Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is getting tough on criminals, even if the offenders are wearing badges and dressed in blue: She is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the city’s embattled police department to determine if there has been a pattern of misconduct, particularly when cops patrol Black neighborhoods.
It’s the right decision.
“We have to get it right. Failure is not an option,” Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday at City Hall. “Such an investigation is essential if we are going to rebuild trust in the community.”
The mayor wants to ensure the department is not “engaging in a pattern and practice of stops or arrests that violate the Fourth Amendment. We cannot be timid in addressing this problem,” she said, “and I am a mayor that does not shy away from our city’s big challenges.”
Rawlings and Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts had already requested a voluntary review of police department policies last fall, reports the Associated Press. But that review did not allow the DOJ to enforce any changes.
Rawlings-Blake’s courageous announcement Wednesday to push for police reform and request a civil rights investigation into her own police department comes one day after Loretta Lynch, the newly-appointed U.S Attorney General, visited Baltimore to meet with police officers and community leaders.
Lynch, the first Black woman to hold the position, met with Rawlings-Blake, Batts and line officers for the Baltimore Police Department, members of Congress, faith, youth and community leaders and the family of Freddie Gray.
A Justice Department spokeswoman said Lynch is considering Rawlings-Blake’s request.
Baltimore erupted into riots and looting last week following the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after suffering severe injuries while in police custody. Six police officers have been charged in Gray’s death.
“This is a flashpoint situation,” Lynch told a group of officials after a private meeting with the Gray family. “We lost a young man’s life and it begins to represent so many things.”
For Baltimore’s black community, the events of last week represents a total distrust of the police department and Rawlings-Blake is determined, correctly, to reform a department that black residents call abusive. The mayor’s announcement Wednesday was also meant to calm tensions in the wake of the rebellion in Baltimore last week.
So will the nation experience more riots during the heat of summer?
According to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, more Americans are bracing for a summer of racial disturbances around the country after the riots in Baltimore last week.
The poll, the Journal reported, showed that an overwhelming 96% of adults surveyed said it was likely there would be additional racial disturbances this summer and underscored the deep racial divide about why the urban violence started.
According to the poll, Blacks and whites were asked to choose between two possible explanations for recent unrest in Baltimore. Sixty percent of blacks said the riots reflected “long-standing frustrations about police mistreatment of African Americans.” Some 27% of Black respondents said the disturbances were caused by people who used protests over an African American man dying in police custody “as an excuse to engage in looting and violence.”
But among whites, according to the Wall Street Journal, “58% said people were seizing an excuse to loot, while 32% said the events reflected long-standing frustrations with police.”
I’m not a proponent of quick polls, so I remain optimistic. I believe that many future protests over legitimate police brutality cases will be largely peaceful. Most of the protests in Baltimore last week were peaceful but the riots, of course, dominated the 24-hour news cycle.
On Wednesday, the White House dispatched a high-profile team to continue peaceful discussions in Baltimore. Senior Obama administration officials including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Broderick Johnson, assistant to the President and cabinet secretary, visited Frederick Douglass High School in Baltimore to meet with students, educators and local business and community leaders.
The meeting was planned to highlight ongoing efforts to support progress and healing in Baltimore, and work to improve access to high-quality educational, financial literacy and job opportunities for youth. They also discussed the availability of funds for a project to help residents, especially youth and young adults of West Baltimore, access the job training they need.
“It is clear that I need to look for any and all resources I could bring to the city to get this right,” Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday.
It’s refreshing to see high-level Obama administration officials visit Baltimore in a time of crisis but the challenge will be sustaining long-term support for Rawlings-Blake and a Black community that has a visibly fractured relationship with the enforcers in blue.
What do you think?