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Tragedy in Baltimore

I’m a very patriotic fellow, and I grieve when I see things like the recent flag stomping incident at Valdosta State and the riots in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray. This is most disheartening to me. They do not represent the America I love and support. Over the past year, we have seen several ‘police versus minority’ showdowns that have resulted in deaths and subsequent racial unrest. They have occurred in urban areas of St. Louis, New York, Charleston and now Baltimore. Repeatedly, we have seen a ‘rush to judgment.’ This is akin to vigilante justice and lynch mobs of days gone by. They are not the result of the ‘rule of law.’ In fact, they represent lawless disorder. Inevitably, people are hurt and property unjustly destroyed. In last week’s riots, two hundred businesses, nearly all minority owned and many uninsured, were destroyed. Many will not be rebuilt. Most of these incidents are characterized by confrontation between black victims and white cops, but in Baltimore, there is a different dynamic. Half of the six officers charged in the Gray incident are African-American and one of those is a woman. This is not unusual for Baltimore where 60 percent of the residents are black and this racial makeup is reflected in the police force … as it should. A recurring theme in these urban protests is that “Black lives matter.” Of course they do. All lives matter, especially in western society. But the homicide rate in this country for blacks (and in particular, males under the age of 25) is significantly higher than for other ethnic groups. While that is a great tragedy, the vast majority (well over 90 percent) of these homicides are black on black. Most of the responsibility and thus answer to this epidemic lies within the black community. In three of these cases, the community erupted in terribly dangerous and destructive riots, but that didn’t happen in North Charleston, S.C. On the evidence of a ‘home movie’ shot with a telephone camera, the cop in question was promptly arrested and charged with murder for shooting an unarmed and fleeing suspect six times in the back. I call this the “Rodney King effect” after the Los Angeles man who was videotaped in 1991 being beaten by four cops. If “a picture is worth a thousand words,” then a video recording is ten times that value. While there was no video evidence in the case of the Ferguson (a suburb of St. Louis) last summer, there are video recordings of each of the subsequent incidents. As the Charleston case demonstrates, that video will be important in proving the guilt or innocence of the Baltimore cops. One of the hallmarks of the Civil Rights movement in the late 1950s and early 60s was that it was, in the mainstream, non-violent. The religious leaders, led by a young Martin Luther King, Jr., who organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott in late 1955, insisted that the movement be peaceful, similar to the model practiced by Mahatma Gandhi in India a decade earlier. They also wanted their test case to be a model citizen. Dr. King’s organization passed on two women who had dubious reputations before Rosa Parks landed in their lap. Mrs. Parks, who I met in the early 1990s shortly before she died, was the perfect sympathetic case to anchor the movement. So, the protests in St. Louis, New York and Baltimore differ in two important respects from the Civil Rights movement six decades ago: they are violent and the victims (Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray) lived (and died) on the edge of the law. Normally, I am not a pro-union advocate, but in this case, the police officer’s union will play an important and vital role. The six officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray will receive excellent legal representation, far better than they could normally afford. They have been charged with criminal acts by the state’s attorney (whose statement appears more political than legal) and not a grand jury. While my crystal ball is a little hazy, I predict that when the evidence is presented in court to a dozen impartial jurors, the charges will be drastically reduced and some will be acquitted. Baltimore is a bastion of liberalism. It has been politically controlled by Democrats and minorities for decades and has made Maryland a very ‘blue’ state. More than 20 percent of Baltimore’s employment is by some form of government. The mayor, Stephanie Rollins-Blake, clearly demonstrated in her statements that she is over-her-head with the turmoil that has racked her city. I suspect that as a new mayor, she had not exercised contingency planning for events like these. That was clearly a mistake.

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