With violence against police and looting spiraling out of control in Baltimore, a lot of attention is being given to comments made by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake over the weekend.
Here is video of the controversial part of what the Mayor said:
The Mayor’s statement that “we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that” is being taken by some as a statement of intent. In fact, when you look at the full context, it’s clear the Mayor meant something different (though it’s also true she didn’t say it very clearly). Here’s the full text of the statement:
I’ve made it very clear that I work with the police and instructed them to do everything that they could to make sure that the protesters were able to exercise their right to free speech. It’s a very delicate balancing act, because, while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well. And we worked very hard to keep that balance and to put ourselves in the best position to deescalate, and that’s what you saw.
In other words, the Mayor was saying she gave instructions to the police to ensure protesters could exercise their “right to free speech.” She goes on to say that in creating that space she also, inadvertently, “gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”
In a statement released today, Howard Libit, Baltimore’s Director of Strategic Planning and Policy, asserted, “there was an effort to give the peaceful demonstrators room to conduct their peaceful protests on Saturday. Unfortunately, as a result of providing the peaceful demonstrators with the space to share their message, that also meant that those seeking to incite violence also had the space to operate.” That, or something like it, is what the Mayor should have said in the first place.
Even reading the Mayor’s statement in the context she desires does not excuse her from responsibility for the decisions she made. Looking at the daytime riots taking place in Baltimore today, where at least 7 police officers have been injured thus far, it’s reasonable to ask if the Mayor struck the right balance between freedom to protest and community safety.