It would be easy, and wrong, to assume that Baltimore City and its government are less racially stratified because our political leaders and law enforcement officials have included so many high-ranking black representatives in the last 30 years or so. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is a black woman, as was her predecessor, Mayor Sheila Dixon. Batts is Baltimore City’s seventh black police commissioner. But the similitude in the relationship between Baltimore’s leaders and its residents doesn’t nullify police brutality that runs rampant.
Rawlings-Blake, a lifelong resident of Baltimore, has been vocal about the city’s “broken relationship” with the police in light of Freddie Gray’s death and made public overtures about trying to repair the breach. In February, Rawlings-Blake proposed three bills to the Maryland General Assembly intended to grant Batts greater authority to discipline police accused of misconduct. One bill even sought to create a new felony charge for officers accused of assault. “I want to say that we understand that there is a very small number of officers who don’t deserve to wear the badge, that dishonor the legacy of the hard work of the police department, and we should look for ways together to root those officers out,” she testified. “It could be one incident away from being a Ferguson or a Madison or New York. These are very, very serious issues, and I think we have an opportunity in this time to stand together—law enforcement, elected officials, community members—and say that the status quo is not enough.”
Despite her convincing—and accurate—assessment of the need for police reform, Rawlings-Blake’s proposed bills never made it out of committee. Baltimore police union President Gene Ryan, along with representatives of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and the Maryland Sheriff’s Association, challenged the proposed bills, claiming they would hinder due process for accused members of law enforcement.