Last weekend’s viral video showing a group of onlookers kicking a Baltimore police officer as he struggled on the sidewalk to subdue a suspect was a gut punch even for people inured to city crime. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds of such violent and disrespectful behavior toward the walking symbol of justice and the law to feel both sick to the stomach and deeply angry. And so, appropriately enough, the condemnations of the Friday night assault were swift and certain. From Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, City Council President Brandon Scott and State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, there was little doubt: The behavior was despicable. Down in Annapolis, Gov. Larry Hogan chimed in on the matter, too. The men involved would be brought to justice. And, as of Monday, three people had been arrested — swift work we’d also like to see from police when it doesn’t involve one of their own.
What had been an extremely embarrassing episode for Baltimore had morphed into something of a rally behind city police, and everyone recognized it.
Everyone, except perhaps for one individual.
As much as we respect the role of public unions — we have often seen the Fraternal Order of Police as an important check on ill-considered or politically motivated choices in the crime-fighting arena — we must ask: What was FOP Lodge 3 President Mike Mancuso thinking when on Saturday morning he described the incident to The Sun’s Jessica Anderson as a “perfect example of where the consent decree and overbearing policies and an activist state’s attorney has gotten law enforcement in Baltimore.”
Was he concerned about the health and well-being of an injured police officer or was he simply parroting his now-familiar talking point about how the federal consent decree — an effort to address a longstanding pattern of racial discrimination in city policing that has poisoned the department’s relationship with much of the community — is too much of a burden for his union members? It doesn’t take a detective to draw a conclusion.
Granted, the union’s official statement posted on Twitter was milder and made no mention of the consent decree. But the damage had been done. Ms. Mosby called the FOP’s response “continued inappropriate political rhetoric, fanning the very flames they then call on me to put out.” Mayor Young said during a walk with Commissioner Harrison on the same block of Pennsylvania Avenue where the incident took place that he was “sick and tired of what the FOP is saying when they should be out here with these brave men and women patrolling these streets."
Mr. Mancuso decided to give tit-for-tat with a follow-up statement, also posted on Twitter, suggesting that the mayor had greater passion for attacking him than city crime. “Go have your walk on Pennsylvania Ave., spew your rhetoric about the failed crime plan, and tell everyone how tough you are on criminals,” the union head wrote.
What’s shocking about this is not that there is bad blood between Mr. Mancuso and city leaders but that their fulsome response to the bruised officer and the swift and certain condemnation of the perpetrators went so wholly unnoticed by the union that’s supposed to be looking out for the interests of police officers. Ms. Mosby’s observations about “fanning the flames” are well taken. How are Baltimoreans, particularly the city’s African American majority, supposed to react to the police union’s continued antagonism? Does anyone, civilian or otherwise, seriously believe that protecting the civil and constitutional rights of citizens is antithetical to good policing? Should we go back to the days of less transparency and citizen oversight and more discrimination and unnecessary use of force?
City leaders had the back of a fallen officer this weekend. It was great to see. But it’s just as important to see those occasions when Ms. Mosby, Mayor Young and others have the back of the community and their concerns about being treated fairly and appropriately by city police officers. Those views are not inconsistent. Both are about choosing right over wrong. The FOP is correct to stand up for the rights of officers but they are wrong, embarrassingly mistaken, to oppose police accountability. A community needs to be able to trust its police officers and the consent decree is an important step toward restoring that relationship.