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Rawlings-Blake praises Baltimore police's restraint on 'Meet the Press'

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake contrasted her police department's peaceful handling of Occupy Baltimore protesters with the militarized response of police in Ferguson, Mo., where officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd. 

Rawlings-Blake, who has become a recurring guest on the program, appeared on a panel discussing the civil unrest sweeping in the country after police shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was unarmed.

During the discussion, Rawlings-Blake acknowledged that Baltimore police possess military-style equipment, but she said such equipment is only "used for emergencies and emergency preparedness."

"It's very unusual that it would be used against your own citizens. So I don't understand that decision," she said. "There's a sacred bond that the police have with the community. And when it's broken, it has ripple effects in that community and across the country. People don't want their military equipment being used on them when they're just voicing their opinion. So you have to be very careful."

The mayor then praised her police department's handing of the Occupy Baltimore protests, which were held in McKeldin Square in 2011. 

"Baltimore is one of the only cities that was able to break up that encampment without any arrests, or any problems because we were very judicious in the use for force. You have to be. You don't get do-overs with things like that," Rawlings-Blake said.

Baltimore police also handled protests over Brown's death in downtown Baltimore last week without incident. Officers filmed protesters and directed traffic, but didn't escalate tensions or attempt arrests.

While those prostests were handled peacefully, the Baltimore police department is not without its own issues -- from widespread concerns over police brutality to the racial makeup of the department.

Host Andrea Mitchell asked the mayor about why the percentage of African-Americans in the city's police and fire departments is lower than that city's population.

Rawlings-Blake said she's working to increase the number of black officers and firefighters.

"We have members of the community who are now part of the panel when we are putting police officers up for promotion," she said. "So the community has a voice in who responds, who are the first responders in their community. You have to do it on a consistent basis. You can't just show up after something that's happened and think that you're going to have that level of trust that is necessary in a crisis."

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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