Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says that she didn’t mean, in some comments she delivered Sunday, that the protesters/rioters in Baltimore had been intentionally given “space” to “destroy” property. “The mayor is not saying that she asked police to give space to people who sought to create violence,” a spokesman says, a day after she made the comments. (A raft of outlets reported them this morning in the way she says she didn’t mean them.)
Whatever exactly she meant, it certainly seems that the Baltimore police took a hands-off approach to the unrest over the weekend, allowing the crowds to grow violent and unruly while doing little in response.
Presumably this is motivated in part by the sense that the protesters had some legitimate grievance and in part because it’s supposed to work, to help defuse the situation. Well, does it?
When unapologetically progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio let Ferguson protesters have some space last fall, it did seem to work — the NYPD was able to let (illegal) protests go on without it escalating into anti-property violence. Whether this is going to happen in a more troubled city like Baltimore, I’m not so sure. In 2011, when former Oakland mayor Jean Quan sympathized with Occupy Oakland’s illegal protests and let them go on, they spiraled out of control and disrupted the city’s already depressed downtown for months. Standing back from the (again, illegal) protests in Ferguson, Mo., last summer resulted in significant property damage in the small town, although it meant almost no protesters were harmed. (Occupy Oaklanders were not so lucky; injuries started happening when police realized they had lost control and needed more aggressive tactics.) None of these situations are exactly parallel but let’s just say this: Standing back and giving protesters space to range and loot does not have an impeccable record of preventing demonstrations from growing violent or spiraling out of control.
Maryland governor Larry Hogan’s decision to declare a state of emergency in Baltimore suggests that the policy may be over anyway. We’ll see what happens going forward.