Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's spokesman said Thursday that city officials should engage gang members if they are offering "a genuine effort to make peace."
The mayor would examine information they claim to possess that discredits what police described as a "credible threat" that gangs were unifying to target officers, spokesman Kevin Harris added.
Local ministers and City Council members have praised gang members for helping to quell unrest in neighborhoods hit with protests over Freddie Gray's death.
Political observers said they understood why elected officials would engage with gangs during a time of crisis.
But the head of the Maryland Republican Party said it was "disgraceful" that city leaders publicly sided with gangs over police.
"It's a slap in the face of the police," JoeCluster, executive director of theMarylandRepublicanParty, said.
On Monday — before protests over Freddie Gray's death turned violent — the Baltimore Police Department issued a public advisory that members of the Bloods, Crips and Black Guerrilla Family gangs had unified to "take out" officers. Later that night and on Tuesday, ministers and City Council members appeared in news conferences with gang members to say the police invented the threat and that gangs were actually helping to quell the violence.
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and other council members appeared with two members of the Bloods gang in City Hall to praise them for their efforts at helping to quell riots Monday night.
Young said it was "clear that the notion [gangs] were planning on harming our police officers is false and simply deterred the resources we needed to focus on the individuals who instigated these riots. I applaud theseyoungmen for standing here and speaking out for ourcity."
While some gang experts also doubted the police department's threat assessment, they were surprised that religious and elected officials would appear publicly with gangs to say the police department threat advisory was not true. Such exposure, they said, only lends gangs more credibility and power.
But they also said in a time of crisis, it could be understandable.
Harris said Thursday that the mayor would be open to a similar meeting.
"We would have met with them, too, even if we don't agree" with gang activity, Harris said. "We don't dispute what the police said. Maybe there was a mistake on our end, but to our knowledge there wasn't. If they would share [information] with us it's something we would look into."
Harris added, "That engagement might spark a conversation that helps them make different decisions with their lives. You can't turn down the opportunity to engage folks. Those are exactly the types of people we should engage."
Todd Eberly, chairman of the political science department at St. Mary's College, said the religious and elected officials appeared to be "stroking" the egos of gang members in an attempt to "make sure that gang members were cooperating" to help keep the peace.
"Situations like this create strange bedfellows," Eberly said. "Certainly at any other time you're not going to see elected officials standing side by side with gang members and saying that they take the word of gang members over the police."
However, Eberly added, "politically it's perfectly acceptable for [elected officials] not to speak well of the police. They're not going to lose any points for not siding with the police right now."
Cluster, of theMarylandRepublicanParty, said it was a "joke" that elected officials and the mayor would take such a posture considering that one of the gangs, the Black Guerrilla Family, was the subject of multiple federal criminal indictments for infiltrating the Baltimore City Detention Center.
Cluster also said the mayor's attitude toward gangs — coming while she is in charge of the police department — was "double talk" on par with her backing away from saying "thugs" were responsible for Monday night's looting on.
"It's a slap in the face of the police," Cluster said. "This administration in the city has not done anything to engender any loyalty from the police over the last 10 days. I'm disappointed that they would give gang members the time of day and believe them over the police department."