Tuesday’s impressive reaction by Baltimore citizens who live in the same neighborhoods where rioting and looting occurred Monday serves as a reminder why one should never use the same broad brush to paint a portrait of an entire community.
Just hours after hoodlums used the excuse of the controversy surrounding the death of a 25-year-old black man while in police custody to burn vehicles and buildings and steal from neighborhood stores in West Baltimore, East Baltimore and locations downtown, hundreds of volunteers who live in those same communities were out doing what they could to clean up the damage and repair the image of the places they call home.
Young mother Blanca Tapahuasco was among those who were out Tuesday helping clean up a brick-and-pavement courtyard around a looted CVS pharmacy in West Baltimore. “We’re helping the neighborhood build back up,” she told The Associated Press as Maryland state troopers stood guard as she and several other volunteers went about the task of cleaning up the trash and broken glass left behind by the criminals — most of whom probably knew little and cared even less about the circumstances surrounding the death of Freddy Gray, the man who died of a spinal cord injury that apparently occurred while he was under arrest after fleeing police April 12.
While Ms. Tapahuasco and the others working diligently to repair the damage caused by their fellow citizens were photographed and filmed by news organizations Tuesday, those aren’t the images that will remain burned into the minds of most people when they think about Monday’s senseless rioting, the first that has occurred in Baltimore since neighborhoods were burned after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. Rather, most of us will remember the photos and film footage of several black youth stomping a Baltimore Police cruiser while flashing obscene gestures, or the ridiculous-looking thief who was photographed filming Monday’s events with a cell phone as he left the CVS store carrying 24 rolls of stolen toilet paper. And that is too bad because you can bet that for every tissue burglar and bird-flipping car stomper there are scores of good folks who detest the criminal actions of the riotous few.
Among other good folks who deserve praise for speaking their minds after Monday’s rioting, which resulted in 144 vehicle fires, 15 structure fires and nearly 200 arrests, are the late Freddy Gray’s twin sister, Fredericka Gray, who called on rioters to stop the violence. “I think the violence is wrong,” Miss Gray said. “I don’t like it at all.”
Also speaking his piece was CVS store manager Haywood McMorris, who found it hard to believe that some of his neighbors would destroy stores and other businesses that benefit them while in the process jeopardizing the livelihoods of others who live and work in the community. Said Mr. McMorris, “We work here, man. This is where we stand, and this is where people actually make a living.”
Others speaking the truth about the situation were President Obama, who said there was “no excuse” for the violence and labeled the rioters as thieves instead of protesters, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, who said those rioting couldn’t care less about the place in which they live. “The same community they say they care about, they’re destroying,” the mayor said. “You can’t have it both ways. …We worked so hard to get a company like CVS to invest in this neighborhood. This is the only place that so many people have to pick up their prescriptions.”
While an estimated 2,000 National Guardsmen join Baltimore city police and Maryland state police in working to keep the peace, there will be plenty of time to determine whether the rioting might have been prevented if Mayor Rawlings-Blake had asked Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to declare a state of emergency when it became obvious the criminals were going to carry through with their previous threats to riot as soon as funeral services for Freddy Gray were completed.
Meanwhile, as uplifting as the actions of those hundreds of cleanup volunteers were on Tuesday, the day was also dampened by the news that a second Baltimore Orioles home baseball game had to be cancelled because of the rioting, that a third game would be closed to public on Wednesday, and a three-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays that was to begin Friday at Baltimore’s Camden Yards will instead be played in St. Petersburg, Florida.
That the baseball cancellations will more than likely mean a loss of much-needed income to the seasonal workers who live in the burned and looted neighborhoods should help encourage Baltimore officials to heed President Obama’s call to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law the thieves and arsonists who claim to be “protesters.”
On the other hand, the criminal actions committed by the rioters shouldn’t erase that fact that something still must be done — such as the mandatory requirement that all police officers wear a body camera — to address the changes that are needed in the way some police departments continue to operate in poor and minority neighborhoods, rural and urban alike.
There also needs to be an acknowledgment by some that the judicial system — ecouraged, perhaps, by peaceful protests and citizens armed with cell phone video cameras — appears to be getting better at prosecuting rogue police officers who do mistreat people. Among recent instances:
• A wealthy 73-year-old volunteer sheriff’s deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma who said he needs to arrest people “to make me feel good about life” has been indicted on a charge of manslaughter for shooting an unarmed suspect after the deputy claimed he mistook his gun for a Taser.
• A North Charleston, South Carolina police officer has been charged with murder in the recent shooting of an unarmed motorist.
• On Monday, the same day the riots broke out in Baltimore, two Florence, South Carolina, police officers were sentenced to prison for unnecessarily shocking a mentally disabled woman with a Taser at least eight times. One of the convicted officers told co-workers he shocked the handcuffed woman because he “did not want to touch that nasty (obscenity).”
As U.S. District Court Judge Bryan Harwell said during sentencing of the two officers: “This one incident can cause the public to lose respect and overshadow the good work, the hard work, done by thousands of officers every day.”
As true as Judge Harwell’s words are, there is never an excuse for criminals to use such cases to loot and burn.