SOON AFTER the rioting in Baltimore ended in late April, the world’s media turned their gaze elsewhere. Then, as a petulant police force retreated to its station houses, the real carnage began.
May was the most lethal month in the city in more than 40 years; in per capita terms, it may have been the bloodiest month since recordkeeping began.
There were 43 victims of homicide in the city last month, the most since August 1972, when Baltimore ’s population, now 600,000, was about 900,000. In addition, there were 108 nonfatal shootings in May, nearly triple the number recorded the same month last year. Over the three-day Memorial Day weekend alone, the city recorded 32 shootings and nine homicides.
As Baltimore’s streets succumb to the wave of carnage, the police have simply withdrawn, by many accounts. Harassed, hooted at and openly hated in the wake of the arrest of Freddie Gray, whose death in custody triggered the rioting in April, uniformed officers seem to have decided not to do their jobs.
Arrests, already down from 2014 levels before the rioting, have plummeted by more than 50 percent since then. Community leaders in Sandtown — the area where Mr. Gray was arrested — say there is a deliberate effort on the police department’s part to vacate the streets and see how the community likes it.
On Fox News, one officer, his face and voice obscured, explained the cops’ “reasoning.” “After the protests, it seems like the citizens would appreciate a lack of police presence, and that’s exactly what they’re getting,” he said. He went on to blame the city’s leadership for not having officers’ backs and prosecutors for indicting the six police officers in whose custody Mr. Gray was fatally injured.
If the police are determined to degrade their already poisonous relations with the city’s mainly African American communities, they have hit upon an effective strategy. Peevishness seems to have supplanted all sense of duty.
Even Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts has acknowledged his officers have felt confused and unsupported following the charges filed against the six officers. Implicitly acknowledging the slowdown underway, he said he has asked officers to maintain a “visible and consistent presence” in the city’s neighborhoods.
At the same time, there is no sign that city or state officials are devising any sort of strategy to lift Baltimore from its spiraling sense of despair.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R), having spent a week in Baltimore following the riots, has had little to say about the city since then beyond his insistence on the restoration of public order.
Hogan administration officials say that Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., an African American and a Democrat from Baltimore who is an aide to the governor, will offer recommendations to promote jobs and opportunity in the city. So far there is no indication of how and when that may happen.
Baltimore must not be allowed to spiral into further despair and violence. Just as the city deserves responsible, proactive policing, it deserves strategic, forward-thinking governance from city and state leaders. Failing that, Baltimore’s failure will become their own.
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