mayor on down did little to react.  Their incompetent response led to escalating violence as protestors realized that the police were nowhere to be found.

It began with Mayor Rawlings-Blake offering up the notion that Saturday's violence wasn't too bad because the city gave rioters "space" if they wanted to destroy and pillage.  She tried to walk back that comment later, but, as Michael Daly of the Daily Beast points out, "Yes, she said it."

She uttered these words while explaining how she had sought to maintain “the very delicate balance” between the right to protest and the safety of police officers as a week of demonstrations over the death of Freddie Gray began to turn violent on Saturday.

“We work very hard to keep that balance and to put ourselves in the best position to de-escalate,” she said. “And that’s what we saw.”

After that success over the weekend, she apparently took the same approach on Monday. And this time those who wished to destroy just kept destroying and destroying as the situation escalated to where Maryland Governor Larry Hogan activated the National Guard.

Rawlings-Blake was only 21 at the time of the Crown Heights Riots in 1991, when New York Mayor David Dinkins held the police back in order to let protesters “blow off a little steam.” But, the destructive result was something anyone who runs a city should have studied.

Baltimore now suddenly became Crown Heights on steroids.

This novel approach to dealing with Visigoths and other barbarians who burn, loot, and destroy for the sheer joy of it resulted in the violence being far worse than if normal police tactics had been used:

Baltimore municipal and police officials are taking heat for what some consider a belated—and according to some critics, incompetent—response to the wanton looting and torching of buildings. At a press conference called hours after the mayhem began, Rawlings-Blake condemned the violence, but also said there was a need to maintain a “delicate balancing act.” Earlier she mentioned that while protecting people and property and trying to quell the unrest authorities also wanted to give “those who want to destroy space to do that.” Her office later walked that back, saying Rawlings-Blake did not mean hooligans were being allowed to rampage. But the remark was seen by some as emblematic of what they considered an at best lackluster response by the city. Lawyer and CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, for example, said the police disappeared “for hours,” and criticized officials’ actions as a “shocking display of incompetence,” adding that their decisions would haunt the city for decades.

It didn’t help that Rawlings-Blake and others at the press conference appeared to be blaming the media for possibly spurring some people into action—even as officials indicated they would use media footage to help identify criminals. The mayor and police leaders also are being criticized for their decision to implement a mandatory 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew—starting on Tuesday rather than right away Monday night. Officials explained that residents needed “reasonable notice.” The curfew will be effective for one week.

The mayor later said her priority was to make sure the city did not explode the way Ferguson, Missouri did. She said "we've seen what happens when you use too much force" and that city officials did not want to create "a military state."

Sorry, your honor, but when the cops are few and far between and the barbarians are through the gate, a "military state" may be the only thing between you and the utter darkness of civic chaos.

It's this kind of attitude that has enabled the rioters to run wild.  Here's are some exchanges on the police radio that give you an idea of what the cops were up against:

“There’s 100 of them in the shoe store. People are even getting out of their cars to go into the shoe store.”

“A group of black males breaking into a grocery store from the rear.”

“No units are to go there alone…. Do we have any other units?.... I need at least three or four cars to go there.... Do we have any other units?”

“Is anybody else coming up there?”

“Male armed with a handgun.”

“We have an individual in custody. We need a wagon.”

“We don’t even have a wagon.”

“There’s about 30 of them! We need backup.”

“Nobody’s up here right now.”

 “I got multiple fires inside the park. I got one beside the conservatory.”

“I see other ones.”

“I can’t cover you.”

“We got looting at the CVS and the 7-Eleven. I’m trying to keep people out of both places. It’s really dark out here tonight.”

“We have gunshots, a woman screaming.”

“Do not drive into locations you can’t get out of. We will not jeopardize our lives for those stores.”

The mayor was criticized for hesitating to call out the National Guard, who didn't arrive until after midnight.  She was criticized for imposing the curfew beginning Tuesday instead of Monday night.  Every move made by Rawlings-Blake appeared to be designed to give the rioters time and space to destroy as much property as they could manage in the time allotted.

Don't expect much criticism of a black female mayor, however.  It may offend the delicate sensibilities of two powerful interest groups if that were to happen.

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