The mayor of Baltimore took umbrage at the suggestion that her “space to destroy” comment left the door open for the riots that broke out in her city today.
After the first signs of violence with smashed windows and a looted convenience store Saturday night, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she “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,” she continued. “Because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and 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 de-escalate.”
Five hours after the riots began Monday, Rawlings-Blake emerged at a press conference to call the latest developments “very disturbing.”
But she seemed equally disturbed at the media.
Rawlings-Blake criticized the “blatant mischaracterization” of her Saturday quotes by reporters, charging that it “was not helpful today.”
“I was asked a question about the property damage that was done, and in answering that question I made it very clear that we balance a very line between giving protesters — peaceful protesters — space to protest. What I said is, in doing so, people can hijack that and use that space for bad. I did not say that we were accepting of it, I did not say that we were passive to it, I was just explaining how property damage can happen during a peaceful protest. It is very unfortunate that members of your industry decided to mischaracterize my words and try to use it in a way to say we were inciting violence. There’s no such thing,” she said.
“What we did was manage a peaceful protest in the best way possible and when it got violent and destructive we responded to that. We have an obligation to protect people’s First Amendment rights. We also understand through the best training and best practices that we have to do everything we can to de-escalate, and those were the tactics that were deployed yesterday. Did people exploit those tactics or that space that we gave, that we facilitated to have people protest for bad? Yes, they did. But we didn’t endorse it.”
Asked if the “de-escalation strategy” was a mistake, the mayor paused and replied, “Any other questions?”
Rawlings-Blake said there is a “very clear difference” between “what we saw over last week with peaceful protest, those who seek justice, those who want to be heard and seek answers … and the thugs who only want to incite violence and destroy our city.”
“We’re deploying every resource possible to gain control of the situation and to ensure peace moving forward.”
She said she contacted Gov. Larry Hogan to request the National Guard. “As soon as they are available they will be immediately deployed,” she added.
At his own press conference later, Hogan noted, “When the mayor called me, which quite frankly we were glad that she finally did, instantly we signed the executive order.”
Maryland is now in a state of emergency. A 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will be in effect starting tomorrow in Baltimore for at least one week, with exceptions for people going to work and medical emergencies.
Several police officers and journalists have been injured in the riots. Looters burned down a CVS drugstore and torched a 60-unit senior living complex and activity center that was under construction at a Southern Baptist church.
“These malicious attacks against law enforcement and local communities only betray the cause of peaceful citizens seeking answers and justice following the death of Freddie Gray,” Hogan said.
The Gray family had asked for no protests of any kind today as the 25-year-old, whose spine was severed while in police custody, was remembered at a memorial service.
Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. Young, at the mayor’s press conference, said he was “saddened” that media have been “focusing on the negativity of this city and not looking at the great things that are going on in this city.”
“We have young people who are out there protesting peacefully, but you’re not focusing on them. You’re focusing on those that are burning down buildings and rioting throughout the streets of Baltimore,” Young said, accusing “people not even connected to the community” of committing the rioting.
Councilman Brandon Scott stepped to the microphone and declared, “I’m not gonna be as nice as everyone else. I am simply pissed off. This is the city that I love, this is the city that I chose to dedicate my life to. And we cannot stand idly as thugs, whatever you want call them… we’ll just call them cowards, burn our city.”
“If you are an adult, and you are out there participating in this, you are ruining the future for these young people. And I’m calling on every able man and woman who wants to stand up, get out there and get in between these folks… Get out there and stand tall and stand up for your neighborhood,” Scott said.
“Adults have to step up and take control of our children and take control of our future.”
The White House said President Obama spoke with Rawlings-Blake on Monday. “The Mayor updated the President on efforts to address the demonstrations and maintain peace throughout the city,” the administration said in a readout of the phone call. “The President highlighted the Administration’s commitment to provide assistance as needed and will continue to receive updates on the situation from Attorney General Lynch and White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. Jarrett also spoke with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan today.”
Lynch “assured the President that she would continue to monitor events in Baltimore and that the Department of Justice stands ready to provide any assistance that might be helpful there.”
“Violence is unacceptable no matter who does it. Vandalism is unacceptable no matter who does it,” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said. “…It’s time for calm. It’s time for the kids to go home. It’s time to remember the vast majority of Baltimore’s citizens are law abiding.”