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The Mayor's Juggling Act On Black Violence and Police Reform

P. Kenneth Burns


In the span of 24 hours, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called for an end to homicides in the African-American community and supported holding police more accountable.  At the same time, some criticized the mayor over her call to action and questioned how serious she is about police accountability.

During her State of the City address Monday, she called on community leaders to make a difference in the lives of young African-American men.

A forum to discuss the issue further is scheduled to take place March 24 at the Empowerment Temple A.M.E. Church in Northwest Baltimore, according to the mayor's office.

She said the outrage over the 189 black men killed in the city in 2014 should be just as great as that over police misconduct.

But the Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore City chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, found fault in her words.

"When we look at the State of the City address that the mayor gave the other day,” he said, “it did not appear as if though she is just as dedicated to ending police brutality as she was in ending -quote- black on black crime."

Witherspoon argued the mayor's language in her address came across not only as blaming the black community, but showed she does not understand black-on-black crime.

"Baltimore City is a predominantly African-American city,” he said. “If you go to a city where there is a majority of a certain ethnic group, you're going to have crime centered around the particular ethnic group."

The mayor said during her weekly news conference Wednesday that her record runs  counter to what Witherspoon and other critics say.

"I did the best I could to use language that convey my heart," she said. “And my heart is in a place that is desperately seeking something different for our community."

Rawlings-Blake testified Tuesday on her bill to modify the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights before a House committee in Annapolis.  She's proposing to remove the right to a police trial board hearing for an officer who is found guilty of a misdemeanor that is punishable by at least a year in jail.

Last February, she released recommendations for a police body camera program from a work group she appointed.

Councilman Brandon Scott is pleased with what the mayor said and adds that the issue is personal for him.

"As a young black man in the city, naturally, I'm going to be more concerned about these young men who I can see myself in; I know what they're going through because I lived it," he said.

Scott, who represents parts of Northeast Baltimore, grew up in Northwest Baltimore when the city was more violent.  Away from City Hall, he mentors youth and serves as an athletics coach.

He adds critics are oversimplifying the mayor's comments.

"She knows there's systemic issues but at the same time, she knows there are other issues; cultural issues in our neighborhoods.  Things we can be doing ourselves to improve and get away from that violence."