The family of Freddie Gray found itself in an almost unimaginable position yesterday. They had to bury the young man who had his spine snapped while in police custody, and at the same time found themselves under the media spotlight because of the violence that broke out across Baltimore, supposedly in their name. All of them made an appearance after the funeral to tell their community to pay respects to the dead, rather than run riot for their own purposes. “I am really appalled,” Gray’s stepfather said about “all the violence” that erupted:
There is certainly genuine anger in Baltimore over the circumstances of Gray’s death, and there have been peaceful protests over it. As in other cases, though, people with other agendas eventually show up and co-opt the proximate cause for their own. It’s such a predictable consequence that it’s stunning that Baltimore’s police and political leadership found themselves caught flat-footed by it.
Baltimore mayor may have misspoken when she said that she wanted to give some space to those who wished to “destroy,” when she almost certainly meant “demonstrate,” but in effect that is exactly what Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did. The police tried to take a more passive defense posture in a show of humility, but all that does is encourage provocateurs to enter the mix. We’ve seen it time after time, especially of late. When the violence first starts, the response has to be immediate and overwhelming, pour encourager les autres, to disincentivize the malefactors to the greatest extent possible. Pulling back and showing restraint is like waving a red cape in front of a bull in a potential riot situation.
Former governor Martin O’Malley tried to use the soft approach:
O’MALLEY: I’m saddened that the city I love is in such pain this night. All of us share a profound feeling of grief for Freddie Gray and his family. We must come together as one City to transform this moment of loss and pain into a safer and more just future for all of Baltimore’s people.
That angered Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, who accused O’Malley of something like the soft bigotry of low expectations:
http://t.co/9lxFF8YvkP I am tired of this mealy-mouth crap from politicians. They cause the conditions for a permanent underclass in America
— David A. Clarke, Jr. (@SheriffClarke) April 28, 2015
There is a time for reaching out to call for unity and a look to the future. When a riot threatens, though, the message from the political structure of the community has to focus on the present, and make an impression that rioting will not be a no-risk venture. When the personal consequences of rioting rise high enough, rioting will stop becoming a normal method of social expression — and that goes especially for the nonsense sporting-event riots that we’ve insanely tolerated for years.