National Press Club

Baltimore Mayor: Cities Can Learn Lessons From Riots

October 7, 2015 | By Justin Duckham | justinjduckham@gmail.com

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told a luncheon at the National Press Club on Oct. 7 that other cities can take a page from the high profile riots that consumed the Maryland city earlier this year, particularly when its comes to the relationship between the police and their communities.

“I’ve been pleased that we’ve had the lessons learned to help prepare not just Baltimore’s police department but police departments throughout the country to understand that the tactics are different, that the strategies for how we deal with them are different,” Rawlings-Blake said.

Rawlings-Blake entered the national spotlight amid the city’s unrest, which was sparked by the death of Freddy Gray, a 25 year old black man, in police custody.

When the smoke cleared and a relative sense of normalcy returned, nearly 500 people were arrested and over 100 officers were injured.

While comparing the tense relationship between the police and her city’s residents to a “powder keg,” Rawlings-Blake was quick to emphasize that the riots did not occur from simple neglect.

“The mayors across the country have watched the work that I’ve done pushing for reform in the police department, mayors across the country have watched me vote for a more level playing field holding officers that have been accused or have been found guilty of wrongdoing accountable,” Rawlings-Blake explained. “Despite all of those efforts, we still had riots, we still had protests.”

As Baltimore continues to recover from the riots’ damage, Rawlings-Blake, who announced last month that she would not run for reelection said that continuing to mend the relationship between law enforcement and her constituents will be a key focus during the remainder of her final term.

"The police and the community are married. It can be a healthy marriage, or it can be a bad one,” Rawlings-Blake said.

In particular, Rawlings-Blake said that she is focusing on developing a system for body cameras that works to simultaneously ensure proper conduct for police officers and protect the right to privacy for those who interact with the authorities.

Still, Rawlings-Blake acknowledged that the issues facing Baltimore are far-reaching, noting that they will take “years” to fix.

"The aftermath points to deeper underlying issues, like lack of jobs, housing challenges, education and disparities in opportunity,” Rawlings-Blake said.

Despite the heavy toll that the riots took on the city and the lingering uncertainty surrounding the fate of the six police officers charged with Gray’s death, Rawlings-Blake was able to point to a small silver lining emerging from the turmoil.

"Frustrations we've seen in the community. We've been living with it for decades,” Rawlings-Blake. The difference is, now there's hope."

Rawlings-Blake appeared at the Press Club in her capacity at the President of the United States Conference of Mayors. The remarks followed the release of Compact for a Better America: A 2016 Call to Action, a proposal urging lawmakers at the federal level to focus on policies that would benefit those living in U.S. cities.