Martin O'Malley Returns To Baltimore Amidst Riots & Issues A Message Of Unity
Amidst the tenuous atmosphere in Baltimore, Maryland, former Gov. Martin O'Malley issued a message of unity to residents on Tuesday as the city attempted to rebuild after an evening of destructive riots. Cutting short a trip to Dublin, Ireland, and London, England, the likely 2016 presidential candidate immediately reached out to community leaders, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and local clergy members to extend his assistance where it was needed. Already, however, some have criticized the former governor for indirectly contributing to the elevated police presence that cracked down on protesters Monday night.
"I'm saddened that the City I love is in such pain this night," said O'Malley in a statement meant to calm the masses after the funeral of black Baltimore resident Freddie Grey, who died in police custody on April 19. "All of us share a profound feeling of grief [and] we must come together as one City to transform this moment of loss and pain into a safer and more just future for all of Baltimore's people."
But O'Malley's diplomatic resolve wasn't so well received in certain camps. "It sure isn’t going to help him [in his prospective 2016 campaign]," staunch critic Gene Raynor told The Washington Post on Tuesday, speaking of the former Baltimore mayor's aggressive crime-fighting measures in the early 2000s. "I think [these riots] do reflect on him."
According to the Post, O'Malley has described Baltimore in early campaign stops as that of a once "down-on-its-luck" city that was turned around under his tenure as city mayor. O'Malley also "trumpeted progress made during his tenure, including a steep drop in violent crime, which is attributed in part to a zero-tolerance approach that led to a sharp increase in arrests," reported the paper.
But that same fanfaronade might not get him very far in the public eye if the current climate of fear continues its march. Despite current Baltimore Mayor Rawlings-Blake's request for increased accountability in local law enforcement back in January, the longstanding distrust between police and citizens continues to grow.
"Over the years, we have had a number of incidents that have tarnished this badge and the reputation of this department," said Police Commissioner Anthony Batts in a comment to The New York Times on Friday. Batts indicated that he had reduced police brutality and instituted more improved training techniques for recruits since taking over the position in 2012, adding that he had also fired more than 50 officers who did not comply with new regulations. It was a change of direction since the days of O'Malley's mayorship to be sure, but was it enough?
On Tuesday, during an episode of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Republican National Committee chairman Michael S. Steele claimed that O'Malley, despite his good intentions, had been a key player in the heavy-handed backlash over the weekend. "All these tensions have been building and simmering for some time," said Steele. "The trigger, obviously, is the death of Freddie Gray, but there’s systemic issues there."
For O'Malley, who likely understood the forces behind the converging riots and demonstrations over the weekend, the best thing to do was to offer an olive branch — a silent apology and a push toward stronger future relations in the hopes that the rest of the nation might forget his alleged past mistakes.
"In the coming days, he will be doing what he can to raise awareness about volunteer opportunities," O'Malley's spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. "[He will be] participating in the healing process with the people of Baltimore."
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