In presenting the Justice Department’s negative findings about the Ferguson police department, Eric Holder characterized the violent and lawless response of Ferguson residents to the justified shooting of Michael Brown as an unsurprising reaction to the “highly toxic environment” created by the Ferguson police over the years. But in Baltimore — the un-Ferguson, where the mayor and police chief are Black, and Whites are a minority within the police department — we are now witnessing the same kind of violence and lawlessness as in the allegedly racist Missouri town.
The Baltimore Sun reports:
Violence and looting overtook much of West Baltimore on Monday, seriously injuring several police officers and leaving a store and several vehicles in flames.
At least seven police officers were injured in a clash that began near Mondawmin Mall and spread toward downtown. One officer was unresponsive and others suffered broken bones, police spokesman Capt. Eric Kowalczyk said.
Smoke filled the air as police responded with shields and a tactical vehicle. Demonstrators pelted officers with rocks, bricks and bottles and assaulted a photojournalist, and officers fired back with tear gas and pepper balls.
Demonstrators set a police vehicle ablaze at North and Pennsylvania avenues. Nearby, they looted a CVS drug store, which store officials said had already closed, before it caught fire. Rioters cut the fire hose as firefighters battled the blaze.
If police seemed ill-prepared and ill-equipped to deal with the riots, it’s probably not a coincidence. This weekend, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she told police to give “those who wished to destroy space to do that.”
Liberals and many conservatives like to complain about police “militarization.” But as soon as city authorities realized, as the mayor clearly did, that the protesters of Freddie Gray’s death included “those who wished to destroy,” they should have responded with a massive show of strength — “militarization,” if you will. Instead, the mayor basically gave rioters the green light, thus paving the way for the violence that occurred over the weekend and today.
Protesters should, within reason, have space to protest. They should never have space to destroy.
In fact, once a protest morphs into a rampage of destruction, it ceases to be a protest and becomes a riot. The peaceful protesters seemed to recognize this reality. According to reports, protest leaders have pleaded with rioters to desist. But absent a strong, effective police presence, their pleas were to no avail.
We see, therefore, that strong policing actually promotes protest and the rights of protesters. Weakness encourages the end of protest and the beginning of thuggery.
There is, as Mayor Rawlings-Blake has said, a balance to be struck in policing. It’s plausible to believe that a large scale show of force during the pure protest stage can fuel resentment off of which the violent element can feed. But the absence of a show of force once it becomes clear that things are going to take a violent turn makes rioting almost inevitable. And a statement like the mayor’s that destruction will be tolerated is even worse; it’s an invitation to violence.
The Baltimore rioting has given the lie to Eric Holder’s left-wing Ferguson narrative. Rioting isn’t an understandable reaction to a “toxic” environment created by the police. It’s an opportunistic response by those of a criminal disposition to events that would not, and do not, cause decent people to engage in violence.
The Baltimore rioting also undermines Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s left-wing policing prescription. Violent “protesters” should never be given space to destroy. Instead, a mobilized police force should make it clear at the first hint of trouble that no destruction will be tolerated.