The 2015 Baltimore Riots Accomplished Nothing

The Washington Examiner

Reminder: The 2015 Baltimore riots accomplished nothing
by George W. Liebmann | July 02, 2020 12:00 AM

The precursor to the recent demonstrations, in America and throughout the world, were the Baltimore riots, mostly by young black people, that the nation watched on television in 2015.

The immediate cause of the Baltimore disturbances was the hyping, by Baltimore’s monopoly newspaper, the Baltimore Sun, of the death of Freddy Gray, a small-time drug dealer with a long record, in police custody. This was described by the Baltimore Sun as a “killing.” It was represented that police had no basis to stop Gray in the first place, even though he had fled at their approach, which the Supreme Court had previously deemed a sufficient basis for an investigative stop.

It was popularly represented that Gray received a “rough ride” in a police vehicle at the hands of the arresting officers, most of whom were black. This version of events was not corroborated by Gray’s fellow passenger, nor did it survive four trials, two federal investigations by different administrations, and several administrative hearings.

The local and national press largely passed over in silence the disconcerting fact that this spontaneous supposed “uprising” was accompanied by the systematic looting of almost all of Baltimore’s inner-city pharmacies.

After five years, we have the distance and the hindsight to inspect the political fruits of those disturbances. One of them was almost certainly the election of Donald Trump. His narrow majorities in key Northern states owed much to the reawakening of the memories of 1968.

A second consequence was a consent decree, entered into by the lame-duck Obama presidential and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake mayoral administrations. It systematically nullified large swathes of the Maryland criminal code and blocked many investigative stops. It prevented the use of techniques that had dramatically reduced the homicide rate in New York and Los Angeles and which are increasingly being used in England.

Once again, a desired narrative was allowed to displace facts. The Justice Department report on which the decree was based was unsigned by its authors. It collected anecdotes about long-past practices that had been restricted by Baltimore’s last two police commissioners. It so drastically limited proactive policing that Baltimore’s homicide tally rose from 200 in 2014 to 350 in each of the last five years ?— 750 mostly black lives that evidently don’t matter to the apologists for Black Lives Matter.

Baltimore’s consent decree was effectively a gift to the drug gangs, the role of which in convulsing our inner cities has played little part in discussions of recent developments. The overwhelming majority of Baltimore homicides involve the enforcement of contracts involving illegal drugs and the ensuing vigilantism and revenge killings.

The recent national and international disturbances at least owe their origin to an unambiguously established outrage, albeit one of a sort increasingly rare. They are less political than recreational in nature, a biracial celebration of liberation from quarantines and also an expression of grievance less about police brutality and more about youth unemployment and the closing of schools.

The Baltimore disturbances produced virtually no positive legacy. Nothing has been done about youth unemployment or about the drug war or about the power of the public employee unions in the police and the schools. The city has since suffered accelerated shrinkage of its population and tax base. The laws obtained by the education lobbies exclude 90% of college graduates from the teaching workforce and gravely impair both student and faculty discipline.

The current national agitation and the political responses to it, especially by the Democratic politicians, promise only marginal improvements in police discipline at the expense of police morale and recruiting and an ominous expansion of national government power, which can be misused as well as used.

Once again, no real change is being proposed in youth employment or in the drug war or in public employee unionism.

When the cowardly forelock-pulling and monument-razing of corporate executives and college presidents are stripped away and the “Kumbaya” moment passes, the judgment on the current era will be that passed by historian John Taft on the student disturbances of 1968: “The ‘marginal elements’ that dominated American campuses in the sixties were often inspired by a sense of decency and compassion. But no movement succeeds because of the virtue of its motives. In action, student radicals exhibited so much self-indulgent intolerance that their reforms were transitory, their allies were estranged, and their entire generation was diminished.”

George Liebmann, a Baltimore lawyer, is the author of various works on law and history, most recently America’s Political Inventors.

Posted in: Criminal Justice, Culture Wars, Drugs, Education, Judiciary and Legal Issues, State and Local Politics, Urban Affairs, Welfare and Other Social

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