WASHINGTON -- Former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, who is considering a run for president, said Thursday that the violence that took place in his hometown this week stems from deeper societal and economic issues in neglected neighborhoods, not just policing.
To drive the point home, O'Malley restated it three times.
"Make no mistake about it, the anger that we have seen in Ferguson, in Cleveland, in Staten Island, in North Charleston, and in the flames of Baltimore is not just about policing," the former Baltimore mayor wrote in a Huffington Post piece.
"It is about the legacy of race that would have us devalue black lives -- whether their death is caused by a police officer or at the hand of another young black man," he wrote.
"This is not just about policing in America," he adds. "This is about everything it is supposed to mean to be an American."
O'Malley, offering his most extensive remarks on the situation in Baltimore since Freddie Gray's death, pointed to declining wages and "the lie that we make of the American Dream when we put the needs of the most powerful wealthy few ahead of the well-being of our nation's many" as underlying causes of the tensions in Baltimore.
In that sense, his thoughts were similar to those offered in recent days by President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who is seeking the nomination.
By noting that it's not "just" about the policing, O'Malley tacitly acknowledges that policing -- or at least police strategy handed down by elected leaders -- is what it's partly about. Yet his piece makes no mention of the debate that has reappeared in recent days about his own policing strategy as the city's mayor from the end of 1999 to January 2007 -- when thousands of people were picked up and arrested for small offenses, many never prosecuted.
The effort led to a large drop in violent crime, a fact O'Malley regularly points out on the campaign trail. Baltimore's total incidents of crime -- measured by the FBI as violent and property crimes -- declined 43 percent from 2000 to 2010.
That was the largest reduction of any major city in the country.
But the "zero tolerance" strategy angered some in the community, and led to a lawsuit by the NAACP and the ACLU that City Hall settled in 2010, when O'Malley had left Baltimore for Annapolis. Some, such as David Simon, suggest the tougher policing O'Malley ushered in led to the alienation and distrust that was on full display in Baltimore this week.
"The drug war began it, certainly, but the stake through the heart of police procedure in Baltimore was Martin O'Malley," Simon, a longtime O'Malley critic, argued in an interview with The Marshall Project. "He destroyed police work in some real respects."
The issue came to a head again last fall, when Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration issued a report arguing that the O'Malley years "ignited a rift between the citizens and the police, which still exists today."
A year earlier, in 2013, O'Malley said he was concerned arrest rates were falling as violent crime increased. The then-governor pointed out that "half as many offenders were being arrested now, compared to ten years ago, and the city is now seeing drive-by shootings in broad daylight," according to the minutes of a meeting he attended at the time.
The Rawlings-Blake report offered no hard evidence to back up the claim of a rift caused by O'Malley. His supporters have long argued that his policing strategy was debated endlessly through three elections. O'Malley won all three, receiving overwhelming support from African-American communities.
"In all my years as mayor I never had one community leader ever ask for less of a police presence in their neighborhood," O’Malley said on Wednesday when asked about his police strategy.
"Every mayor in his or her time does their very best to get the balance right, to save as many lives as possible.”