The Corner

Culture

In Baltimore, It’s the Same Old Story: If You Allow Lawlessness to Go Unchallenged, You Get More of It

(Drew Angerer/Getty)

It’s all so familiar, isn’t it? Some outrage occurs, real or imagined, soon to be followed by “peaceful protests,” the peacefulness of which devolves into violence. 

Such was the case in Miami in 1989, Crown Heights in 1991, Los Angeles in 1992, Oakland in 2009, and just last year in Ferguson, Mo. In these cases and in others too numerous to list, the historical antecedents were ignored in the name of allowing the protesters to “vent their rage.” The results are always the same: theft and destruction of property, injuries, and sometimes even the loss of life.

SLIDESHOW: Baltimore Riots

Anyone who failed to anticipate what is now occurring in the streets of Baltimore is unfit to hold public office or to lead the police officers who bear the task of restoring order in the city, a task made all the more difficult by the manifest failures of Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. In the last week, Ms. Rawlings-Blake has proven herself unequal to the demands of her position, a deficiency made even more obvious on Sunday. In giving protesters “space” to exercise their right to free speech, she said, “we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”

I’ll give the mayor the benefit of the doubt in concluding that the statement was not an actual endorsement of the violence, but rather, as Patrick Brennan reports below, a poorly worded recognition that the protesters were given too much space.

#related#But still, having given them the space, what was the reaction when violence broke out? Paralysis in the city government and timidity in the face of widespread lawbreaking.

How frustrating it is to watch on television as hundreds of uniformed police officers stand by while thugs throw rocks, bottles, and bricks at them, and as businesses are looted and burned nearby. For this I do not blame the rank-and-file cops, more than a dozen of whom have been injured at the time of this writing. Instead I blame their leaders who have failed to heed a lesson of the not-too-distant past: If you allow lawlessness to go unchallenged, you will very quickly have more of it.

With the rioters thus emboldened, restoring order will now require a greater level of force than would have been necessary had the police been allowed to act decisively at the first sign of violence.

As I write this no one has yet been killed in Baltimore, but I fear that will change soon enough.

— Jack Dunphy is the nom de cyber of a police officer in Southern California.

Jack Dunphy served with the Los Angeles Police Department for more than 30 years. Now retired from the LAPD, he works as a police officer in a neighboring city. Jack Dunphy is his nom de cyber.

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