As the media often inaccurately portrayed the events in May which occurred in Baltimore following the arrest of 6 officers for the homicide of Freddie Gray, as a former Baltimore prosecutor, I would like to set the record straight. The overall general perception displayed on air in May was the entire City of Baltimore was ablaze during the looting and civil unrest. Next the media portrayed a police force afraid of being charged by the State’s Attorney and arrested for doing their jobs. With the greatly increased homicide rate in May, the perception is the police are at a loss for answers.
First, most of the City of Baltimore experienced little fallout from the looting and civil unrest. Looting and fires were limited to a very small area of the city of Baltimore. Hours on end on cable TV showing footage of the events following Freddie Gray’s funeral and the following days depicted an entire city out of control. In fact, the area in which the looting, protests, and civil disturbance occurred was a very small area of the entire city amounting to probably less than two miles in total. Those participating in the looting and unrest were travelling on foot—diminishing the areas affected. The Mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings Blake, did not help the media’s depiction as she was shown on at least one network giving out food and water—stating that her people couldn’t get to grocery stores. While that was true as it pertained to residents living in the limited impacted area that did not have vehicles or access to vehicles, it did not apply to the entire city. Many lower socioeconomic communities in Baltimore and elsewhere are limited by the radius of their community when they do not have access to transportation other than public transportation.
After the unrest ended and the charging of the six police officers, an increase in homicides occurred making May, 2015, the worst monthly record in homicides in 40 years. The misconception is that the City of Baltimore is spiraling out of control and the police are at a loss for a solution. In reality, the Baltimore police are a large part of the problem. With homicides substantially increasing, there was also a parallel, by some estimates, 50% decrease in arrests. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the two are related. Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts went on air stating that the increased homicides are related to the looting of pharmacies and taking prescription drugs. Batts also stated the activity is related to gangs. However, the Police Commissioner felt his men and women in blue were doing their jobs properly. The misconception is the failure to recognize that there is a work slowdown among Baltimore police. Residents in the Western District are stating the police went from excessive police presence to almost zero presence after the six officers were charged. It’s as if the police are saying if they cannot be warriors in the community, they will not protect the community. The likely unfortunate reality is many police probably do not want to protect and serve the residents of Sandtown and the surrounding West Baltimore community.
The other misconceptions are that Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has some ax to grind with the Baltimore Police and should be removed from the case due to multiple conflicts. It is ironic that some media portrayed a possible conflict with Mosby for doing her job while failing to acknowledge that the police failed to do their job after the charges were announced on May 1. While Mosby is doing her job by seeking justice in the case of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore Police have, according to many Sandtown residents, neglected to do their job. Many media outlets place emphasis on the fear of the police being arrested, as stated by Gene Ryan, President of the local Fraternal Order of Police. Mosby is at a disadvantage in terms of media perception as she refuses to try the case in the media. So what is often being reported and portrayed in the media is a misconception of Mosby having multiple conflicts of interest, being at odds with the police, while the police are portrayed as bystanders afraid of being arrested and jailed by Mosby in a city winding out of control.
The events in Baltimore will continue to unfold as there are many pending legal motions filed by both sides in the murder case of Freddie Gray. My wish is the media will investigate and accurately portray the events that occur in Baltimore as the case unfolds.
Post Script: If you have a perception of Baltimore from the media, please share in the comments. I will set the record straight.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore City prosecutor. She appears on Al Jazeera America, MSNBC, BET, C-Span, PBS, CCTV- America, Fox 5 (WTTG), NPR and RT America among others, speaking on legal news and issues.