Baltimore mayor bringing confusion to TV conversation on Freddie Gray

The week is only half over, but already it's been a bad one for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in terms of her media messaging on the death of Freddie Gray.

A pattern of confusion and misinformation appears to be setting in with the mayor's appearances on cable and network TV.


At her worst, in TV terms, Rawlings-Blake comes off as defensive and sounding like someone who is running for office rather than a leader focused on getting a community through a very tough time.

The trouble started early Monday with an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" in which Rawlings-Blake was asked about her position on police body cameras by Mark Halperin, co-author of the election books "Game Change" and "Double Down" and now co-managing-editor of Bloomberg Politics.


"I understand you've not always been a supporter of having body cameras on your police," Halperin said. "Why not, and should that happen now in the wake of this?"

"Well, I think you have absolutely incorrect information," she replied with visible agitation. "I've been a proponent of body cameras. In fact, I've talked about it on this show. However, I have been a proponent of getting it right.'"

What they are referring to is a dispute in October in which Rawlings-Blake vowed to veto a bill City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young was pushing to put body cameras on Baltimore police. She said more study was needed before she would allow the city to spend the money to buy the cameras.

"Mayor, with all due respect, I understand you support it in the abstract, but it has not been implemented yet," Halperin said. "I understand it has to be studied, but in the wake of this ..."

"No," she said interrupting him, "it's not a study. We had a study, the RFP [request for proposal] is about to go out and we'll implement the program this week. So, with all due respect, my record is clear."

"So, how long will it be before officers in your city will have body cameras?" Halperin asked.

"Again, my track record is very clear ... ."

And so it went -- until Monday afternoon when Kevin Harris, a spokesman for the mayor, said his boss misspoke on "Morning Joe" and that the city is working to launch a pilot program later this year for police to test out different equipment.

Not only did she look thin-skinned in the ways she interacted with Halperin, but what she said was factually incorrect. The truth is she doesn't know when -- or, technically even, if -- Baltimore police will have body cameras.

And that's what matters: the police getting body cameras -- not what her record was in a political spat last fall.

Then on Tuesday night under questioning from CNN's Anderson Cooper, the mayor said the reason she and the city don't have more facts on Gray's death was their inability to talk to the six officers involved in the arrest.

She  pointed a finger of blame at the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights and stressed how hard she has fought in Annapolis to get it changed so that it is more balanced between police and citizen rights.


"The officers who were directly involved because of our Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, we have yet to fully engage those officers, and we will get to the bottom of it," she said.

"I was in Annapolis fighting for stronger reforms when it comes to the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights," she said in answer to a question as to how long the officers have under the law to respond. "I was down there, one of a handful of elected officials, trying to give our police commissioner more tools to hold officers accused of wrongdoing accountable."

Again, she was stressing her record on a tangential point and either confusing the facts or getting them simply wrong in answer to a focused question from an experienced TV journalist.

In fact, at a news conference she attended Monday, Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said the city had talked to all the officers involved.

And on Wednesday afternoon, a lawyer who works with the police union declared unequivocally that five of the six officers had given statements -- and that he couldn't understand why Rawlings-Blake was on TV saying otherwise.

"I don't understand how she can continually say they're not cooperating," Michael E. Davey told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday. "They are. They did. And they're lucky they got those statements before I got involved."

(Read that story from reporters Justin George and Justin Fenton here.)

Furthermore, Davey said it is the U.S. Constitution that protects the officers' right not to speak with investigators in a criminal proceeding, not the Maryland Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights.

Like her predecessor Martin O'Malley, Rawlings-Blake has chased national media exposure with appearances on the network and cable Sunday-morning public affairs shows. And she has been effective enough in that talking-head role to get invited back.

But this week, the media has come to her town breathing fire on a big story, and they are looking for facts, explanations and accountability from a civic leader -- not talking points. She's not doing nearly as well in that role.

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