Gov. Larry Hogan paid a visit Wednesday to the West Baltimore neighborhood where a police arrest started the chain of events that led to rioting, shooting hoops with residents and meeting with NAACP officials.
The governor's late morning tour of Sandtown-Winchester came within blocks of the site where Baltimore police chased down Freddie Gray and put him -- handcuffed and complaining of breathing difficulties -- in the back of a police van without restraints. Gray died a week later of spinal injuries, sparking the protests and violence that brought the governor to the neighborhood Wednesday.
At the NAACP's satellite office on Gilmor Street, Hogan was briefed by the civil rights organization's city and state presidents on the economic woes and long history of conflict between police and the African-American residents of the neighborhood.
Baltimore NAACP President Tessa Hill-Aston said she didn't know what Gray was thinking when he ran away from police, but said staying still might not have spared him.
"This neighborhood has been known for the police to just pick [you up] and throw you in the car, take you around the corner, beat you . . . and jump you up on the [police] trucks," she said.
Hogan, a Republican who received only 22 percent of the vote in the heavily Democratic city, promised the meeting would be just "the beginning of a dialog."
"We're going to address the underlying causes and there's going to be a lot of time for that,"Hogan said. "Right now we're going to deal with the crisis."
As the NAACP officials walked with Hogan from a neighborhood basketball court to their office, Hill-Aston expressed concern that a planned protest Saturday could bring a return of the violence that wracked the city last Saturday and Monday but tapered off Tuesday.
"When people are angry, you don't need some leaders to provoke," Hill-Aston said.
Hogan expressed some of the same concerns earlier Wednesday at a briefing at the state's command post in a parking lot at the Camden Yards stadium complex. He reported a sharp drop-off in violent incidents Tuesday and praised the city's performance in enforcing the curfew that went into effect at 10 p.m. that night.
The governor also while also emphasized the key support role of the National Guard troops he activated after rioting broke out Monday. He said that when city police became targets of thrown objects Tuesday night, "we rushed in 40 Humvees" to support them
"It was a terrific night. We're still vigilant," Hogan said. "The city police did a great job."
Hogan, who had previously seemed to be at odds with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake over the timing of her call for state assistance Monday, had nothing but praise for her Tuesday.
"We're all co-operating. We're all a team," he said."
The governor said that while he was optimistic the state and city had reached a "turning point," he still has concerns about Friday, when police are expected to disclose further information on how Gray died, and Saturday. He said he did not know when the state of emergency he declared Monday will end.
"We're not going to rest until we get through the weekend," he said.
With Oriole Park in the background, Hogan was asked about the baseball team's plans to play a home game against the Chicago White Sox a few hours later with no spectators permitted. Hogan said that was a decision made by Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, but the governor expressed relief that thousands of people wouldn't be pouring into the area with the command post there.
"Keeping the crowd out of here this morning was a smart move," Hogan said.
After the NAACP meeting, Hill-Alston expressed satisfaction with Hogan's outreach to the civil rights group, praising him for taking the initiative.
On his way to the meeting, Hogan stopped off at a local playground and shot some basketballs with several young men from the community.
Desmond Edmonds, 23, said he's never played hoops with a governor before. "It was pretty good -- a new experience," Edmonds said. "He can shoot."